Connect with us

Editorial

RUINER’s Ultra-Violent Delights Have Ultra-Violent Ends

Published

 on

RUINER

Violence in games is an oft-discussed and heated topic within the industry. Suffice to say, no definitive conclusion has been made on the subject or its effect on the player. Many games rely on violence, both psychological and physical, in the form of gameplay and story in shooters and sidescrollers alike. However, the way that violence is used or reflected on differentiates titles, as such a nuanced topic cannot be discussed in sweeping strokes. A recent title that goes headlong into violence is Reikon Games’s cyberpunk top-down shooter RUINER, which grounds an excessive amount of violence in a commentary on what lengths one will go to for family, and how the pacing of a game can override the gut reaction of shock and disgust at dismemberment and debauchery.

Taking players to the fictional city of Rengkok to rescue the protagonist’s kidnapped brother, the game starts in a salvo of violence and tutorial, as players cut down gangsters in a search for answers about the brother. As scientists and civilians cower in fear and offer commentary as the player runs by, the unnamed protagonist is immediately set up as a sociopath obsessed with his goal. By throwing players into such a violent character from the beginning, Reikon makes its statement clear: this protagonist will go to any length to find his brother, and will remove any obstacle in his way as quickly and violently as possible. The game’s structure around this central plot allows breaks from the violence between levels

Players can use these opportunities to explore the southern district of Rengkok and interact with a range of NPCs, from cops to bouncers, amid the neon lights and synth beats that are the bread and butter of the cyberpunk genre. Much of what makes the genre so prolific is how relevant the societies portrayed are to time the story is told, with the nearer the future, the more hitting the commentary. Indeed, Rengkok seems a natural evolution from some of the more violent areas of today’s world, where a shiny surface hides the violence lurking in the shadows. Even in these instances when players are not cutting down foes, the threat of violence is an unspoken presence.

RUINER-city.jpg

These moments of respite are short and to the point, however, as the core of the game is combat—a fast-paced, blood-soaked kind that would be utterly repulsive if not for the frantic pace. Once a fight begins, the player has no time to think about the violence, as the difficulty of the title is reminiscent of Cuphead, with waves of enemies coming from many angles with different weapons and abilities. From dismembering gangsters with swords to burning them alive or freezing them in place and shattering them to ice crystals, a number of options present themselves to deal with the enemies and their increasing difficulty. In focusing on the methods of killing by way of frantically-paced firefight fought in tightly-contained areas, players must worry more about winning the day than how they do so. Boss fights against hardened mercenaries and killer machines allow for more strategic, yet still frustrating, encounters that force the player to make and execute a battle plan time after time to defeat their enemies. The fact that players will die often, but can restart a fight almost instantly, makes the violence on screen repeat many times over, yet attention is drawn to the difficulty of the fight, not the repeated acts of brutality. Even when levels are completed and players are free to explore and interact with the NPCs of the Southern Rengkok district, the bodies left in their wake are still with them, as is the knowledge of more to come.

In structuring the game around these firefights, and having the protagonist embrace and use violence so wantonly, Reikon shows how a psyche can be so single-minded that the idea of “any means necessary” applies aptly. Even in a world as brutal as this one, the commentary of NPCs informs the protagonist that the lengths he is going to are excessive, despite exaggerated standards. One mechanic in particular, later in the game where players must actively torture an NPC to progress into an area, shows the juxtaposition between the mind of the character and the player controlling him. While  some players may enjoy ultra-violent stories,  reconciling the extreme levels of gore with a character who may otherwise be sympathetic gets harder with the darker and deeper the narrative goes. Dialogue choices mostly boil down to a nod or a shrug—a tacit approval of more violence, and times when players can choose other options still end with the same violent result. This illusion of choice feeds into the general feeling of unease that NPCs are using the protagonist for their own ends, and the player is helpless to fight that control. Highlighting these conflicting feelings is the fact that the hacker who helps the protagonist track down his brother calls him “Puppy,” the closest thing to a name he receives, and that innocent word is jarring to hear in reference to a man committing such unabashed murder to meet his goals. In many ways he does feel more like an animal than a human, a killing machine let off the leash with a simple, straightforward goal and the tools with which to complete the task.

RUINER-026.jpg

One surprising choice, however, is that the player cannot kill the civilians that appear throughout the levels (even if they try), which seems like a surprising restraint in an otherwise cruel and destructive world. The protagonist is never given instruction one way or another in regard to these bystanders’ fates, but the assumption that players would try to kill them given the tone of the game makes that restraint even more intriguing. Brief moments in levels where these interactions take place are also used to regain health/energy and distribute skill points, showing that the protagonist is always preparing for the next fight even when the coast is clear. Even in these quiet sections the specter of violence lingers, as corpses and mechanical monstrosities left discarded reveal violence done by others besides the protagonist, who looks on without comment. What separates RUINER from other violent titles is exactly this unfeeling protagonist who accepts what others say and acts through his violence. The brutality and swiftness of his bloodlust drives the game forward in that one and only way, and players must accept that reality to complete the story. The richness of the world, the gorgeous visuals of parking garages and underground facilities, and the electronic hymns that give music to the violence all make immersion easy and the experience of the violence so visceral.

