When I first saw footage of the game some time ago, I was immediately sold. The visual style of vibrant red colours contrasting the black and industrial surroundings; the synth soundtrack that gave the animations and gameplay a fast-paced and brutal feeling evoked a reaction that what you are seeing and hearing is unique and fresh. Add to that the cyberpunk aesthetic of the characters and the story, the premise of a variety of weapons-both melee and ranged- which the player can use to tackle challenging array of enemies, and I was already counting the days to release. Eventually, it released and after finishing it and going back on a harder difficulty but not completing the whole game again, it turned out to be… fine.
Firstly, allow me to heap praise on the artistic style of the game. The game for me is an eye-candy experience, not only in its use of colours-like the vibrant reds contrasting the dark background- but also the way the world looks bleak and industrial, some characters-albeit only in the cutscenes- look like cyborgs from hell and others straight out of contemporary cyberpunk media but not in a derivative way. The world feels like cyberpunk to me and the characters, animations and effects helped sell the atmosphere of that world.
Furthermore, the soundtrack is truly impressive, as it adapts to the requirements of the game when it has to; during a climatic boss fight or an adrenaline rush through the enemy hordes the soundtrack is fast and explosive enhancing your experience. Alternatively when the game has a story moment, the soundtrack accompanies the “mindfuck” experience of the story, with slower synth music with eerie vocals, thus the style of the game was a success for me and pretty good job from your behalf. Furthermore, the sound design is also really good, from the pounding of the industrial machines to the sound of the weapons I did not find a sound that felt out of place or of questionable quality. Speaking of the story though, except a few bright glimpses like moments of pure anxiety and discomfort such as forcing a character to follow you into “hell” by electrocuting him constantly, I found it to be predictable and unremarkable with the biggest flaw being the final twist, which I saw coming but didn’t actually think it would be that because the plot would have a difficult time to explain it and that would overtly complicate things, which it did.
Alternatively, the ability system is one of the highlights of the game as it functions just like most other games, where you gain experience throughout the game and when you hit a certain threshold you level up, gaining an ability point. The neat gimmick here though, is customizing the abilities to your liking by choosing which ones are on and how good they are depending on how many points you spent on them and the fact that you can respec at any time in the menu, is implemented really well and gives the combat and the boss fights a tactical sandbox feel, where each ability has its own unique feel with advantages and disadvantages thus allowing the player to make their own decisions depending on what they like and what they are good at. For example, the breakneck pace of the game made the dash ability seem irreplaceable to me, but I encountered bosses and rooms of enemies where I replaced it and still cleared the stage which does show the flexibility and openness of the system.
Having said that, everything else in this game feels like a double-edged sword where the execution succeeds in creating a positive experience but also, intentionally or not, creates drawbacks. An example of this is the art style which as mentioned before is really good, but as the game continues the art style stays the same thus creating repetition and making new locations and levels feel identical which in turn makes the game lose its sense of progression. Moreover, the levels get dark and there are numerous spots where I either got stuck or couldn’t actually tell what was around me, which was a constant factor of frustration and cheap deaths through the entirety of the game.
Then there is the hub world town of Rengkok which is a perfect example of the visual style at its best and worst simultaneously; while the town looks amazing visually, moving around in it feels bad as you bump into stuff in the dark and try to find your way around the town or gain access to higher ground to complete side quests. Speaking of which, while Rangkok is a town you visit often in-between missions and interact with the locals as well as accept side quests it never felt like a hub world-which is what I assume was its purpose. The side quests and interactions are always the same and while the break of pace is welcome and the locals are interesting and fitting with the vibe of the game, it mostly does nothing interesting with the town. You meet everyone from the very first visit, the side quests are always the same objectives and the only distinguishable difference between different visits is that some side quests ask you to explore the verticality of the city and others require some time spent in multiple missions to accomplish their objectives thus when completed there is a change in the interactions with the NPCs.
In addition to this, the enemy variety is surprisingly lacklustre which made progressing through the game a chore; fighting through the same-looking and able enemies over and over is not that fun. However, since the game prides itself on its challenge and difficulty levels, it never got boring for me and part of that is due to the controls which feel fast and agile and for the most part work as intended. Having said that, there were challenging boss fights or combat encounters where I felt I didn’t have enough control over my character and could use a bit more agility and precision over my character’s movement and aim. Lastly, the game has an impressive variety of both melee and ranged weapons, each with unique stats and different feel to them, providing depth in combat which is welcome. However, the bullet-sponge nature of the enemies, combined with the breakneck pace of the game and the number of enemies that can be on the screen made some of those weapons feel underpowered for me. This is especially true in the boss fights where a lot of skill is required to dodge and stay alive so you can chip away at their life bar, thus enhancing the feeling of those underpowered weapons.
Nonetheless, I have to mention how much I enjoyed the boss fights, because it took several tries to figure out the correct load out of abilities and weapons to master them giving the game a tactical feel to it as well as a few satisfying cheers out of me; although this is a double-edged sword as I did feel there was a correct loadout of abilities and weapons for each boss, which turned the tactical sandbox nature of the game into a linear decision-making system that had correct or incorrect as the only options.
In conclusion, I like this game. It feels well-made with no technical issues and load times, apart from the very first one, that are quick which is essential in a game I died for most of the time and checkpoints were fair and reliable. This is also my kind of game; a game that is challenging but not too punishing, with great ability and combat systems that enhance the core gameplay mechanics which are mostly well executed. However, the double-edged sword nature of this game makes it just likeable and that’s ultimately disappointing to me, from its fairly well implemented gameplay that lives a lot to be desired when it really matters, to its variety of weapons that isn’t executed as well as I had hoped and even its best feature, the style, has a downside to it. It all contributes to me just liking the game, where with a few adjustments and better execution, I would have loved it. To end with, I really do hope there is a sequel or another shot at this style of game, because what is in RUINER is a solid foundation that can be improved upon and expanded to create a better experience in all aspects. However, as it is, RUINER is a fine game with some wasted potential, which is still worth experiencing, but is by no means a must-have game.