Ruiner: Eviscerate Your Way into the Depths of Cyber-Hell

It took me way too long to get around to playing RuinerThe day it came out I nabbed myself a copy and… let it gather bits on my library’s shelf since. Recently, however, I felt the inexplicable desire to go on a violent, Hotline Miamiesque mutilation spree, and friends, Ruiner does not disappoint. Taking place in the 2091 metropolis of Rengkok ruled by an indomitable megacorporation, Reikon Games’ breakout game (published by indie giant Devolver Digital) plays like a sci-fi retelling of Dante’s Infernosaturating your nice synth-leather jacket with blood and guts until the very last moment and having possibly the coolest mask I’ve seen in cyberpunk to date.


Storyline

Heaven, the gleaming, insidious tower dominating Rengkok’s skyline.

The game begins with you, as the game’s protagonist, ascending into the massive HQ of Heaven, a corporation responsible for the existence and maintenance of Virtuality, a high-fidelity simulation network that allows participants to engage in their deepest fantasies. You are there to kill the Boss at the behest of your “master”, a hacker who has infiltrated your mind and is bending you to his will, making you bludgeon and pump round after round into crowds of mirror-shaded corporate security that stand in your way. However, before you can carry out your objective, your mind is hacked back seemingly to your control by Her, a mysterious anime punk girl who reveals that those who have stripped you of your free will are holding your brother hostage.

And she’s wearing a familiarly-styled jacket to boot.

After making a hasty exit from Heaven, you (henceforth referred to as Puppy by your new hacker friend) find yourself in Rengkok South, a seedy neighborhood that acts as the game’s hub world and is filled with junkies, headhunters, info brokers, and one church devoted to the teachings of sadomasochism. Upon tracking down the hacker who has violated your mind (calling himself Wizard), you descend into a vending-machine-like parking garage that also acts as the hideout for a chapter of a gang known as the Creeps, made up entirely of disfigured “third children”, illegal births under a law that allows the citizens of Rengkok to have only two children. These third children are siezed by authorities and sold off for any number of dehumanizing purposes, from prostitution to organ harvesting–leaving the best-case scenario for these children to be recruited by this group of feral delinquents. After taking down the Creeps’ leader, Nerve, in the parking garage’s deepest level, you kill Wizard, but not before finding out your brother has been sent to Hanza Industries, a subsidiary of Heaven.

Look what you’ve done, you messed up his cool ‘do and mirror shades.

After cruising on your motorbike to Hanza’s factory, a conspiracy begins to unfurl–despite the best efforts on the part of TrafficKing, Hanza’s CEO who has hardwired his head, the only remaining organic part of his body, into the corporation’s computer system. As you make your way deeper into the facility, you chase your brother’s GPS signal, which is transmitting from a life support pod manufactured by the facility. Before you can retrieve the pod from the clutches of mercenaries, corporate assassins, a malignant intelligence known as Mother, and TrafficKing himself, the pod is whisked away to one of Heaven’s Virtuality farms, massive facilities buried deep beneath Rengkok’s surface levels.

No, this is before he gets his ass beat. He just always looks like he’s on the verge of death.

By using the defeated TrafficKing’s biometric data, you are able to access the hellish underground facilities, where you discover the insidious truth behind Virtuality: desperate individuals looking to make a quick buck or are otherwise assigned to the system are duped into providing Virtuality with processing power, which ultimately malforms the mind’s sense of self, warping it into hyperreal props within the Virtuality system. That’s the best case scenario, anyways; those who aren’t quite so lucky end up as victims of society’s upper echelons, tortured and murdered repeatedly. The result in either case is the same–all that remains of these exploited people once their usefulness expires are docile, tortured husks, begging for death. As it so happens, Mother is the prototype of this system made of humans fused with the inhuman, her core comprised of the Sick Sisters, twins conjoined by a thick mass of cabling who grow more sadistic as the game progresses. After descending more deeply into the depths of the Virtuality farm, fighting of hordes of husks, hired killers, full-body cyborgs, and finally Mother herself, you reach your brother’s Virtuality pod and promptly black out.

Mother’s true face, the Sick Sisters.

Upon waking, you find yourself back in Heaven, strapped to a chair as the Boss, who wears the same facemask as you, shows up. As it turns out, surprise surprise, Heaven’s CEO is your true brother, and the “brother” you’ve been chasing was a fabrication created by your hacker ally at the Boss’ request, implanted when she supposedly hacked your brain back at the beginning of the game. This was in order to turn the tables on TrafficKing and Mother, who had been conspiring to take control of Heaven, and decided that you, who had been locked away for years as a supply of spare body parts for the Boss, were the most fitting way for him to meet his end.
But, double twist, it just so happens that the character that has been providing you with overwatch the entire game without ever making physical contact is *gasp* an AI! Turns out Her goals ran parallel to TrafficKing and Mother’s, with the intention to assassinate the Boss but on a more altruistic, cunning level. By getting herself in the Boss’ good graces by implanting you with the Big Brother program, she opened a path that would bring Heaven down once and for all and allow you to get your revenge, which you do in the game’s final moments.

