I've had my hands on a short demo of Ruiner [official site], the top-down twin-stick action-adventure hyphen-described cyber-thriller from oh-so-naughty publishers Devolver. Not a lot of it, mind, but enough for me to form a few impressions to share.
We saw the first footage of Ruiner about a year ago, and I was immediately interested. I'm always bemused by how few games there are that use that Alien Breed/Shadowgrounds/Alien Swarm WASD and mouse control with a top-down perspective. I love them, and good lord it's ten years since there was a new Shadowgrounds game! So my ears, eyes and nose all perked up when I saw Ruiner.
Even more interesting, it does all that shooty-bang action business, but also looks set to put it all in an explorable world, with characters, towns, stores, and dialogue. Yes Please. Of course, the demo build I've mucked about with today keeps most of that lot hidden, focusing instead on what amounts to a tutorial sequence for the combat. But what good combat!
Reikon's game fits into Devolver's catalogue of slightly-risqué games via its super-dark cyberpunk aesthetic, and a screaming visual approach of frantically flashing images and faux-subliminal bellowed commands rattling around inside your character's poor hacked mind. It's 2091 and you're playing a "weird sociopath" who seems to be more android than human, his arms replaceable, his face a mask that rather publicly displays thoughts and commands digitally across its front. He would be terrible at poker. Barging around the future-o-city of Rengkok, you're trying to rescue your kidnapped brother, with the help of a mysterious hacker speaking directly into your cyborg brain. Yeah, that old story.
If you're unfamiliar with the underserved Alien Breed format, you move about with WASD, while pointing a reticule cursor with your mouse. It's such a lovely system, so smooth and allowing for much more dynamic movement (significantly more so than the equivalent on a controller). And here the idea is to take as much advantage of this as possible. You zip and dart about the screen, dashing with the right mouse button, or holding it down to place a series of dashes via waypoints. Meanwhile you're slashing or shooting with the left mouse button, raising your shield with Space, and ping-ping-pinging your way about the play area as enemies rush in on you from all sides.
And I'm pleased to report this works. I wasn't quite sure at first, I thought it was a bit too clumsy, but this was a result of its odd choice to introduce you to melee attacks before giving you a gun. The melee attacks are the game at its weakest, your character too vulnerable as soon as more than one enemy is nearby, and a real lack of a sensation of impact on swinging your length of pipe (missus). The moment there's one of its ridiculous pile of guns in your fist, things get swinging.
The movement works well, with the enemies able to dash too (something that surprised me, since so few games ever seem to think of offering the bullet fodder then same superpowers as you), making for cluttered and noisy screens of combat as you try to negotiate into the gaps in frantic, busy battles. Downed foes drop health, weapons and energy, meaning you're also micromanaging your movement to make the split-second decisions to pick those up as you attempt to mow down the five attackers still on screen. It's one of those times when success makes me assume I'm incredibly skillful, but when I fail I attribute it all to random luck. When I'm lying to myself to justify wins and losses, I know a game has grabbed me.
The only weakness I experienced in the fighting at this stage (and remember, there's not even a release date for this beyond "2017" so all is very likely to change) is once again melee, but this time being able to switch to it. It involves a mouse wheel roll, down for melee, up for guns, and that's just not a practical option for my fingers while not feeling there's time to risk taking a finger away from either the left or right button. I'd love to see that switch either on a mouse's thumb button, or on the keyboard, as it'd allow for a smooth flicking back and forth between the two styles on the fly, letting me take a swipe when an enemy gets too close, but then instantly switching back to shoot at the bastards currently launching shotgun volleys at my face.
Once that block of combat is over, the game has your brain rescued from a hack attempt that had been demanding you (via it's bombardment of flashed messages and creepy voices) KILL THE BOSS. At which point it switches quite dramatically into something much more RPG-like, a section of the town of Rengkok open and explorable, with instructions to go speak to a guy. The aggressive aesthetic is maintained here in this perhaps rather cliche Bladerunner-esque scenery, with the current task not tidily printed over on the edge of the screen, but on pressing Tab ludicrously stamped in giant red text across the middle of your view - and that really works. It's a distinct style that is consistent, and ensures the game maintains that sense of energy even in these quieter sections.
Beyond that, though, I couldn't tell you. The demo kicks in a three minute countdown timer, presumably something left over from GDC/PAX to ensure the queues kept moving, and the second instruction to visit a car park isn't yet there to do. Which is a shame, as I'd love to report more on how it feels in these down times, whether it's looking like it will deliver in the dialogue as as well as the fights. On the brief amount on display, it's pretty so-so, but there's not enough to make a sensible judgement.
It is worth mentioning that it's looking a pretty grim affair when it comes to portraying women. The two I encountered in those three minutes were shown in lascivious poses, boobs draped or clutched, in a pretty weakly adolescent fashion. It's perhaps in keeping with the grim cyberpunk comic book vibe, but personally I'd prefer to see something a little smarter, a little less retrograde.
But I'm certainly tantalised. This wasn't enough of either element to form particularly strong convictions about how it might turn out - combat was certainly fun, but I'm interested to learn how it will evolve, and whether it'll become muddled as new skills and abilities are added in. And I've really no clue if the chatter, shopping and exploration will all come together. I definitely am frustrated by how short the demo proved to be, and that's usually a pretty good sign. We'll find out more later this year.
Declaimed disclosure: Alec Meer of this parish briefly did some script editing for this game, but doesn't any more, and anyway it only makes me more critical because I want to destroy him.