There are two things most strategist gamers love. A table covered in pieces representing their massive army, slowly flanking an enemy company trying to hide while they setup an ambush on another side of the world and of course, a good old fashion real time strategy video game. R.U.S.E., the new World War II game developed by Eugen Systems and published by our friends at Ubisoft, takes all these elements, and throws them together to make a solid RTS game that takes awhile to get going, and requires a great deal of patience at times, but if its your style of game... You might be in for a treat.
At it's core, R.U.S.E. is a RTS the employs the standard mechanics you'd expect, but when you start to dig a little you find a rather deep game reliant on a lot of strategic planning and well executed ruses, hence the name. One of the aspects of R.U.S.E, as the name suggest, has a system in place that really changes things from the way you would normally play an RTS. A ruse is a skill that you can make use of to help spoil the plans or your enemy in a variety of ways. Some of them are designed to give you a little extra information that could help turn the tide, others help hide information from your enemies and help you disguise and attack and finally some are designed to be all out bluffs designed to fool your opponent into thinking one thing, while youre doing the other.
Battles play out on a large scale battlefield in which you can zoom right out and see the big picture, displayed as a table top war game with units represented by stacks of chips similar to your typical war based board games. Zoom right in and you're able to control individual units and micromanage a certain section of the war. For example you could be planning an ambush on an unsuspecting enemy squad in the north and leading in a squad of bombers in the west, while fortifying a base in the south. It's a great mechanic, and one of the most interesting parts of the game.
There are definite concessions made to make up for the large scale scope of the game, with pretty regular graphics and detail on the units, buildings and land in general. They're far from horrible, but as I like to say, they're nothing to write home about. The pacing of the battles themselves are a slightly different from your typical RTS. Perhaps fitting when you take into account the era the game is representing, battles are long and drawn out, moving slowly and relying heavily on your ability to understand and read what your opponent is doing, and adjusting plans that are already well under way in an attempt to outsmart and defeat the enemy, instead of just simply overpowering them.
On the heels of the best of the game, comes the worst... Unfortunately it's the single player campaign. Starting with some lack luster voice acting, and ending with some poor pacing, the single player campaign is tough to get through. They pull the old bait-n-switch by giving you a huge arsenal of tools to tease you with just how powerful you can be, and then they take it sly away! Sadly it takes a long time to get even close to that level again, and by then I'd just a about had enough. I felt like I spent the rest of the game chasing that big moment that never arrived. The campaign walks you through the game not directly holding you hand and can give you some punishing lessons if you don't implement the correct strategy, or don't time your "Ruses" correctly, you'll quickly see your army falling apart, and the end is not far behind.
The start of the game, after they pull the aforementioned bait-n-switch are painstakingly slow, it's worse than watching paint dry, but if you can get your way past it, and ignore a thing story line with 3rd rate acting, you will find yourself wrapped up in some rather intense battles, which can be very satisfying when you watch a well laid plan come together, or watching your opponents plans get foiled by some solid planning.
By the mid point of the game, things get easier, and your planning and proactive approach can be ignored for a more responsive one, and I felt that it really took away from the strength of the game, and let's players off a little too easy later on, which is a little backwards.
If you manage to find your way to the end of the campaign, or even if you don't, there are AI skirmishes and online head to head PVP combat options available to you. In typical RTS fashion you have a variety of game types and maps available to you, suited for one on one, two on two, free for all and so on. The factions, in this case countries, are all fairly similar to each other, and make it easy to go from one to the other with just slight advantages and disadvantages to each one.
Overall Eugen Systems delivers an RTS with a solid core, and fantastic gameplay execution but fails to make it shine through a completely forgettable single player campaign. Of course theres more to games these days than its solo game, and for those willing to see past its one major flaw there is a very compelling and fun multiplayer experience waiting for you. Even the AI skirmishes can keep you entertained while you try to hone your skills and develop unbeatable strategies. R.U.S.E is an intriguing take on a well established genre where thinkers and strategists will rise to the top, and those unwilling to plan a head, will quickly find themselves in the middle of a perfectly executed ambush with no hope of coming out alive.
The Way I See It. If you like outsmart your opponent, and are tired of the same old RTS, R.U.S.E. should be right up your alley!