If you haven’t played the Crusader games from Origin and EA from the mid ’90s, I highly recommend them. They are two of my all time favorite games, and when I saw Ruiner — the debut game from Warsaw-based devs Reikon — I knew I had to play it. The cyberpunk atmosphere, the hyper-violence, that top-down/isometric look…my gosh how cool would it be if Reikon got the go ahead and licensing to make a third Crusader game.
While the similarities betwen the two franchises is apparent, Ruiner has absolutely got enough diversity to stand on its own. The year is 2091 and peoples brains get hacked, including that of your character. The game’s tutorial mission is pretty cleverly disguised as its prologue, in which your character — faceless, except for the digitized mask — nameless, although ‘Ruiner’ fits pretty good (also the name of the default pistol you carry) — arrives at the corporate offices of Heaven, a massive corporation that seems to more or less control the world. Static-y, yet unmistakeable images and a simple command fill your vision and brain — KILLBOSS — that’s what you have been sent here to do, armed at first with just a simple melee weapon. But, on the cusp of finishing this grisly task, something changes, and I won’t spoil that for you. The protagonist discovers his brother is kidnapped and that his brain was hacked by someone with clearly malicious intent. The unknown thing is, the other hacker, despite seeming more friendly and telling you that your brother was kidnapped as collateral, may also have ulterior motives — that remains to be seen.
The premise and atmosphere for Ruiner are definitely cyberpunk and noir-like in nature, and it’s really compelling. Ruiner prides itself on fast paced, ultra violent action, and it delivers on this by giving the player the ability to dash about the screen and carry a melee weapon as well as a ranged weapon. Multiple skills/abilities are acquired as you play too, and the variety of melee and ranged weapons keeps them both refreshing and interesting. Melee weapons break, although you can get upgrades to assist with that, and ranged weapons do not have a lot of ammo, so you will find yourself wielding, one at a time mind you, a variety of pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, futuristic plasma-infused guns, shotguns, you name it. The variety and power of weapons, their destructiveness against the enemy, the strong corporate overtones in a near-future dystopian world, the lone protagonist (who is most certainly not a true “good” guy), with the friendly (?) hacker voice in your ear are all very relatable to the Crusader games, and this I find to be good.
Also similar to Crusader, but a bit more intentional, are the flow of the missions. In Ruiner, these tend to be shorter, and chopped up into more distinct segments, which are even scored very quickly as you go through them (not something I particularly care for despite scoring a lot of As and Ss, but eh). Not to keep drawing comparisons, but hey they are there and seem relevant, but in Crusader you do a lot more reading, keycard finding, and inspection of the environment, while Ruiner is more focused on raw, but deliberate, action. However, those who choose to explore, even if it’s just a bit, will discover stashes of Karma and other goodies. More on that a bit later.
So Reikon, in their debut game, has done a very slick job with the presentation as well. The graphics are shiny, yet in that visceral kind of way, not in that sanitary, slick polished kind of way that some games have. I find that that type of aesthetic can actually dimish the look and feel of the atmosphere, unintentionally I’m sure, but Reikon was wise to include a lot of, well, “texture” for the lack of a better word in their environments. The backgrounds are ‘alive’ with their own animations, effects are gorgeous and varied, and the slum metropolis world of Rengkok seems damaged, weary, crowded, yet desolate. From your character to the bosses to ‘Her,’ the hacker in your ear (and brain), I thought Reikon was able to accomplish a lot of world-building and investment opportunities for players without having to resort to lengthy prose or expensive cutscenes.
Interactions with NPCs often allow you to ‘Nod’ or ‘Wait’ in response, and even though both options very likely result in the same outcome, I thought it cool that players got to decide how they wanted to respond to a certain situation, it keeps you in tune, and it helps with that silent world and character building and investing that’s going on in your head as you play. Anyway, while on the subject of presentation, the audio is also quite good, with a thumping edgy soundtrack and accompanying effects that bring Rengkok alive.
In between missions, players can explore Rengkok, and while it’s not particularly huge, there is an appreciable amount of activity there and NPCs to talk to, giving more insight into Reikon’s vision of this world and clues as to where to find various pick-ups that you can use to earn more Karma. Karma is the currency of the game, and Karma-levels unlock new areas and abilities. The abilities, by the way, can be completely torn down and redone at your convenience, so if you went a certain path and it wasn’t working for you, simple dump those skills and re-tool. It’s great having that kind of customization and freedom from worry of having chosen the wrong skills. Anyway, you get Karma from doing battle, and taking on boss characters in what are known as Headhunting events.
Make no mistake, Ruiner is a tough game, but the devs were smart about this. Checkpoints are silent and common — not to mention load times are absolutely instant (and I’m playing on a launch PS4, not a Pro). This tempers frustration from repetetive dying quite a lot, and invites players to experiment with the variety of abilities you have that include of planned-dashes (you can slow down the game to setup a 3+ hop dash), turning enemies against one another, stun effects, and more. I thought Reikon did a fine job of giving the player a lot of tools to get the job done, but did not make these difficult too obtain nor take too long to get, either.
Some will find Ruiner too hard or too repetetive, but I have found it to be really enjoyable and it’s scratched and itch I have had for some time. It’s well worth adding to your collection. If this is any sign of the quality of games Reikon is able to create, consider them on my watch list for future releases.