Guns drawn, the guards stared down the lone figure in the center of the room carrying nothing but a katana. She had appeared suddenly, as if formed from the shadows swirling in the corners of the room. Two lone floodlights guided the guards’ eyes as they prepared to gun down this helmeted intruder. A heartbeat later, two guards flew across the room as another found a katana plunged through his chest. The remaining guards jumped into action, firing at the space where they’d last seen the woman. It was too late, she was upon them; katana slicing easily through the last men standing. A heartbeat later and she knelt beside the guards she had sent flying. With a whisper she silenced them, cleaned her sword, and strode back into the darkness.
It’s these sorts of scenes that epitomize Ronin; a turn-based platformer from Devolver Digital. The main character is a motorcycle-riding femme fatale who weaves her way through intricate security to strike down five prominent figures within a mysterious corporation. The player isn’t given much insight into the story initially, but more and more is revealed as you assassinate your targets. But the later levels are incredibly difficult, requiring excellent planning, razor sharp reflexes, and more than a little luck.
The game has two distinct playstyles: out of combat you are free to move around as you please, interact with objects, and chart your plan of attack. However, when you’re engaged in combat, you’re restricted to jumping close enough to enemies to trigger a kill sequence all the while avoiding bullets and samurai. This turn-based element really gives Ronin a great feeling of speed and reflex, which is odd considering the game stops time while you’re making your decisions. But the transitions are flawless and the style achieves the desired effect.
You are scored in each level on three basic points: were any civilians killed, were all the enemies eliminated, and was the alarm ever triggered. Everything is essentially tied together as revealing yourself to civilians causes them to sound the alarm, so any misstep usually means one of your objectives is compromised. The player is rewarded handsomely if they manage to complete all three though; only then are you given a skill point to spend on a variety of upgrades which make combat and stealth easier moving forward.
The overall feel of the game is fantastic; the atmosphere is immersive while still showing your objectives, the enemies have a realistic field of view, and the controls were very responsive when playing with a controller. However, the game is in Early Access and so isn’t without its share of problems. For as difficult as skill points are to earn, the upgrades they unlock feel wildly underpowered. Allowing movement in combat other than the regular jumping ability would be a big plus as well; frequently the character leapfrogs around enemies instead of attacking them. Combined, these two points make combat a frustrating proposition and stealth is certainly preferred. But even there the game has some work to do as there is no way to stealthily complete most of the objectives. With all these limitations, the levels felt like carbon copies of one another, just with more enemies crammed in. Ronin has great potential though and it will be interesting to see how the developer handles the feedback from its Early Access phase.
The game is enjoyable as it stands now, but with some polish before a full release, it could be really great. With a more balanced skill system, attainable objectives, and better combat maneuverability Ronin could be a 8.5 – 9 game.