An imposing, silent figure clad in jacket and mask raises his pipe in blood-soaked hands. As anonymous foes fall beneath savage blows, he whirls and dashes around an arena that grows crowded with the broken bodies of the dead. All the while, numbers tick upwards: x2, x3, x4...
So goes Hotline Miami. So also goes RUINER, the ultraviolent debut from developers Reikon Games and a proud spiritual successor to Dennaton's instant classic gore-'em-up from 2012. RUINER styles itself as a product of its influences, from the cyberpunk urban sprawls of Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner to the adrenaline-fuelled quick-death skirmishes of twin-stick shooters from recent years, most notably the aforementioned gem also published by Devolver Digital. It's an anarchic and frenzied game, but there's method to its stylish, glorious madness, and that method can be found in the game's story.
You play as an unnamed thug, who has been hacked and sent unarmed by his remote operator into the jaws of Heaven - a sinister megacorporation - to fight his way to the top and kill the CEO, known only as 'Boss'. Soon, however, a mysterious third party (more like fourth at this point; the factions at play are fairly convoluted) intervenes to reverse the hack, freeing the player. Now, they must seek revenge together against the hacker and rescue the protagonist's kidnapped brother, all the while exposing the multifaceted conspiracies and crimes at play in the urban underworld that is their home.
It's an anarchic and frenzied game, but there's method to its stylish, glorious madness, and that method can be found in the game's story.
On the surface, RUINER's story might seem high-concept (to put it generously), but once it gets going it's filled with enough twists and turns to keep the player attentive between combat. That said, it is indeed combat that's the star of the show here, and what a star it is. With a varied armoury of weapons and a broad, carefully-crafted tree of abilities to unlock, you won't be getting bored any time soon. Combat itself is challenging, requiring keen spatial awareness and reflexes in order to navigate overwhelming odds and fell hulking, dangerous foes.
You'll need to stay on your toes for changing tactics too, as different enemies fight in very different ways, demanding not just immediate awareness of how many enemies there are but what those particular enemies are likely to do. And if that wasn't enough, the game is more than happy to throw plenty of bosses your way.
The boss fights really shine in this one. These enemies do represent a significant challenge, and their threats and grandeur aren't at all empty: you'll need to study their attacks and their weaknesses very closely if you want to come out with all the LEDs in that digital display mask still glowing. Fighting them feels like a genuine obstacle rather than an arbitrary battle, and the sense of satisfaction when they do fall is a moment to savour.
It's very rare that a new developer can produce a work of such consistent and polished quality, but then again, this is no fresh-faced team. Reikon consists of veterans from The Witcher and Dead Island, and that experience shows. It's extremely refreshing to see a group of developers set loose on a project they have real love for, and the results speak for themselves. In RUINER, Reikon have immediately marked themselves as ones to watch, and I for one will be keeping a beady bionic eye firmly on where they go next.