R.U.S.E. is the little RTS that tried to be different.
I've been interested in R.U.S.E. since it was first unveiled. A game about deception is something fresh that the real-time strategy genre really needed, and if Ubisoft could deliver, it would be a colossal hit.
Unfortunately for Ubisoft, StarCraft II pretty much usurped RTS sales, and R.U.S.E. was left to scavenge for scraps.
R.U.S.E. largely succeeded in delivering a game that relies heavily on information warfare and deception, but a woefully disappointing campaign in a World War II scenario really drags down the game to a rental as opposed to an actual purchase.
R.U.S.E. has two things that set it apart from other RTS games, and both factors are very prominent in the gameplay. The first is the titular item: ruses. Consider these as power-ups that you can use on a map sector to gain a temporary advantage. These things can range from faster unit movement to things like Radio Silence, which makes all your units invisible to the enemy in that sector until you make visual contact. (Under normal circumstances, you're aware of all enemy unit locations, but not the exact unit in question.) Other ruses can do things like make infantry units appear to be heavy tank units until you're within visual range, make your units fight to the death, scare units more easily, and see what your opponent is ordering in a certain area of the map. It's a brilliant mechanic; when used properly, it can give you a serious tactical advantage on the battlefield. However, every ruse has a counter, so a talented player can see the ruses and counter them accordingly.
The second big factor is the game's scale. Using technology that Ubisoft calls Iriszoom, players can zoom in and out of the battlefield in a pretty dramatic manner, allowing you to control single units in a small skirmish or make a wide sweeping call over the entire battlefield. In an absolutely brilliant move, the game doesn't hide the fact that you're stepping into the shoes of a commander who's not really on the battlefield. When you're zoomed in, blue skies surround the units, birds chirp, soldiers cry out in agony, and you're in the middle of a war zone. As you zoom out, though, the sounds fade away, units are replaced by little chips that represent units. Finally, as you zoom out, the sky is replaced by a command center, and you can see men working away at radio communications and people scurrying around with papers in hand. Suddenly, you've been removed from the battlefield and you're just a general staring at a map and sending young men to their deaths.
These two factors dramatically change the feel of the game, and they make for an interesting and often intense gameplay experience — as long as your opponent is human. In this day and age, there's only so much fun that can be derived from beating the living snot out of a computer-controlled opponent, as challenging as it may be. (Lo and behold: a game that has decent AI and puts up a fight.) When facing a human opponent, the game truly shines. With a game that focuses so heavily on successfully deceiving, outwitting and crushing your enemy, getting that done against a human is an incredibly satisfying feeling. Unfortunately, since the game was released in early September, the online community has stagnated significantly, so finding a match can be very difficult.
As a result, most players are left with the single-player options. While skirmishes are fun, they can only last so long before you're sick of beating up computers, so you'll move on to the campaign. This is an unfortunate move on part of the player because the campaign is a gigantic misstep that will turn away most players from the game.
The campaign places you in the shoes in Major Joe Sheridan, who is essentially every hotshot military type stereotype pulled into a single person, and you're asked to like this individual. He evolves as the game progresses, but the story isn't compelling, and the missions feel so heavily guided that most players won't feel they're really having their strategic skills tested. It isn't until the tail end of the campaign that you're given free reign over your army, and then the game throws a decent challenge your way and says, "Outwit me," rather than the "Do as I say," as it has for most of the campaign.
Further compounding the guided feel of the campaign is that roughly every five minutes, the story feels the need to jump in and interrupt gameplay. Just as you're getting comfortable with pushing forward, the game snatches away control and delivers some story. This happens several times in almost every mission. This is made more annoying because the story isn't interesting. It's delivered with decent voice work, but the material is so worn-out — another World War II game that bends the truth about spies and the rest of the war — that experienced gamers' eyes will glaze over during story-related segments.
In order to learn the gameplay mechanics, one must play through the campaign, as the game is somewhat lacking in tutorials. You're welcome to jump right into skirmishes, but without the knowledge of what every single item for the six factions does, you're going to be embarrassed by the AI on easy difficulty. Most gamers find themselves at a crossroads: Do you have the patience to play through the slow, uninteresting campaign mode? Most gamers will respond in the negative. Those who persevere and get through the campaign will enjoy a deep and unique RTS game that's a solid distraction from the current heavy hitters like StarCraft II.
One thing that may attract some PlayStation 3 owners is full support of the Move controller. The Move controller is more precise than the controller and gets closer to the much-desired mouse and keyboard control scheme. Additionally, pushing things around with the Move controller makes it feel like you're actually a general pushing around pieces on a battlefield map and planning your next action. If you really want to get into the game, the PlayStation Move delivers a great way to do it.
With a disappointing campaign and a lack of online players to challenge, R.U.S.E. is a tough sell. If you're willing to play against mostly computer-controlled opponents, R.U.S.E. is an intense, involved and distinctive RTS that takes a while to learn, but victory is immensely satisfying. The ruse mechanics ensure a more tactical game where outwitting the opposition is absolutely necessary and offers significant rewards to the player. With the lack of things to do in the game other than play against AI-controlled enemies, R.U.S.E. can serve as a distraction while your favorite RTS' servers are down for repair. It might be a good rental title, but spending a full $60 dollars on this title is asking a bit too much.
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