Ruiner hates you. I don't mean that just in the sense that Ruiner is punishing, though it's certainly that - the game's "Normal" difficulty setting makes the average Call of Duty final stand look like a pillowfight in a nursery. I mean that Ruiner's entire universe is radioactive with spite. It's there in the lighting and palette of Rengkok South, the game's late 21st century urban hub - a quagmire of oozing red mist, tar black, toxic orange and the occasional, lonely note of blue or pink, the final moments of Alien's Nostromo blurring into the hellish racecourse of Neo Tokyo's "Running Man". It's there in your character, a pipe-wielding cyborg parody of dysfunctional machismo who communicates using a pixel-display helmet - favourite phrases include "hello darkness", "nowhere to hide" and the ever-poetic "kill you". And it's there, above all, in the shape of "Her" - the nameless geek girl in phat headcans and a Kaneda-brand capsule jacket, who frees you from another hacker's control during the prologue.
At first glance you might take her for another of gaming's dutiful sidechicks, tossing in context and combat tips as you go about rescuing your mysterious brother from a typically malevolent far-future corporation. In practice, you are very much her pet. "Kill them, puppy," she whispers, her portrait briefly intruding across the view as cyborg assassins and crusty gangbangers tumble from dropships and elevators. "Kill them. Your brother needs you." Far from the usual cheerleader with an internet connection, this is the predatory female stereotype that self-described Nice Guys and MRA meme junkies lose sleep over, the Girlfriend who makes a gelded plaything of men. Death offers no solace, for your vaguely demonic ally operates both inside and outside the game's fiction, doubling as its combo announcer and restart mechanism. "Get up, puppy," she snaps, as you're eviscerated by high-frequency blades and railgun fire. "That was painful to watch." I must have heard that line a hundred times during my seven hours with the game. "Get up, puppy. What's done is done."
Ruiner is, in short, a moderately entertaining action game and an utterly hopeless portrait of entrenched misanthropy - an experience that embraces all of cyberpunk's cruelty, technological excess and squalor but none of its hard-earned wistfulness or serenity, its capacity to see transcendence in alleyway trash or the fizzle of a holographic adboard. In portraying a world ruled by the manufacturers of VR games and cranial implants, the game represents itself, naturally enough, as your enemy, declaring "you are being played" as the front-end loads. As with much of cyberpunk, this is a dystopia to which gender is integral, in which men are wired-up bludgeoning implements and women are either seductive commodities or tyrannous cybernetic abominations (or both). If that sounds like I'm reading too much into things, just wait till you run into "Mother Engine", a pincered robot nightmare who screams "give it to me, baby" before voiding liquid fire all over your rapidly eroding forceshield. Back in Rengkok South, meanwhile, you'll meet the "Sisters of Disorder", a prostitute sect who accept payment only in the form of death - expire 50 times during the adventure and you can trade all that in for certain, strangely intangible rewards.