R.U.S.E. (PS3)

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Wars are won by telling lies (now that I think about it, they are often started by lies as well). Lie about having the biggest bombs and the opposition might just call it quits to fight another day. Lie about the number of soldiers, the range of your weapons or the movement of your troops, and the opposition will shake in their army boots. It’s as simple as that. R.U.S.E. is a strategy game than plays heavily on the lying part of war.

Set during World War II, the player assumes the role of Joe Sheridan, only visible in the cut-scenes, a low ranking US Army officer, and Erich von Richter, his Nazi opponent. Starting off in North Africa and making its way through Italy and into deeper Europe, you control far more than just the ambitious Sheridan. You control his entire company of soldiers, tanks, bombers and his lies. His mission: wipe out the Axis threat, and find out who the spy named Prometheus is. So, does R.U.S.E. add enough to a fairly sparse genre on console, to warrant this attention?

RUSE Screenshot 1

Business strategy

R.U.S.E. is a real-time strategy game at its core. A RTS means you have to build a small base, create units, send them to the enemy, kill them all and destroy their base. The one who is harvesting the most resources and building the most units is normally assured a victory. Not in R.U.S.E. The focus is more on strategy than in many other so called RTS games, and even more so than any other RTS available on consoles today.

R.U.S.E. only has a few maps available. These maps are represented as huge planning tables in a war room with radios and typewriters noticeable in the background. The units are tokens and discs on the table. But you can zoom all the way in until you can see each man with his rifle, leaving the table behind and moving right into the battlefield. This adds a very nice way of boxing in the player with invisible walls. He can’t strategise off the table, now can he?

Playing the missions will normally involve moving forward on the same table, allowing the developers to re-use the same table. This sounds a bit cheap but works really well considering how big these tables really are. It also gives you some idea of where the war campaign is headed, before you get your orders on where to go.

RUSE Screenshot 2

Rather than spend a lot of time with resource harvesting, the player only needs to control supply depots and the rest is taken care of. Money flows in and you can focus on the strategy part of the game. Units are manufactured in different buildings depending on their type, and these buildings can be built pretty much anywhere on the map. Build them too close to the enemy and you will pay for it though.

Dubya dubya too

Being a WWII game, you can expect the usual selection of units, from general infantry to tanks and bomber airplanes, each with realistic weaponry, ranges and skill levels. The balancing of the units has been done very well, and every unit has definite strong and weak points, especially against certain other units. This is one of the few strategy games where a GI can take down a tank. This may not sound very balanced, but it all makes sense.

GI’s carry bazookas, but their range is too small to hit tanks before the tanks decimate them. In order to hit the tank your GI needs to be hidden and wait for the tank to get close enough. Hiding in wooded areas has the desired effect. In the same way anti-tank guns can shoot far, but cannot see very far. Assign a scout vehicle to the weapons and their combined range and visibility allows them to be a vicious force.

RUSE Screenshot 3

All of this is nothing new though, and the main drawing card for R.U.S.E. is “RUSE cards” you can play during the game. These cards have a limited time and area of effect, but really push the game in a unique direction. Each ruse has a different function to deceive your opponent. You can either tell your troops to use radio silence, or activate some fanaticism which means they won’t retreat. You are limited to how often you can use your ruses, and knowing when to play which ruse could make the difference between winning and losing.

Playing by yourself

In the single player campaign you slowly unlock new types of ruses while in the AI and multiplayer levels you have all the ruses at your disposal. The single player game really does a great job of slowly getting you into the game. For a beginner the pace will be perfect, but anybody with a bit of strategy experience will feel like the earlier tutorial levels are just not fast enough. By the end of the campaign though, even the toughest players will leave with a sense of accomplishment.

As much fun as the single player game is, the real magic happens in multiplayer. Skirmish levels against the AI can give you a taste of what is to come, but until you play against another human and then use your lying ways…I mean ruse cards…against him, you will not know what this game was meant for. Now play against three other players on huge maps and get a feeling what it must have been like for real commanders during the big WW2.

RUSE Screenshot 4

The ruse cards feel like they really add a layer to the gameplay that I have not seen anywhere else. For example, I am playing the Germans against a Soviet player. We meet in the middle of the map and slog it out for a while. I then use my radio silence ruse on the sector we fight in. This means he will not be able to see my units or where they are going unless he has visual contact. I soon realize he can still anticipate my moves and then realize that he most probably has a spy in my sector. I decide to play my reverse orders ruse, which means his spy will feed the orders to him, but in the wrong way. I continue on my way East, and I can see how his forces are now moving West, anticipating my arrival. My ruse has paid off and I slip past his defenses, raiding his rear guard. Mission accomplished! That is until he plays a ruse of fanaticism, forcing his troops to fight to the death and not surrender. It was a bloody battle, and I barely scraped through. I guess I told the best lies!

Graphically the game looks very good, once the textures have loaded properly. This is normally not that big a distraction in fast moving games as the scenery tends to just fly past. But in a slow and deliberate strategy game texture popping is enough of a distraction to steal some of the game’s glory. It is only visible when you zoom in and the PS3 tries to compensate by loading the higher detail levels. This happens every single time you zoom in and, due to the control scheme, you zoom out to move your camera, and in to focus on the action. So it pops up a lot. Having played the PC version as well, this problem seems to be limited to the console edition.

RUSE Screenshot 5

Losing control

That brings me to the control scheme, something that haunts every strategy game on console. With no mouse and keyboard, controls will always be a problem. Games try all sorts of ways to make it easier with radial menus and even voice commands. R.U.S.E. makes use of no gimmicky control schemes, and I think it is better off for it. Right stick zooms and rotates the camera, left stick pans the camera, and the cursor automatically snaps to the unit closest to the middle of the screen. Coming from a PC RTS background, it did bug me in the beginning, but soon it becomes second nature.

It does allow you to make finer selections by selecting by unit type, or providing a selection brush that you drag over the units you want to select. You can then select between the units already selected, just in case you selected that unarmed jeep to move along with your tanks to attack a heavily guarded bunker. Selecting your bombers and fighters is very easy as they get assigned to the D-pad. No need to move back to the airbase, select the aircraft and then move back to the target.

As an added bonus the game also includes Move controls, however, I was unable to test this out as I do not have a Move controller…yet. But I can imagine this natural controller will make the game that little bit easier to play. I will certainly comment on this once I’ve had a chance to play using the Move.

RUSE Screenshot 6

R.U.S.E. is doing a lot of things right. The WWII setting might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but for any fan of the era this game will provide hours of entertainment. Get past the few smaller snags like the texture pop-ins, the 2-stick control scheme and you will find a game worthy of anyone’s collection. Now add the multiplayer that would make this game worth the cost alone, and there is no more reason to pass up on R.U.S.E. The best strategy game available on console today, and that is not a lie! Honest!

The good: Great strategic gameplay; brilliant multiplayer if you are patient.
The bad: Control without a keyboard and mouse; pacing too slow for some.
The ugly: Texture pop-up becomes too common and distracting.