R.U.S.E. is a game based on an exciting idea: a real-time strategy game played on a virtual tabletop with realistic landscapes, infantry, tanks and airplanes, coupled with special espionage abilities called 'Ruses'. It sounds like the kind of concept that strategy fanatics would kill for.
Setting the game in the over-trodden World War II era is probably the first misstep, as all of the locations you'll visit have been seen by anyone who's played a first-person shooter or RTS in the last ten years. Then there's the story, which focuses on an American General burdened with an overconfident counterpart whose hubris costs too many lives in battle: it's just too contrived and predictable to be enjoyable. It's a shame that the story and setting are both fairly bland, because the cut-scene work, voice acting and overall presentation in R.U.S.E. is very well done. Ubisoft should probably get the people responsible for those elements onto another, more exciting project.
The game also features a zoom mechanic that quickly goes from "fun idea" to frustratingly overused concept. Supreme Commander 1 & 2 both featured a similar mechanic, wherein pointing your cursor at a location and rolling the mouse wheel would sweep the camera in or out. What makes R.U.S.E.'s attempt at this basic RTS convention so miserable is that the map scales from life-size replicas to tabletop wargaming miniatures. If you're fielding say, ten or fifteen units, the miniatures stack onto one big largely unhelpful pile, resulting in a cluttered mess. Worse yet, the entire game is designed around this zooming mechanic so it's practically impossible to play through any single mission or skirmish without having to regularly regain your bearings after zooming.
R.U.S.E.'s battles are also frustratingly slow, with every conflict boiling down to a repetitive checklist of building a base, rolling out a big army, and fighting with the unnecessarily complicated zoom function to manage your troops. Resources accrue at a snail's pace as you wait for your supply trucks to motor their way to your HQ, and your troops move like they're slogging through a sea of goo. The molasses pacing means there's no immediacy to your battles, which is one of the key aspects of a good RTS game. I originally thought that the deliberate speed was done to accommodate console players — R.U.S.E. is also available for the Xbox 360—but I'm convinced that it's actually a side-effect of the constant need for zooming in and out of the map.
Ordering your troops around in combat isn't any easier, and the game requires you to make heavy use of key groups (binding a group of troops to a single hot key for easy selection). This is true of any RTS, but in games like StarCraft 2, key groups are a valuable strategic asset; in R.U.S.E., it's an antidote for the broken gameplay mechanics. The annoying part of this is that aircraft aren't affected as they get their own UI element on the bottom left of your screen. From here, you can build and order aircraft to attack and move from anywhere on your map. It's a functional system that should have been adapted for the ground forces as well.
Another example of an interesting feature gone awry is the Ruse mechanic. Every map is broken up into several smaller zones, which operate as areas where the espionage abilities can be employed. A Ruse can let you spy on enemy orders and enemy units or, conversely, trick your enemy by sending fake wooden units into one of these zones. Basically, they're tricky little tactics meant to keep everyone guessing what their foes are up to. The problem is that winning through Ruses doesn't seem entirely necessary. Often, I found myself attaining victory more through sheer numbers of tanks and aircraft while making minimal use of my Ruse abilities. In fact, one Ruse known as Blitz makes your units move faster, and I used it to make my supply trucks and offensive units do just that.
While the Ruse mechanic will sometimes help in a rare key moment, it still seems too easy to simply build up a large army and throw it at your enemy. Sadly, it makes most skirmishes fairly mundane, and coupled with the overused setting it quickly becomes very difficult to feel all too interested in shuffling your little units about the digital tabletop maps.
While I recognise the appeal that R.U.S.E. might hold for fans of tabletop games and the WW2 era (each nation represented in-game appear heavily researched for historical accuracy) there isn't much to get excited about. It's a poorly executed game whose key concepts are either broken or mismanaged, and definitely won't displace THQ's stellar Company of Heroes, or any other worthwhile RTS, from your hard drive.
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