"R.U.S.E - Respectable Use of Strategy Emphasized"
It was too easy to be skeptical once that promotion video arrived on the scene. Two attractive and well dressed men stare each other down in what appears to be Steve Jobs' kitchen, complete with an interactive touch screen table. One sends ships, the other reveals cannons... the amphibious assault begins and the shore's forces open fire. But wait, there's more... just as the battered transports wash up on shore, dummy soldiers are revealed as the cargo and the first ruse is celebrated while the hipster general at the table laughs.
This is the selling point for R.U.S.E. as the new face of real-time strategy games. In truth, it's more of a throw back to early PC and even tabletop strategy games that forced you to think through each action before committing to it. This will come as a surprise considering Ubisoft's last big RTS, World in Conflict, was all about quick decisions and being resourceful with flanking and artillery strikes. The idea behind R.U.S.E. is based on similar tactics used in WWII, everything from false intel, inflatable tanks, and even army uniforms stuffed with hay to act as scarecrows against the enemy. In the days before pinpoint radar, night vision and satellite photos, deception was a far more feasable tactic to employ.
- The game's visuals bring the action to life -
The story centers on Major Joseph Sheridan and details his service under a British General. At the same time, an unknown spy named Prometheus is undermining their efforts by giving vital intel to the Germans. The storyline is actually one of the least appealing aspects of the game, filled with cliché dialogue and some terrible voice acting. Although it's an ongoing story complete with cinematic cutscenes, they're a minor and easily ignored portion of the game itself.
In addition to the customary selection of troops and vehicles, you must employ spies, decoys, and make good use of reconnaisance in order to thwart the enemy. Early in the game some players may find the selection somewhat limited, but this is more an attempt to help the player become used to juggling both the forces and the tactics at their disposal. Taking cover in trees and buildings and using the terrain against the enemy are key to survival and given more emphasis than other titles in the RTS genre.
For some, that may prove to be the game's biggest shortcoming. There's so much emphasis on key positions that even a mere soldier will become infinitely more powerful when hiding, sometimes enough to take on a tank or two. Others will find this refreshing as the Germans seem to have a steady stream of soldiers and vehicles pouring down the main roads at any given time. The ruses available to the player don't seem to fool the enemy very often, and you'll soon find yourself relying more on intel and spies than a few decoys.
Another reason you might refrain from using decoys too often is the fact that, like their living counterparts, they're slow. Again, trying to make an interactive war room rather than a battlefield was obviously the goal, and part of that approach meant making each troop deploy as they would on a real battlefield. But for those of us used to troops charging in and picking up the pace when we hit the button to sprint, this dramatic shift will come as a great shock and even a disappointment to some players. You'll often find yourself giving orders and watching the screen for several minutes as they slowly move into place. For missions involving use of a supply depot, the coming and going of forces at their snail's pace makes you wonder how the allies won the war in the first place.
- The user interface is complex but ends up working well -
The good news is that gameplay and graphics in R.U.S.E. were given the most attention, which is more evident as you play through the game. The user interface takes some getting used to, but the arrows showing where troops are moving, highlights over points of interest, and the ability to view multiple units and know the orders of each at a glance is a very welcome change from other RTS titles. Barrages of artillery (even while still in the air) are not only visually appealing but quite helpful in determining enemy positions and hot zones on the battlefield.
While the missions can be dull at first, after arriving in Tunisia the difficulty increases significantly. What I like best about this game is that it demands the player undertake the art of fighting defensively. Going at the Germans with the largest line of tanks you can muster simply won't work, as the enemy is usually barricaded, hidden, and determining through intel when and where you'll be most vulnerable. Multiplayer can be equally difficult depending on the opposition, but you'll find that your ruses and decoys are far more effective on real players than the AI.
While it's not the groundbreaking title we were promised through marketing, Ubisoft did manage to take the RTS back to where it started and has gained some ground by doing so. It's now a matter of digging in and getting ready to repel the Blitzkreig of feedback by the armies of gamers who disagree.
GameDynamo's Score for R.U.S.E. (PC)
Leaving San Diego and the newspaper business behind, I've spent almost a decade involved in L.A.'s gaming industry. Over the years I've played and even helped develop everything from PC and console titles to tabletop and card games. I'm currently writing a novel based on my experiences in the industry which should be available in late 2013.
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