Gameplay

Ruiner is a solid piece of cyberpunk action from start to finish–Reikon Games did their homework, making sure to fill this twin-stick isometric shooter with as many cyberpunk tropes and visuals as possible. The game plays less like Hotline Miami and something a little less hardcore, with health bars, a stripped-down leveling system, and special abilities (think Neon Chrome, Jydge, or Defragmented for strict cyberpunk examples). Personally, I was grateful for its middle ground between fast-paced action and careful deliberation–too often do I play action RPGs that are just a little too much RPG, not enough action. The light leveling elements provide a level of control over the play style you’re most suited for while not taking away from the flow of the game’s frantic fight sequences so much to put the controller down.
Unfortunately, the fight sequences themselves aren’t particularly varied–there’s a wide enough variety of enemy types, but the game more or less boils down to “go here, kill the guys, go to the next place, kill more guys” with little to break up the formula and keep the player on their toes. But you know, in this case I’ll give it a pass–sometimes you just gotta kill all the guys. It also helps that there is a wide selection of weapons to use, from a simple pipe or katana to high-powered lasers, flamethrowers, miniguns, arc cannons, and every weapon type you can think of in between (and of course the game’s namesake, your modded black-market machine pistol).
The controls, while a bit sluggish at times, never really got in the way of the gameplay–in fact, I can’t recall a single time I got frustrated with this game due to a buggy mechanic and not my own incompetence. This is a skill that goes underappreciated due to its invisibility, but Reikon, thank you for making a game that didn’t make me want to rage quit. Those seem to be few and far between these days. Additionally, the graphics are fucking beautiful and the animations complex for an indie game. However, if you’re gaming on PC, you’ll want to make sure you have a decent graphics card for the cutscenes, otherwise they’ll look like something from the early-to-mid-2000s.

Ruiner’s weakest point in terms of gameplay lies in its linearity. If you explore Rengkok South, you’ll come across side quests, but aside from one that requires you to search the hub world for surveillance drones convincingly disguised as cats, there is little to no effort involved. As Puppy, you’ll often be prompted to respond to the characters you speak with in VN-style dialogue scenes, but what you choose has no effect whatsoever on their responses. Fortunately, this didn’t distract me from the game, but I do question why these mechanics were included in the first place.

Atmosphere

I regret to say the weakest part of Ruiner may be its lack of originality. It’s clear that the developers were fully aware they were making a cyberpunk game–in addition to unmistakable tropes, there are elements that are clear homages to previous works (Puppy’s “KILL YOU” expression is a clear reference to the cult classic Cyber City Oedo 808) but more common are bits and pieces of famous cyberpunk properties that don’t really bring anything new to the table. The environments are heavily reminiscent of the Deus Ex series’ hyper-industrious setpieces, while the Big Brother program, in addition to being a clear reference to 1984, functions almost exactly the same way as the most existentially terrifying scene in Ghost in the Shell. The way Virtuality operates and is maintained is nearly a carbon copy of Human Revolution’s Hyron with a dash of Altered Carbon mixed into the flavor text. And most of all, I’ve seen a hacker turn out to be a Turing-level AI in cyberpunk media to the point that it feels like it’s a worn-out trope.

Lower image screencapped from Cyber City Oedo 808

However, this isn’t to say that Ruiner is devoid of its own style. The seedy underworld of Rengkok South is the only place in the game that allows the player to explore in a non-linear fashion, wherein you’ll come in contact with a population that is (rightfully) paranoid. At one point, I came across an NPC that accused his friend of “glitching” and was unable to tell whether or not he was in a simulation; other conversations suggest that some of the NPCs are becoming “aware” that they’re merely set dressing for a video game. Furthermore, if you’re a fan of flavor text (I have been since I played through the Mass Effect series) there’s plenty to go around, all written in Her punky voice, which I felt was a nice touch. Ruiner’s usage of its unique, red-based color palette is uncommon in cyberpunk but fitting for the nature of the game, a violent revenge thriller set in one giant meat-grinder of a city. The themes surrounding manipulation are well-developed despite the aforementioned discrepancies; everything, from the corporate coups to Virtuality’s mass production of suffering among the populace to Puppy’s own journey as, well, a hunting dog turned against his masters, weave a tale of unchecked capitalism’s exploitative and destructive nature. On top of all this, Ruiner delivers a killer soundtrack that ranges from instrumental shoegaze to harsh, droning industrial, depending on the scene’s tone, and it fits perfectly.

Ruiner may not be perfect, but in terms of modern first-wave cyberpunk, it’s a fine addition, and a hell of a lot of fun to play to boot. Unfortunately, the experience is only about 6-10 hours in length, but the time it has is used effectively. If you’re a fan of Ghost in the Shell, Deus Ex, Cyber City Oedo 808, or cozy with the darkest side of cyberpunk, consider plunging into this corporate hellscape yourself.

Ruiner – 8/10

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Written by shadowlink
shadowlink is lost in a sea of information. Cyberpunk helps him cope with his constant future shock.

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