Ruiner marks the first title from Polish developer Reikon Games – and the latest release under Devolver Digital’s publishing initiative. The game fits comfortably alongside the other types of games that the label likes to put its name on, and this is one outing that stands out among an already impressive portfolio.

At its absolute most basic level, you could describe Ruiner as Hotline Miami with a cyberpunk skin. This may work to bring curious newcomers into the fold, but in the long run it does a disservice to the title. Sure, they’re both top-down shooters, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

In Ruiner, you play as a brutal killer with a digital mask on a quest to locate your missing brother. With the help of a mysterious hacker dubbed “Her”, you have to work your way through the bowels of cyber metropolis Rengkok, where life isn’t exactly good. A lot horrifying ways of life are found throughout the game, and through its extensive lore entries and collectibles, you can read up on them in-depth. And honestly, this is one of those rare games where the entries are actually worth reading in full. The world that Reikon builds is incredible, twisted, and alive, and every chance you get to scrounge some more info on your surroundings are worth taking. The game is cyberpunk perfection, down to the tiniest details: the signage, the clothing, even the design of the enemies. Barring the fact that the narrative loses its focus a little at the very end, everything is flawless.

One of the most unique things about the game is its colour palette. Everything is built around red – the text, the lighting, all of it. It’s such an uncommon choice to drive the look of the game and luckily it works magnificently. It gives the game that extra stylistic oomph that it otherwise would be missing if a more traditional colour scheme won out, and it works brilliantly.

At the end of the day, though, top-down games like this live and die on their mechanics. And Ruiner also nails this aspect. There are a dizzying array of guns and melee weapons to butcher enemies with, most of which are intensely satisfying to use. There’s a collection of normal automatic weapons that don’t feel particularly powerful, but just about everything else is what you’d consider a “power weapon”: multiple railguns, flame throwers, cryo-guns, and everything in between. The melee weapons in particular are fun to use. Swinging a hammer at an enemy, only to have them quite literally explode in a shower of blood is immensely satisfying. In case it weren’t clear, the game is absolutely brutal. The weapons and violence are on full gory display, but it permeates deeper than just the surface mechanics. The narrative digs into some heavy stuff about the value of human life and what a future like this might mean. And some of it is decidedly grotesque.

The game is built on more than just weapons, too. There is a substantial ability tree that includes things like a shield, mind control, grenades, and dash. These abilities end up being massively important, arguably more so than the weapons themselves, as mobility, rather than firepower, is your key to survival. The balance on which abilities to use is a little skewed, however. The shield and dash are so ridiculously useful that the other options to map to the same individual buttons mostly fall by the wayside.

We did experiment a bit with some of them, though, as there are some neat synergy combos to pull off with these abilities. For instance, you can activate your shield then dash into an enemy to stun them – or once its properly upgraded just straight-up kill them. These types of things being possible are, if anything, more satisfying than the already gratifying weapons in the game. The possibilities are especially intriguing because the game allows you to constantly reassign your ability points so you don’t have to worry about losing points permanently if you find you don’t care for a particular ability. There are layers to the carnage when it comes to Ruiner, which allows it to stand out among even the best of its peers.

It’s also imperative that you utilise everything at your disposal. Well, at least on Normal or Hard difficulty. Even just on Normal, the game is incredibly challenging – we easily died north of two hundred times in the game's five or so hours – and Hard is just utter madness. We feel no shame in admitting we couldn’t remotely keep up with this game on Hard. We also experimented a little bit on Easy, and for better or worse, Easy was too easy. This is good for those of you only interested in the world and the narrative, but for anyone looking for a challenge, your best bet is to stick with the game on Normal.

To top off the game's beautiful cyberpunk world, the music is marvellous. Featuring contributions from Zamilska, Sidewalks and Skeletons, and Susumu Hirasala, the music choices are exceptional. There are a few instances where it feels like the tracks are just playing one after the other in a playlist rather than catering to the gameplay, but for the most part everything transitions very smoothly, and even at its most jarring, the music still manages to feel at least appropriate, which we put down to the strong direction for the music selection process.

Conclusion

In a year crowded with incredible titles, Ruiner manages to be a standout anyways. The red neon-plastered world presented by Reikon Games is beautiful, brutal, and terrifying. With some impressive art direction, great music, and a wealth of immensely satisfying combat systems, Ruiner offers essential top-down gameplay, and comes highly recommended.