Dev: Eugen Systems
www: Official Site
Traditionally, the Real Time Strategy game has had a tough time on consoles. Despite the advances made by games such as “Halo Wars” they are always seen as misfits on any platform that doesn’t offer a mouse and keyboard interface. R.U.S.E. decides to fly in the face of popular opinion and proves that not only can an RTS work on a console, it can be an engaging, fun and rewarding experience and it doesn’t need a sci-fi premise.
The campaign element of R.U.S.E. is a series of set pieces from World War II where you get to direct and command Allied troops from the safety of your war room, no doubt somewhere deep underground. The battlefield is beautifully depicted before you as a tabletop display, with brightly coloured pieces indicating your forces and the last known positions of the enemy. Zoom in to the battlefield, however, and you can start to see troop formations all the way down to individual units with bullets and bombs exploding around them as the fury of the Nazi invasion is brought upon them.
Directing your forces is as simple as you could wish for – point the camera at the unit you want to select, click one button, point the camera where you want them to go/attack and click again. There are no complex waypoints or unit groupings to contend with and R.U.S.E. is a much more user friendly experience because of it. There can be no accusations of dumbing-down though. As with all great RTS games the key to success is balance of forces and using the right tool for the job.
Infantry units, for example, can use the cover of woodland or cities to ambush the enemy and support your armour division. Artillery sits back and uses information from your recon units to pound the enemy from distance. Armour convoys spearhead attacks and let the infantry capture enemy installations. Everything about the balance of the units at your disposal feels right and feels historically authentic. Making the right decisions is the key to victory, not brute force or dumb luck.
The real difference with R.U.S.E. though is the games namesake, the ‘ruse’ commands at your disposal. The ruses themselves are introduced gradually during the campaign and range from spying on enemy forces (giving instant info on troop types and numbers) to disrupting communications, waging propaganda to lower enemy morale and even mounting a fake attack to distract your enemy away from your real forces.
The ruses fall into one of three categories; to disrupt what your enemy knows about your forces, to find out more about theirs or to fake an attack. For example, during one of the campaign missions you are being heavily shelled by the Luftwaffe who have an airbase that is heavily defended in the North East of the map. Under the cover of the radio silence ruse you send a crack team of infantry to an area of woodland just outside of striking distance of the airfield and then launch a dummy attack ruse to the West. The German forces naturally respond to this show of strength and move a large proportion of their armour to the West to defend themselves. Whilst they’re discovering that the armour column you have attacked them with is made of balsa wood and canvas your infantry strikes, disabling the AA guns around the airfield and paving the way for your own fighter bombers to destroy the airfield. The Luftwaffe are no longer a threat and Allied planes can now assist in the assault. The same result could have been gained from a traditional assault but it would have been much harder and taken much longer and been far less gratifying.
Using the ruses properly is a vital part of the game and you become thankful that you are not given access to the full range of them from the very start of the campaign as you would quickly become overwhelmed. In fact, the way R.U.S.E. introduces new elements and builds the learning curve gradually is just one of its many strengths. Interspersed between the regular objective based missions are other challenges such as assisting an assault using only aircraft, infiltrating an enemy stronghold with only paratroopers, defending a city until reinforcements arrive and some excellent against-the-clock missions which really ramp up the tension.
As with most RTS games, multiplayer is where the longevity lies and R.U.S.E. has this covered too with two to four player maps and some co-op challenge missions. Once you have mastered the single player campaign you are really just starting to learn all that the game has to offer. Even without multiplayer, the different difficulty levels challenges and stand alone missions will keep you engaged for some time.
R.U.S.E. is an unusual beast. It blends historical war simulation with fast paced RTS gaming, gives it a gleaming coat of paint and lets you control all this with just a couple of buttons. It has no right to work but it does, and it seems to do so effortlessly. Admittedly, the campaign storyline is poorly acted and pretty weak (and history experts will no doubt roll their eyes at its accuracy) but it has plenty of variety to keep you coming back for more.
If you were expecting R.U.S.E. to be a run of the mill RTS hampered by the usual control issues or dull gameplay then you have been misled, and perhaps that is the best ruse of all.