Go get ‘em, puppy “A lot depends on which abilities you decide to focus on in the skill tree”
In a grimy sci-fi dystopia, populated by synthetically enhanced citizens and ruled over by the shady Heaven corporation, a hacker jacks into your augmented brain and reprograms you with a single directive: Kill Boss.
What ensues is around 10 hours of crimson-tinted neon carnage, as you take on room after dimly-lit room of increasingly well-armed bad guys and bullet-spraying bosses. Although it initially appears to be a standard sort of twin stick shooter, there’s more to the combat than meets the eye. A lot depends on which abilities you decide to focus on in the skill tree.
After much failure we came to the conclusion that Ruiner is effectively a melee game first and a twin stick shooter a distant second. The small enemy hitboxes and slow projectiles make it hard to hit a moving target with the basic pistol, and while weapons such as the shotgun are reasonably efficient at keeping the bad guys at bay, they’re not always available when you need them and ammo is limited.
Bludgeoning enemies with a chunk of drainpipe, however, is quicker and easier. You can grab swords that deal a bit more damage but they soon break, leaving you with the default blunt instrument, which does the job as well as anything else. There’s actually some subtle encouragement not to bother picking up weapons at all, in the form of a weapon grinder that chews up any unused items at the end of a battle and spits out karma points which can be used to buy more useful upgrades. Chaaaarge! Charging directly towards a group of gun-toting opponents is a dumb tactic, of course, and you can go from max health to zero in an instant. There are a few tools available to help you close the gap between ranged enemies and the business end of your iron bar, the most effective of which seems to be the basic dash move. Upgrading this makes you take less damage while dashing, and can be combined with a slow motion power that lets you zip around at full speed while enemies swim through treacle.
There’s also an energy shield to help you break through tightly packed defences, and any upgrades that increase your durability are sensible investments, particularly during boss fights. On the other hand, the ability to set waypoints for a multi-stage dash is one that looks cool but seems too fiddly to be of much use in the heat of battle, and a few of the later skills also appear somewhat redundant. Still, you’re not penalised for trying them out, as you can always deactivate the useless ones and get your unlock points refunded. Experimenting with different combinations may well reveal something that better suits your own playing style.
When it works well, it’s fast, brutal and satisfying. Dodging bullets, dashing between enemies and leaving behind piles of bodies: these are good things. But it also falls flat in some areas. It can be hard to see bullets, you’ll often die without knowing what hit you, and it would definitely benefit from a smoother framerate. There’s nothing quite like it on Xbox, though, and the option to experimentally re-spec your character at any point during a level is a great idea and the key to getting the best out of Ruiner.