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Ruiner is a neon-bright swords and guns game that will brook no blunders

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Kill Kill Kill DIE DIE DIE

Kuba Stylinski is pretty good at Ruiner.

He can twitch-zip his way between enemies using the right mouse click dash, taking down the bad guys with his swords. He pops up the shield at just the right time and sprays gunfire as he slides around the screen, avoiding incoming fire.

Where most people can't beat the Ruiner demo at PAX East, and those who can take an hour or so, Stylinski can usually demolish the final boss and wrap up the demo in 12 minutes flat.

I watch another PAX-goer play the game; he gives up after a few minutes and several deaths.

"That game sucks," he mutters to his friends as he walks off. "I'm doing everything right and I keep dying."

Ruiner, a neon-bright, unforgivably difficult isometric action game set in a Bangkok-inspired future city, doesn't suck, but it won't put up with players who do.

Stylinski's trick of wrapping up a demo in the dozen minutes it takes most people to realize they're not up to the task is made possible by the fact that he helped make the game.

Reikon Games was founded by Stylinski and three others, all Polish developers with backgrounds at heavy-hitting studios. He spent years at CD Projekt Red and Techland before deciding to team up with friends to do their own thing.

"I worked on three Witcher games and at Techland on two zombie games," Stylinski said. "It was a great experience and I learned everything I know about making games there.

"But after almost nine years, it was time for me to make something on my own."

ruiner

After forming the studio, the developers sat around spitballing ideas until they came up with the concept for Ruiner, a game inspired by anime like Ghost in the Shell and Akira and games like Hotline Miami.

The game takes place in 2091 in a cyberpunk metropolis called Rengkok. The future has embraced Oculus-Rift-like virtual reality, but it is so advanced now that wearing the full helmet rig doesn't just deliver sights and sounds to the user, it can also deliver emotions.

Heaven, the monopolistic corporation that owns and creates the future VR, creates an underground black market for the rigs. The market delivers up the emotions of unspeakable horrors to the rich by kidnapping people and subjecting them to all sorts of things.

"Wealthy people who want to feel much stronger emotions like pain or death can feel what that's like in virtual reality," Stylinski said. "Heaven starts attacking people from the street, enclosing them in these simulation environments so people from all over the world can connect and watch them suffer.

"It's like human trafficking."

Enter the player, whose brother has been kidnapped by Heaven.

"While saving your brother, you are discovering a lot of dark secrets about this corporation," Stylinski said, "and what's going on with the people being kidnapped."

The player is guided by a mysterious hacker with mysterious motives.

"The player's helmet is like military-grade equipment that hides your identity and also has special abilities you can use in combat," Stylinski said. "It can be used for aim assist, which seems to slow down time, making shooting easier. It can scan your surroundings for resources and it has a mode that enhances your vision so you can see cloaked objects and people."

The helmet can also display video to those who look at the player.

"What is displayed on the helmet is displayed by the hacker," Stylinski said. "It is her way to communicate with her enemies.

"They see this dude and they see what she displays."

So as you go about killing your way through Heaven in search of your brother, the enemies might see a bright happy face flash on your mask, or the words "KILL YOU KILL YOU KILL YOU" in glowing red.

Ruiner, due out sometime this fall for Linux, Mac and Windows on Steam, is distractingly beautiful, bathed in greys, blues and reds, and packed with a sense of place that looks like it was yanked from Neo Tokyo or Blade Runner.

Stylinski says that's the work of the team's creative director, Benedykt Szneider, another game industry vet who worked on the Witcher games and illustrates comics.

"The graphics are his vision," he said. "He really wanted to achieve something different, a different aesthetic."

The game is so stunning to look at and so hard to play, the team created a second mode for people more interested in exploration than they are difficult combat.

"We will have a tourist mode for the people who don't care about the combat but want to explore the city and the story," Stylinski said.

That will be the only way players can adjust difficulty: Either you play the game as is, or you're a tourist.

I tried my hand at the title for about 15 minutes, capturing the video you see above, before handing the game over to Stylinski so you could see what it looks like to really play the game and beat the demo.

ruiner

You control the character with the keyboard's WASD keys and aim with the mouse. The gadget, in this case your shield, is turned on and off with the space bar. The mouse wheel is used to switch weapons. Clicking down on the wheel lets you toss a grenade. Clicking the left mouse button lets you attack; clicking the right lets you dash. If you hold in the right mouse button, you slow down time and can set up to five waypoints to dash through when you release the button.

The key to survival is mastering all of these skills and quickly shifting between them. The most important of your moves is that dash, and landing attacks with your sword as you waypoint your way between enemies.

Combat is a fast, rewarding experience ... until you mess up.

The team initially set out to mimic the gameplay of Hotline Miami, Stylinski said.

"Our first idea was to create a kind of cyberpunk Hotline Miami, but the game evolved," he said. "Originally it was much simpler, but we started adding gadgets and redesigned combat.

"It's still very fast-paced and you die very easily."

Despite the quick death, the machines at PAX East never stood empty. People couldn't seem to walk by the colorful game without accepting their dose of punishing play.

Most everyone died, but seemed happy with the experience.