Ronin is not the game that I expected. The trailer seemed to bill Ronin as a turn-based stealth game. It turns out that it is more like the blood-soaked Kill Bill series rather than something along the lines of Splinter Cell.
You play as a nameless heroine who is on a revenge mission. Her targets are five mysterious figures that you mercilessly strike down one-by-one throughout the game. I’m not really spoiling any plot there as Ronin is light on story elements, eschewing it in favor of gritty turn-based action.
Ronin borrows heavily from Gunpoint, a stealth puzzle game that essentially has the same gameplay mechanics. Your character can move around freely, exploring the 2D environment by climbing up walls, jumping around, and hanging from the ceiling with a grappling hook.
Detection sends the game into a sort of battle mode of turn-based action with your character always playing the trump card in the form of a first strike, an important advantage in a game where any potential move could be your last. A single shot and your character spends the night in the morgue.
If you play with an Xbox controller, the right analog stick acts as a cursor to show potential places for your character to land. One of the more effective strategies is to simply launch yourself into an enemy, sending them flying through the air or stunning them, depending on the angle and velocity of the attack. Enemies that are standing near windows when you launch an attack tend to fare rather poorly. Falling from tall heights also tends to be fatal for enemies.
It sounds simple enough until you encounter a room full of bad guys pointing their laser-sighted guns at you. Coming out alive depends on your ability to plan out several moves in advance, and frankly sometimes just dumb luck. The amount of finesse required feels a bit like parallel parking a semi-truck on a narrow city street. It takes a lot of practice. Learning the correct path to take — through trial and error — is a central part of the game.
The game is not made any easier due to controls that are oftentimes imprecise. It is frustrating to work your way through a tough level only to see your efforts prove fruitless due to jerky controls that move your character into the line of fire. Rather than having a button to confirm your path, you simply release the right analog stick. This creates two problems since it can become difficult to cancel a move and also can slightly change the trajectory when the analog stick is released. Even a slight alteration makes a huge difference.
Each stage has an overall mission, along with bonus secondary objectives. The main mission varies from level to level, such as hacking into computer terminals, but the secondary missions remain the same, requiring you to complete the mission without killing any civilians, avoiding detection in the form of alarms, and killing all enemies. Completing all of the secondary missions in a level gives you skill points, which are used to unlock special abilities such as decoys and executions.
Ronin is a straightforward game without a whole lot of bells and whistles. It makes up for it in its surprisingly addictive gameplay. Completing missions feels satisfying, especially after you overcome the frustrating control scheme. It’s all over too soon, though, as the entire game will last you about four hours.