That’s okay, I love boobies.
It has been a growing trend in the RTS genre to focus more and more on streamlined play. The design objective, it seems, of every RTS is to keep the player engaged in momentary decisions during combat. Fiddly abilities, hard counters, combat and economics models balanced in favor of overwhelming force – the RTS is increasingly turning into a fast-paced genre. As a trend, it’s something I’ve been increasingly wary of. Faster does not mean better for a genre principally founded upon strategic skill and tactical instinct; just because you have a high APM doesn’t mean you know how to organize your force or best manage your resources or maneuver an intelligent plan.
[image1]R.U.S.E. elected to go in the opposite direction. It has a slower pace, focusing far more on positioning, intelligence gathering, and surgical strikes. The emphasis is placed very much on sight lines and recon; the game clearly displays the class of units in all sectors of the map, showing you broadly where your opponent’s positioned. With combat that resolves very quickly and requires minimal player input, many of the interesting decisions are about force organization, angle of attack, and having a complete picture of your opponent’s composition to work from. Simply producing a giant ball of troops will not guarantee a victory.
What’s interesting about the gameplay is the scale and general impression it makes; it’s a game played on the macro scale rather than the micro, which isn't seen often. Given the numerous decisions you must make on how to push large force mixtures about – or how to have the fire of one unit provide cover for an advance farther along the flank – the game’s lack of micro-management becomes a blessing.
Supporting this ‘macro’ feel is the best zooming feature of any RTS I’ve ever played; as you back out of combat, local groups are organized into stacks that can be easily selected and pushed about at need. This lets you quickly manage multiple fronts on the vast battlefields with ease, a necessity at times. It also has some great visual and audio effects working with it – zooming out shows you a table edge at the end of the map, eventually showing that the table sits in the middle of a military operations center, complete with clicks, beeps, and computer ciphers running. It’s the little things that push a game’s quality up sometimes, and though this doesn’t directly impact the gameplay in any way, it’s a very fun extra.
[image2]The big key feature of the game is the RUSE system, by which the player can influence the battlefield in particular zones. RUSEs vary from spies, who reveal enemy positions and force compositions, to radio silence that hide units from enemy visibility entirely, to decoy attacks and fanatical defenses. This allows for interesting stratagems, but the exact impact of these RUSEs is not always clear; some of the more bread-and-butter RUSEs become vital to regular gameplay, while some others gather dust in the corner, never to be used again after the game finishes introducing them. It’s something of a shame, because it ultimately feels like a broader rendition of Company of Heroes’ commander abilities.
The story is based upon World War II, which is nothing new or interesting. We’ve all played way too many WWII games, it’s true. The story is split among two key officers – Joe Sheridan and Von Richter. Joe’s a rank-climbing officer who uses his intellect and strategic skill mostly to secure himself glory and promotions, making him a surprisingly unlikable character. Thankfully, his sidekick is a pretty entertaining British intelligence sort, and the voice-acting highlight of the game.
The main thrust of the plot is largely droll – a Russian spy in the Allied ranks feeds intel to the Germans to prolong the war so the Russians can steal a bunch of research and make the Soviet army super-powerful. With unsympathetic characters and awkward pacing, the story does little to draw the player in. R.U.S.E. is best geared for a large-scale, epic war story, and WWII has plenty of ground for that; but going with the spy theme doesn't pan out for the game.
[image3]In terms of sound, music, and graphics, the game has a decent presentation; the terrain is a pretty realistic rendition of real world geography, the music is pleasant and enjoyable without getting distracting, and the sound effects are all distinct and crisp, making play by ear viable. The voice-acting was generally weak, however, generally leaning towards the bad end of the scale, and the script for the units is extraordinarily dull. Had Company of Heroes not provided such an excellent example, I might try and let the setting be a scapegoat for the flaw, but really, it’s just an area where the production was sloppy.
It’s also worth mentioning that the AI is actually a reasonably challenging opponent. It has a somewhat preposterous foresight in some circumstances, making a few RUSEs much less useful than they are against human opponents, but outside of that caveat, it’s aggressive, presses multiple angles of assault, and manages force composition quite intelligently.
On the whole, R.U.S.E. is a game that is not likely to get a great deal of mass appeal. It uses a very paced gameplay that doesn’t push adrenal glands for all they’re worth. Play is cerebral in nature, and you’ll spend all your time plotting out and shepherding large scale strategies; small failure points can cause a whole plan to collapse, so for some, R.U.S.E. will not be a fun play, just an exercise in frustration.
But R.U.S.E. has a fresh perspective that few RTS games have tried, and even fewer have succeeded with. R.U.S.E. feels like the realization of the ideas behind Supreme Commander; it’s a RTS on a gigantic scale, focusing more upon the control of a war front than the tactical details of a dozen soldiers. And at that, it succeeds brilliantly.