September 22, 2010
It's becoming the world's most boring cliché to say that real time strategy games just don't work on the console format. Sure, there have been one or two notable exceptions to that rule, but at the end of the day, it's always going to be easier to command your legions with the luxury of a keyboard and mouse. So the real hurdle that Ubisoft's latest RTS, RUSE, has to get over is not one of depth, as most strategy games have that, but one of accessibility.
Probably the weakest aspect of RUSE is the "story," as you step into the shoes of Joe Sheridan – a name that practically screams ‘everyman’. Your goal is to help him ascend the ranks of command and track down a dastardly German intelligence officer. Frankly, the plot is only there to provide a backdrop to the gripping conflicts that are taking place, and it does that job fairly well. You could try and take it all seriously and get extremely bored of the annoying way our main man behaves, or the fact the most British man alive is your guide, but that would detract from the real meat of the game: the sweet, sweet strategy.
RUSE does not behave like your traditional RTS game like Command and Conquer, which usually revolve around fast paced combat and whoever can build the most giantest, massive army of tanks the world has ever seen - I am aware that giantest is not a word by the way. Instead, RUSE rewards genuine tactics and favours a slower, more methodical approach to both attack and defence. The game slowly introduces new concepts and units as you progress, and you gradually learn to master their strengths and weaknesses, as well as mastering the RUSE mechanic itself. Things are a tad sluggish at first which could well put some people off, as it can seem like there is just too much hand holding.
Stick with it though and the game's core mechanic, the RUSE system, will come to the fore. This is where the real intrigue lies and requires players to use their tactical nous in order to out smart their foes. The mechanic operates as a varied series of strategies that you can use to cleverly manipulate the battlefield. You can deploy spies to sniff out your foes hidden troop movements, or use radio silence to mask your own forward thrusts. Fake buildings and troops can also be tactically used to create openings in the enemy lines, or to mask a hidden attack elsewhere. The opportunities are only limited by your own imagination really, and combining key abilities and tactics can result in impressive outcomes.
The battles themselves play out over a strategy board at HQ, which you can readily see if you zoom out far enough. Markers represent the forces at your disposal, and those of your enemies too, although if you move in closer you can manage your troops personally, setting up ambushes and choke points for your enemies to roll into. The controls are superb as you can just move the camera over units and click a button to select them, or create units or issue mass orders on the fly. Everything is surprisingly intuitive and simple to use, and it is a wonder that no-one ever thought of it before.
The campaign, as often seems to be the case with this genre, pretty much serves as one long tutorial. The real challenge comes from testing out the various one-off scenarios, tackling the tougher levels of AI in skirmish mode or heading online against other players. The scenarios offer some fascinating ‘what if’ battles based on real-life events that never quite transpired, and can be a real handful. Obviously, heading online is going to provide the real longevity as the computer has a habit of falling into the same habits whereas the unpredictable nature of another gamer really puts you to the test. Seeing strategy and counter strategy play out against each other is pure joy, and pulling off a well thought out ploy seems all the more satisfying somehow.
With any strategy game, the achievement list is going to be a bit of a formality, but at least RUSE does try and keep things interesting. You can amass a good chunk of points from the main story missions, the scenario mode and one-off battles against varying levels of AI. You can also team up for some co-op fun or tackle strangers online in ranked matches. Pretty much every facet of the game has a few points there to tempt you in with, so you will have your hands full snagging them all. The balance is superbly managed, and you will not have to pour countless hours towards some overly inflated number of kills or time which is always a bonus.
What RUSE offers is a supremely complex mix of strategy, with a control system that is easy to pick up and use. The RUSE mechanic itself offers players a surprisingly deep alternative to conventional strategy, and helps to keep battles fresh and interesting right until the end. Despite the novel approach though, this game will not be responsible for dragging new converts over to the RTS fold. The slower pace may even put off players looking for more instant thrills instead, but that would be missing the point entirely. For a superb strategy game that offers something a bit different, this is the game for you.
You have to laugh at the amazingly over the top British accents, but the sound effects and music are spot on.
RUSE is hardly a feast for the eyes, but it looks good enough and conveys a perfect sense of scale and atmosphere for the era. There is more than a hint of pop up now and then though.
RUSE offers a unique twist on the strategy genre, although it can feel like a long slog to master all of the tactics at your disposal. Keep at it though, and the game rewards you in spades with some wonderful bits of invention.
A great mix of war time strategy and drama, not to mention all of the interesting ‘what if’ scenarios on offer. Easily one of the most accessible and well presented console RTS games out there.
A mighty fine list and one that takes in all aspects of the game to good effect, with a smattering of points for pretty much everything.
RUSE is something different, which is no guarantee that you will like it, but give it a chance and the depth and strategy will soon draw you in. RUSE is an RTS that works, and one that works well. Go for it soldier.