Momentum. Movement. Words often used to describe the physical. Or in the realm of the digital, specific animation and character flow. Bear with me, this is going somewhere. Probably. When talking about Ruiner, the new stylish isometric action spectacle from Polish indie-studio Reikon Games, the words take on a new meaning. Or, can be applied to the whole experience. The cyberpunk inspired look of the fictional Rengkok in the year 2091 is in a word - sublime. Gritty and bathed in bright red and orange in all the right places, with character design that is both familiar and fresh. Ruiner gets it.
The feel of the combat is equally impressive, the animation is detailed and the freedom and fluidity of switching between melee and ranged attacks for combos represents the peerless pedigree behind the scenes. The Witcher series, Dead Island, and Dying Light make up parts of the resumes filed away within the walls of Reikon Games’ Warsaw studio. The dash move alone, is worthy of an award.
BUT THAT’S NOT IT, NOT ENTIRELY.
The only way to describe the feeling of Ruiner would be to give you a recount of the introductory sequence. That place in an action game, one built on the sort of brutal arcade combat found in Hotline Miami, where the rules are laid out. Buttons explained, abilities hinted at. Ruiner is no different, yet somehow it feels like so much more. And it’s the combination of the solid, intense, and engaging combat mechanics merged with the presentation and the soundtrack that gives Ruiner that nudge into the realm of brilliance.
BEFORE WE BEGIN, CONFESSION TIME.
Cyberpunk visuals filtered through bright lighting. Synth-based electronic music that can go from dark driving techno one minute to ethereal pad-driven soundscapes worthy of Vangelis the next. These are hard for me to resist. Damn hard. After the very first trailer
was released for Ruiner, I knew this was a game for me. Even though I’m terrible at Hotline Miami style action titles. And for the most part avoid them. It took me three whole games just to come to grips with the combat in the Batman Arkham series.
This time I’ll make an exception. I’ll start on Normal. That’s what I told myself. And for the most part that’s how I played Ruiner. For the most part.
Back to the introductory sequence. Ruiner begins shrouded in mystery, and on-screen prompts. The music is deep and bass-heavy yet sparse, the driving electronic score is yet to kick in. You learn a few basic moves, and then suddenly your screen fills with the text KILL BOSS. With the same words spoken aloud. In your head. In Ruiner you take control over a faceless protagonist. Well, faceless in the sense that he wears a Daft Punk-style robot mask that can contextualise his and your feelings.
KILL BOSS is on screen for maybe half a second. The musical score picks up the scent, adding percussion, creating momentum. Combat follows suit, you begin to take on larger groups of enemies. Melee combat with a pipe. Shooting an automatic. Then the text re-appears, this time feeling a little more pronounced. Again, the music follows suit. As does the momentum of combat, the mystery, animation and gorgeous lighting. All building and playing off each other as a climax is reached.
During the tutorial.
Another voice this time and new bit of text fills the screen. This time friendlier, a female telling you not to do it. KILL BOSS. DON’T DO IT. The music is now well and truly making you move in your seat. Combat now takes on an almost transcendent quality.
Again, this is the introductory sequence.
What happens next is not the sort of payoff that makes it all worth it. Even though getting to explore the streets of Rengkok and soak in the atmosphere and movement is comparable to a relaxing weekend spa when placed next to the combat. I assume, I’ve never actually been to one.
It’s hard to not utter something stupid like that or ‘it’s the journey and not the destination’. For an action experience where combat flow is rewarded and graded and repetition is counted as a plus, then of course it's the journey. All I can really do is let you know how Ruiner helped me better understand a style of game. Turns out that the reason I’ve never really grown attached to pure arcade action is that unless momentum is driven by more than just combat or a new weapon or a surprising boss battle, I zone out.
Ruiner is momentum.
The art drives the story, the story drives the setting, the setting drives the music, and the music drives the combat. Which in and of itself, needs none of the above. There are other very cool elements to be found, from the versatile progression system to the way in which the boss battles evolve and really put your skills to the test. There are also stretches where the momentum lags and cues are repeated. But with the sound turned up, the lights drawn, and your eyes firmly watching each enemy movement and background detail come to life there’s nothing better. Ruiner gets it. And I love it.