Cyberpunk really should be dead by now, but it’s just too ripe a genre for gaming. William Gibson and Neil Stephenson dominated cyberpunk to such an extent that it’s hard to find new written fiction, while movies and TV are so utterly technologically stupid (Mr. Robot excepted) that it was too laughable to take seriously. Gaming, on the other hand, has seen a trickle of titles in the world of a grungy high-tech subculture, where it’s a natural fit for the action, subterfuge and techy goodness that adds such a nice dingy-neon tone to the proceedings. Ruiner is a street-level adventure about a guy with a monitor for a helmet who’s had his mind hacked, and he’s found a little help in getting to the bottom of what happened in the form of a female hacker named Her who’s more than happy to point him in the direction of his targets.
The Ruiner demo started at the very beginning, complete with “Use WASD to walk” instructions, finding the nameless protagonist wandering through the streets of Rengkok South. The city is an amazingly lively place despite its gritty nature, with neon signs and holograms on every storefront and people out on the streets despite the nighttime hour. A hacked Infocom booth (which really should have Zork hidden in there somewhere) introduces you to Her, and she drops the info on the low-life hacker who almost fried your brain. A quick info fetch-quest sees you making a deal with a drunkard ex-cop, who sends you out for a quick upgrade and combat tutorial at the local Mechanix workshop, and then it’s off to the cyberpunk equivalent of a dungeon run to introduce a bunch of Creeps (that’s actually the gang’s name) to the business end of a large steel pipe. While the adventuring element was a little light on the bit I got to play, it introduced a number of good characters and the conversational choices you make should have an actual impact as the story progresses.
Once in the dungeon, Ruiner changes from city exploration and chatting with NPCs into a brutal, deadly, rock-hard game of high speed combat. The fighting abilities are actually deceptively simple on paper- dash, shield, and attack. It sounds pretty easy stripped down to its basic actions like that, but Ruiner will cheerfully destroy you if you don’t move fast, hit hard, and defend when necessary. Honestly, I was getting fairly frustrated at how terribly I was playing, dying and restarting each encounter multiple times, until I realized Ruiner is the kind of game that demands you learn its systems and exploit them constantly. Once you do you’ll tear through the enemy waves in a lightning-fast string of dashes and strikes, picking up dropped guns and using them to mow down the Creeps until out of ammo, then tossing the weapon aside to revert to bashing again. It’s the kind of action that looks amazing when you’ve come to terms with its motion, and I wish I’d had more time with the demo to get good enough that I could replicate the moves the developer was pulling off.
The demo ended with a boss fight that I wasn’t quite good enough to beat, leaving me wanting to do better and explore the rest of the ugly secrets of the Rengkok metropolis. Like all the best grungy cities, Rengkok has a beautiful side to it that’s open to anyone with the money to play there, and the plots and machinations of the upper levels of society have corrupted the town in ways that can only be corrected by a violence-crazed sociopath able to use whatever arsenal of weapons chance happens to toss his way. Ruiner is shaping up to be an action cyberpunk epic, creating a dark neon-lined world where only the cybernetically enhanced have a hope of survival. It’s a small hope, though, thanks to enemies who are almost as fast and mean as Nameless Protagonist and only enhanced a bit by a generous checkpoint system. Getting to the bottom of Ruiner‘s mysteries and wiping at least a small layer of grime off Rengkok’s streets won’t be easy, but it will be a brutal task filled with fast action and a memorable cast just trying to survive as best they can in the shadow of a brighter world that’s never going to be within reach.