Through the screams of the dying, the sound of flesh hit with bullets or sliced with a blade, and the general chaotic sounds of a firefight, Reikon makes clear that this violence is gratuitous for a reason. Without seeing the protagonist commit such actions, his silence would be all his character is—a yes-man for a hacker, and one who butchers in the name of a quest objective. The excellent atmosphere and rich world bring to life a society where this kind of violence is necessary to advance and successful in practice. While a third-act twist changes the perspective on the violence, clarifying the purpose and changing the player’s understanding of the protagonist, it does not take away from the horror of being the cause of such death, and only furthers the idea of the character being a weapon used in another’s machinations. The leanness of the plot, and the wide range of characters feeding into the protagonist with commentary on his actions and the world show that this amount of violence is not normal even by this fiction’s standards, and should be upsetting. Once RUINER is completed, and even at times in those quieter sections, the amount of carnage left in the player’s wake is something that sticks in the mind. The question of whether a player would commit such actions for their own family, and would such violence even be possible for anyone with a shred of compassion, is fascinating to raise, and much harder to grapple with after playing through such violence firsthand.

Editorial

Three Single-Player Games to Watch Out for in July 2019

Published

 on

Three Single Player Games (July 2019) - Sea of Solitude, Fire Emblem Three Houses, Wolfenstein Youngblood

July, the middle of winter down here in Australia. Even in the bizarre New South Wales climate, the biting cold makes for a great excuse to stay inside and play games. 

Weirdly for single players, quite a few prestige games this month include additional co-op modes. With acclaimed designers behind them, such games will hopefully avoid the pitfalls of accommodating multiple players, as too many games have done in the past.

Sea of Solitude

Release Date: July 5, 2019
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One

At first blush, Sea of Solitude looks like yet another story of a young adult struggling with questions of identity and mental health while exploring a beautiful but harsh fantasy world.

Actually, that’s what it is. ‘Quirky, life affirming indie adventure’ is a whole cottage industry these days, but the fact that such games are now more prevalent should never dismay.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was a masterpiece of refined design and storytelling, and Sea of Solitude appears be something similar—this time dealing with a fantastical vision of depression that turns ordinary people into literal monsters.

Players take charge of Kay, who has sought out the eponymous Sea—or rather, a flooded city based on Berlin—in the hope that there is a cure for monstrosity. However, despite its name, she is not the only person in the Sea. Avoiding the other monsters of the Sea seems to be a major part of the gameplay. These tense encounters are likely to provide rhythm and variety to the adventure and keep it from being a just walking simulator. (Not that being a walking simulator is inherently a problem.)

Although published by EA Originals, one would do well to remember that EA the company does not actually profit off the Originals that they publish. With a focused story and themes that still are not often explored in bigger games, Sea of Solitude should be of great interest to single player fans in a month otherwise dominated by multiplayer titles.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platform: Nintendo Switch

Almost certainly the biggest single player release of the month, and tied with Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as another massive Switch exclusive, Fire Emblem: Three Houses might be exactly what single players need right now.

Lately the Fire Emblem franchise has exploded in both its popular profile and sales success, buoyed by a hunger for both deep anime RPGs and polished tactics games. Three Houses seems to have doubled down on exciting trends and features in both genres: particularly a Persona/Harry Potter inspired magic school setting and an even deeper tactical battle system that ditches the rock-paper-scissors for more nuanced character progression options. As with many Japanese RPGs, the story is also a major focus and hinges upon a time-jump.

The early part casts the player as a teacher at the Officer’s Academy, situated in the center of the game world and attended by students from the three most powerful nations. Five years later, the second and likely larger part concerns the drama between the player’s teacher and their former students, whose nations are now locked in a massive three-way conflict.

As is to be expected for a series finally coming back to consoles after a long time on the 3DS, Three Houses is a massive technical leap over its predecessors. The game boasts better realised battlefields, more detailed armies, and a slick animated style that appears much more consistent compared with the three or four different art styles on the 3DS.

With such improvements, as well as the overall pedigree of the Fire Emblem brand, Three Houses should have no trouble satisfying single player fans looking for a meaty middle-of-the-year RPG.

Wolfenstein: Youngblood

Release Date: July 26, 2019
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One

The recent Wolfenstein revival series is such a remarkable achievement in traditional shooter design and great, if goofy, sci-fi worldbuilding that the co-op focus of this latest instalment is somewhat disappointing.

Yes, as with F.E.A.R. 3 and Dead Space 3, following a well-received second chapter the Wolfenstein series now pivots to a co-operative focused chapter. Though the game is not a mandatory multiplayer experience, combat encounters and puzzles have been redesigned to accommodate the two player mode, giving single players an AI-controlled partner and bullet sponge enemies.

However, all hope is not lost for Wolfenstein: why else would it be the third game on the list? The narrative has been pushed forward in time, as B.J.’s twin daughters are now in their adolescence, now giving players a glimpse at the 1980s of Wolfenstein‘s skewed universe. Additionally, the level design itself is more freeform thanks to development assistance from Arkane, the developers of the Dishonored series.

Will Wolfenstein: Youngblood successfully deliver more of the series’s goofy charm and crazy alternate reality? Almost certainly. On the other hand, will the game be as fun to play alone as in multiplayer? That remains to be seen. Last month’s E3 demo that raised such concerns was naturally only a snapshot of a game in development, so MachineGames and Arkane have had plenty of time to resolve these potential downsides to a co-op focused game.

Those are our three big single player games to look out for this month. Other interesting titles coming soon include Stranger Things 3 on July 4 and Attack on Titan 2 on July 5, both games hitting Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

On July 12 we will see the sequel to an almost-fantastic Minecraft-like RPG spinoff, Dragon Quest Builders 2 on Switch and PlayStation 4, as well as the Switch port of “anime Monster Hunter”, God Eater 3

The week after, July 19 brings us Switch-exclusive Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, and at an undetermined time during the month Klei Entertainment’s anticipated survival-sim Oxygen Not Included will finally leave early access on PC.

Have we missed anything that you’re looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below and be sure bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in our community Discord server.

Continue Reading