Ruiner first caught my attention at EGX Rezzed earlier in 2017. It was nestled in a corner of the Xbox booth, seemingly out of the way, yet it featured a dystopian slaughterhouse of bullets and guts that grabbed my attention. Fast forward several months with the game now released, and I have very different thoughts. Ruiner is still a thoroughly enjoyable game to play, but writing this review has been… difficult.
It’s important to say that the gameplay is perfectly fine. As a twin-stick shooter, Ruiner is at times relentless, but rarely unfair as you walk down each corridor to the next arena where you’ll shoot the enemies or slice them into pieces with the melee attack. As the game progresses, the protagonist does gain perks to allow for abilities to be used and there are a lot of them to choose from.
What Ruiner does well is making its gameplay feel fresh. Abilities can be swapped in or out at any time via the pause menu, effectively allowing for the you to change your playstyle on the fly. New enemies are introduced that can give players a run for their money, while occasional health and power pickups keep you on the move. It’s frantic at times, but that’s when twin-stick shooters are at their best. There are instances towards the end though where the waves of regular enemies do become somewhat repetitive.
Ruiner is most at home when fighting bosses. Some have similar weapons to each other, but all will have something unique to them. One particularly memorable boss was against a machine that fired a laser which if I didn’t dodge and have my shield up would instantly kill me. Upon its destruction, I then had to destroy two nodes that were repairing it before fighting it once more. It was a great encounter and a real highlight.
Initially the game looks rather slick from its isometric perspective. Dark and foreboding do not begin to describe the industrial complexes the action takes place in. Flashes of 2D art will appear at times, but they’re not all that intrusive. While the soundtrack is nowhere near as catchy as, say, Syndicate was, it has a similar vibe to it. In fact, the only real problem is that occasionally characters will talk on-screen and only text will show up, leaving them awkwardly bobbing for a few seconds.
Yet the ultra-violent nature of Ruiner is offset by something more troublesome for me. To put it bluntly, the world that it takes place in is utterly bleak and depressing. It reminds me of several dystopian settings found in film – Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, and Akira spring heavily to mind – yet the entire point of the game is to get to the end of each level and kill a boss before progressing onward.
Now we come to the crux of it and why I found this game hard to review. It’s difficult to put into words why I didn’t get on with it despite it ticking several boxes. It sure as heck isn’t the gameplay which is slick and well executed mostly. It isn’t even the theme or the overall story which, despite being somewhat short, is at times gripping.
No, the main problem I had with Ruiner is that I hated everyone in it. I hated the protagonist for being a pawn in someone else’s war, I hated the bad guys for being detestable, I hated the citizens for being too weird or too plain, I especially hated how “Her” kept on referring to the protagonist as a puppy. This led me to hate the world they inhabited and not care at all about what happened. Perhaps this was the point, but it meant I didn’t enjoy it.
This led to the stark realisation that I had little motivation beyond the gameplay to carry on playing. Given how the visuals are jarring at times when it comes to character models speaking, or how many repeated enemies you faced on screen at a time, this was worrying to say the least. Expressing justifiably how a game that plays decently and that captivated me when I first saw it, but now just feeling apathetic towards is a unique situation for me.
Ruiner has some great set pieces and a dark, bleak world that I would normally gravitate towards. Yet when the dystopian renders everyone inhabiting it to be as relatable as raw sewage, there was little for me to latch onto. Maybe you’ll find the world of Ruiner to be more bearable than I did, but even the best films of the genre have a glimmer of hope for the audience to cling to, something Ruiner is devoid of.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4