Strategy games have always lived off not knowing what your enemy was doing. The fog of war was both your enemy and your friend; shielding your movements from the enemy but also shielding their movements from you. So what happens when you strip away this secrecy to a certain degree?You get R.U.S.E. A game that relies more on planning than it does rushing your enemy first.
It mixes things up by allowing you to see the entire playing field, even where your enemies are. It won’t reveal what type of troops or how many are on their way, but it will give you a rough idea of what is headed in your direction. As such, it changes the game completely. This foresight allows you to plan counterattacks, ambush enemies and trick them into revealing their position. With the help of ruses, the stakes are raised even higher. The game board is split into sections; in each section, a number of ruses can be implemented. These range from Spy, which reveals the position of the troops (including hidden ones) and their type, Decryption, which lets you listen in to the enemies orders, to Radio Silence, which means you disappear from your enemies map allowing you to spring a whole range of surprises. R.U.S.E. is all about deception and the key to victory is tricking your enemies or getting one up on them.
These ruses are what makes the game so much different to other RTS titles. Games can be won and lost with successful implementations of a ruse. You could be coming up to an strategic point flanked by forests, so you may use your Spy to ensure no enemy troops are waiting to ambush you there. You could use Radio Silence to sneak a few antitank weapons into position for the oncoming rush of enemy tanks or you could make your troops fearless enough to take on a prototype tank. It adds a whole new level of strategy when it comes to planning attacks or planning defence.
Another great feature is the ease of troop movement, which is great for beginners and experts. If you were to zoom all the way out, it would turn the board into a general’s strategy table, with the troops seen as chips stacked on top of each other. Here you are able to move all the troops in this stack together. As you zoom further in, the chips separate and individual troops can moved at will, for a more strategic effect. But if you have a whole lot of tanks ready to storm a city, this view is extremely helpful in selecting all at once. This zoomed out view also makes it easier to build structures anywhere on the map. There is a simplicity to it that strategy veterans may not like. There is no patrol option nor a defend position option, which is confusing since the game at points relies heavily on defence.
R.U.S.E. is best played online because the campaign is pretty poor. It feels like a long tutorial; and I mean long. You don’t actually get to the structure creation until the 6th or so level in and even then it’s just the bare minimum. It doesn’t help that the game never lets go of your hand; even though you feel like you’ve mastered the wheels, it refuses to take off your stabilisers just in case you might hurt yourself. It’s not until the final few missions that you really do get to take things in your own hands.
This hand holding is coupled with an extremely poor story which is meant to drive the campaign along. You take control of Major Sheridan who is pitted against a German enemy that knows his every move before he even makes it, which is a bit rubbish for the US Army. It isn’t a great story to start with but it’s made even worse by the cheesy dialogue, poor voice acting and awkward cutscenes which the game seems to throw you into every five minutes or so. Even on the battlefield it can get frustrating. The camera swoops about between points of interest, even if you’re in the middle of organising your troops which, potentially, could leave them walking into a trap without your guidance. Slide in panels to show new enemy types also seem to get in the way of the action all too frequently. I’ll admit that the hand-holding lets you get used to each ruse and each type of strategy but there are points where you feel like your progression is just too slow. The campaign seems more like a puzzle game, with each scenario scripted and only certain actions available to counter it, which removes all fun from the strategy side.
Luckily, the online side of things is much better. You’re thrown into a match pretty quickly due to the surprisingly high number of people playing and from there can pick six nations. There isn’t much to separate any of them, so picking one isn’t a big deal. This is what I wished the campaign would be more like. Whereas most strategy games have a tech tree, here the tech tree is gone allowing you to build whatever you like, whenever you like as long as you have enough cash. This is great for building up a quick defence or a quick offensive group but with resources limited, you can’t build them so fast that rushing becomes common. Ruses work in the same way, with each ruse being able to be used in a grid of the board to reveal or hide certain things. The online, and scenario for those playing alone, is where the real fun of R.U.S.E. is found.
The game performs with very little slowdown. Zooming in and out of the board is as smooth as silk and, even with a large number of units on screen, the game handles the chaos that can ensue, though it has been toned down compared to the PC version. The terrain doesn’t look fantastic and there is occasional pop up of the terrain, but it’s not enough to ruins the experience. After all, it isn’t about how it looks, it’s about the new fresh take on the strategy genre. For those tired of the same old strategy, R.U.S.E. will mix things up and keep it extremely fresh. You need to think about deception as well as offence and defence. It isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the fresh twist is enough for any strategy fan to at least take a look.