Real-time strategy aficionados typically stick to the PC, and for good reason. But if you’re looking for a competent RTS with a bit of a twist, and are willing to deal with a mediocre campaign story and a few small mechanical shortcomings, R.U.S.E. will likely fit the bill. The mere existence of “ruses” might warrant a look, simply because such deceptive tactics are amusing and fun to use, and a carefully timed ruse can easily alter the ebb and flow of battle. Furthermore, although it may appear to be a bit more simplistic than other RTSs available, time will yield the goods: there’s a lot more beneath the surface than one might initially believe (the game starts slow, especially if you don’t partake of the Battles or online multiplayer modes). It’s too bad they didn’t work harder at the story, and there are some gameplay limitations that might scare off hardcore strategy fans but still, Eugen Systems has produced a fairly solid title.
As always, the visuals take a back seat to the gameplay; strategy is all about sitting down and carefully formulating a plan of attack. It isn’t about ogling cutting-edge graphical presentations. That being said, there’s still too much pop-in when panning about the battlefields and many of the landscapes appear drab and dark. The highlight focuses on the various ways in which you can view the action: pulling away reveals the entire map on a table, where colonels and generals toil in the background. Zooming in brings you up close and personal with the action, where you can see individual foot soldiers and other units moving and firing. The special effects aren’t overly “special” but they work pretty well for an RTS, especially considering that most strategy games don’t use such a dynamic style. The character designs are just plain weird, though, and the lack of artistic excellence – not much besides generic WWII stuff here – sort of holds everything back.
Thanks to a good soundtrack that fits the on-field strategy, and the crisp battle reports (both from weaponry and commanding officers), the sound manages to succeed. The only downside is the voice acting, which is only average at best, although the actors can’t really be blamed for poor writing. I particularly liked zooming in all the way and hearing everything that’s happening: it’s not an all-out action experience and yet, one senses the chaotic atmosphere that only war can generate. One could argue that the effects should be even more intense when close to the combat but for the most part, fans of the genre will like what they hear. The soundtrack could’ve been more prominent and the campaign suffers due to the aforementioned voice issues, but don’t let that dissuade you. The majority of the time, you’ll be in the midst of a battle and that just so happens to be where the sound shines.
Let’s start with the campaign, which begins slowly and follows the rise of Joe Sheridan in the U.S. army. He begins as a major and rises up the ranks during World War II, all the while fighting against German forces and pursuing one mysterious individual – known only as Prometheus – who he blames for “sending a lot of boys home in pine boxes.” It’s not a very engaging story and with the forgettable voiceovers and often lame dialogue, you’ll soon want to skip over the plot-related scenes. However, even when you are engaged in battle, updates will often cause you to temporarily lose track of the map action. When the omnipotent commander issues a new objective, you can’t do anything while the game processes that objective for a few moments (during which time, units will continue to move). The game will also wrench camera control from your grasp sometimes – in order to highlight something specific – and that too can be annoying.
But you what? The requisite strategy is there. You’ll be able to achieve your objective in a variety of ways, via the likes of infantry, heavy armored tanks, airstrikes, and of course, ruses. You have to take the environment into account, too, as you can hide behind obstacles and buildings, and use your eagle-eye view to appropriately arrange any “anti” units at your disposal. You can even use radio silence to sneak all sorts of units into ambush situations, and you just gotta love the Terror ruse, which causes enemy units to “Rout” faster than normal. When a unit is Routed, it responds more slowly and becomes incapable of attacking; it’s just one of the many basics of battle. Basic control is simple: you can zoom in and out with ease (and it doesn’t hinder the game at all), there’s always plenty going on so there’s little chance of growing bored, maps are divided into segments where ruses become usable, and selecting and directing a unit is as easy as aiming with the left analog and pressing the X or Square (Select All) button.
The ruses are just really cool, if I haven’t mentioned it already. These special little trump cards can completely shift the momentum, and you always have to look around for good opportunities. Sure, the upgrading aspect isn’t as deep as some avid strategy followers might’ve hoped, but between the terrain impact, ruses, battlefield size and overall activity, and modes other than Campaign, the game offers plenty of longevity. Another big bonus is its accessibility. In addition to the three difficulty options, there is a distinct pick-up-and-play feeling that is often absent in games in this genre. Then, when you go online, you will find a robust and satisfying system that lets you choose between six different nations and compete on maps that support up to four players. The nations have different strengths and although exploring about and general reconnaissance is always crucial, the nation distinction adds variety.
It really is too bad that the Campaign has to fall so far short of expectations. If they had only managed to refine that entire mode, and allow us to dive into the nuts and bolts of the game earlier, R.U.S.E. could’ve been a great – perhaps even an elite-level – RTS. As it stands, though, it’s probably still a good option for strategy buffs; the depth really is there, despite a few limitations and drawbacks, and the different ways one can view the action, along with those ruses, make the game enjoyable. By the way, the vision changes are attributed to IrisZoom, a technology that “offers an intuitive interface that allows for smooth, rapid transitions from a bird’s-eye view of the entire conflict, down into the heat of the battle and vice versa.” It’s not a bad idea at all. We just needed more in the way of polish; more attention paid to the technicals and most certainly to the single-player campaign experience.
Even so, R.U.S.E. often succeeds where it counts. Not a bad option for strategy lovers.
9/15/2010 Ben Dutka