How to say that Ruiner isn't "the new" Hotline Miami, when it does play a bit like it, and it features a man in a (Watch Dogs 2's Wrench-recalling) mask pounding enemies with melee weapons and stealing their firearms for his own use, and it's published by Devolver Digital? I don't know if I, or anyone, can; or if that's a bad thing or not.
Which isn't to say that Ruiner is a straightforward rip-off, or anything like that. (And hell, even if it was, Hotline Miami was amazing, and you'd be right to want more of it.) Get past the base aesthetic parallels and Ruiner is very much its own game, as playing through its prologue in a preview session confirms.
Where Miami looked to the past, this projects into the future. Polish developers Reikon Games—featuring staffers who previously worked on The Witcher 3 and Dying Light—set Ruiner in 2091. It's very Blade Runner, with just a pinch of Total Recall, and it looks awesome.
The game's hub area, from which missions are accessed through, is a bustling urban center, bristling with violent life. The game's neon burn, its steels catching the fire, is a sight to behold. In those missions themselves—or the one I played, at least—chunky environments are neatly juxtaposed with lithe enemy avatars, long limbs spread like broken stars of flesh and bone once the player character is done introducing an iron bar to their skulls.
Above: Ruiner trailer
How it plays is neat, too—a little unintuitive to begin with, but after a couple of enemy waves, everything clicks (at least, it did for me, especially after switching from WASD keys and a twitchy mouse to an Xbox controller). It's an isometric Robotron: 2084 twin-stick setup, essentially, with left to move and right to direct the aim of whatever's being held in a fist. The flick of a face button activates a shield, but it only has so much power, so you'll need to rely on another ability to stay safe from dangerous NPCs.
A bumper button's dash is that very move. You'll need to get handy with it, to avoid incoming attacks, while holding the button allows direct placement of a dodge-to destination. This introduces distinct strategy element to situations that could otherwise spin into chaos: "pause" the action and align your dash so as to appear behind a bad guy, and then smash him over the head.
You can put down three separate points this way—not just for combative means, but also to grab guns and health packs. Mix this up with weapon stealing and switching, defensive and offensive shield use and multi-directional bullet hell aggression until all foes have fallen. And then it's onto the next wave.
The prologue moves through several of these gated brawls before ending with a boss battle. I've warmed up by now, and take the suited-and-shielded enemy out in such a quick time that the Developer rep beside me comments on it. "It's not usually over that quickly," he assures me, adding that most players pick off the boss's lackeys before focusing on him. Not me, my friend. Always aim for the biggest guns. When they go down, the fight goes out of the underlings.
I got a taste of the plot—something about the protagonist's brother being kidnapped and plugged into some kind of brain-tapping computer to serve the sick fantasies of the city's rich elite. There's a definite social disorder to the game's backstory, an exploration of the haves and have-nots and all the sinister ways in which one stays atop the other. And as for who I am, something smells off about why he's going out there, doing what he does. Puppets, strings, and so forth.
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But that's for later in 2017, when the game's out in the wild, and can be dissected at one's leisure. My takeaway for today is that Ruiner is a damn fine action game, demanding of quick-reflex precision and pounding of sensory intensity, which newcomers to it would do well to take at its own face value.
Does it play like Hotline Miami did? Sure, somewhat. There's shared DNA in there. And no doubt the publisher's past form with Miami makes Devolver a natural business bedfellow for Reikon. But how Ruiner feels is distinct, its cyberpunk-slanted sounds and sights quite unlike Dennaton's celebrated production, its blunt objects impacting with a more furious force, its palette grislier and grimier. I'm into it, and will be digging deeper when the next opportunity arises.
Follow the game's progress at its stylish official website.