Under The Radar: R.U.S.E. – Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
The debate between tactics and strategy was raging long before I was born and shall continue long after I shuffle off this mortal coil. Though I’m not going to debate the point here, I’ve always seen strategy as being the master plan, and tactics being the means to the end as defined by the strategy; which is why I always found the “RTS” (Real Time Strategy) label to be a bit of a misnomer. There never seemed to be as much Strategy at work as there was a constant application of Tactics. Not a slap at the genre, just an observation. So when R.U.S.E. dropped in September of last year I raised an eyebrow, downloaded the demo, and promptly went back to playing Halo Reach.
Now, my apathy towards console RTS revolves mostly around the inherent limitations presented by a controller vs. mouse/keyboard scheme. That and the fact most developers never quite made the logical leap to design controls around a gamepad vs. trying to port existing mouse/keyboard control conventions into a space not meant for them. Halo Wars and Supreme Commander 2 are the only console RTS titles to have provided a palatable experience, and even they remind me a bit much of the Starcraftian days of yore.
Then here comes R.U.S.E. with an intelligent control design mated with a slower-paced gameplay style, forcing a strategic three-moves-ahead mindset. Not to mention an interface capable of providing both the sensation of being the guy back in HQ calling the shots or of a squad leader reacting to the here and now of combat. Yes, please.
Fast forward to early August 2011, in the barren moonscape of the Summer release schedule. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is tantalizingly close, yet impossibly far. Warhammer 40K: Space Marine‘s lumbering silhouette is still approaching, and Dark Souls looms in the distance like an immense ziggurat of sadomasochistic delight. Having precisely zero interest in the 2011 videogame release schedule thus far, I came across my downloaded demo for R.U.S.E. and decided it may cure an afternoon’s boredom. 45 minutes later I’m done with the demo and banging keys on my laptop like a toy monkey with brass cymbals to find a retail copy. Yes, I could’ve downloaded it, but an extra $10 for a digital-only copy? Sorry, no.
Set in the squeezed-dry-to-the-point-of-being-a-desiccated-husk background of WWII, R.U.S.E. places you in the shoes of an allied commander, Joe Sheridan, climbing the ranks with his British attaché/sidekick Andrew while engaging the Axis forces in a variety of theatres. Caring about the story will last a limited amount of time – with an estimated ceiling of about 30 seconds. The voice acting is decent, though the cut-scenes inform you that you’ve been thrust into the virtual shoes of a stereotypically cocky, power-hungry American officer. Mercifully, you can hit the start button to skip these scenes and get down to business.
R.U.S.E. has incredible map scaling and it impressed the hell out of me. Zoom all the way into the map, and you can see individual members of an infantry squad taking action in response to your orders with the crackle of gunfire and boom of explosives. Zoom all the way out, and you’re in the aforementioned map room with the hum and background noise of a quiet HQ. The units become markers bearing the country-appropriate flag, and you’re looking at a Cliffs Notes summary on how your battle is shaping up. I’ll note here that the zoom function on the map is one of the smoothest that I’ve ever seen. The unit visuals are well detailed and make it worthwhile to occasionally pause and watch everything unfold. The music is appropriately military in tone and the sound effects of combat do their job.
The gameplay, as mentioned earlier, is slow-paced which will trigger a love/hate reaction depending on your temperament (no zergling rush here!). This game is designed to be played on the macro scale, so unit selection can get a bit dicey, though intelligent choices combined with the common-sense control layout can make this job easier. I found the learning curve to be on the shallow side, which is always a good thing to see when juggling the plethora of menus and units inherent to the RTS breed.
An integral part of the opening missions is allocation of your forces. You won’t have access to bases or the bulk of ruses yet, so a single tactical whoopsie can send you right back to the beginning of the level. The strictly defined force levels cause the opening missions to be particularly challenging. Things loosen up in later levels once you’re constructing your own facilities and units – which doesn’t mean things get magically easier. You need to constantly update your tactics as your ambushes which served you so well in the beginning will not be nearly as effective once the enemy starts fielding recon units, for example.
From your headquarters you gain access to supply depots, which are the game’s only resources. You construct multiple bases to support the various ground and air units that you are created to accomplish your goals. Thoughtful choices carry the day, as a rushed decision can quickly unravel your entire game plan. The game helpfully provides a threat rating when considering an attack on a troop under observation. However, a detailed description of units for each faction in the game is included and should be required reading. Understanding the nuances of each faction is certainly a must. For example: spitting distance from a Panzer III is not when you want to realize your faction’s infantry doesn’t carry antitank weaponry, a fact listed in the unit description.
While you need to understand your available units, it is also important to know how and when to use particular deceptive tactics: Deploying spies (to determine enemy strength; ordering radio silence; and deploying decoy units to bluff your enemy into a retreat. With these maneuvers and more, R.U.S.E. provides a strategic toolbox any commander would love.
Upon further reflection, a player must wonder why it’s taken so long for a developer to implement these common-sense tools in a RTS. Ultimately, units alone will not carry the day. A player must be able to see the battlefield and use their troops and ruses in concert. Thankfully, R.U.S.E. makes it damn fun to do so.
Admittedly, it’s been almost a year since release, but I was still surprised to have such difficulty finding a multiplayer game. Analysis of the boards shows an active, if small, console population, so I will update this section once I run them to ground.
Overall, R.U.S.E. is an enjoyable entry with a slightly different take on the RTS genre. The audio/visual palette does a good job of keeping the player immersed and engaged while the easy-to-use control scheme knocks down one of the primary barriers of console RTS play. The less frantic gameplay style will appeal to the armchair general in all of us and makes R.U.S.E. one of the more accessible RTS titles I’ve come across. Hopefully, this won’t be the last entry in the R.U.S.E. series as UbiSoft is certainly on to something. I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Wanderson75.net gives R.U.S.E. 4/5
Under the Radar is a new effort by Gamer Living to draw attention to those games you may not have noticed or not found time for, but are still well worth your time and money.
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