RTS vets looking for a WWII simulator with twists would do well to pick up this title. The game may be a bit too complex for anyone else.
Imagine a game of chess, but updated. Replace bishops with artillery, knights with tanks. Pawns become infantry. Now, instead of events happening turn-by-turn, set each piece to move a tiny bit over time. Or picture a real, authentic war room. A square or rectangular table sits in the middle of the room, and what seems like uniformed men playing with infantry, tank, artillery, plane, and/or building-shaped toys. The men push the toys around the table and said toys actually fight it out. Fans of Nintendo’s Wars series may want to picture a real-time, much more realistic (and complicated) version of the game.
Like most real-time strategy titles, RUSE offers a campaign mode. While some may consider the campaign to be a tutorial, make no mistake: It’s a full-length, single-player RTS experience with dozens of missions. Each mission is broken up into several checkpoints, with each checkpoint reached upon completing a goal, such as capturing a building, holding a position, or securing a city. Only, there’s a little snag with this system.
RUSE only gives one objective at a time, but doesn’t show the total number of objectives in each mission. It’s not a particularly large issue, but throughout the missions, it’s impossible to tell one’s progress. Each next goal in a mission could be the last, but there’s no clear way to tell. While the game does this so players can be surprised by enemy tactics on the battlefield, it left me frustrated with the impression a mission was nearly accomplished. Time-after-time, I found there was more to do.
Each checkpoint offers a new goal, naturally. At this point, an Assistant General speaks, providing information and updates on the battlefield as a whole. It’s a nice effect, as there are cuts to close-ups of units on the field advancing, retreating, or coming into view, all to illustrate that meaningful events are occurring in real time. Again, there’s an issue: this occurs in real time. One can choose to pay close attention to these scenes or play the game, essentially. Those adept at multi-tasking won’t have any issue, but for the rest of us, it means there’ll be a struggle to pick up and cue in on the Cliff’s Notes version of the mission goal.
Most missions are punctuated by a few minutes of cut scenes - turns out Joseph Sheridan is the main character. In an early cutscene, Joe proclaims how little he cares for politics, and that he just wants to do right for his troops and the US. As RUSE occurs over several years of World War 2, we see Joe rise in ranks quickly; nearly every cutscene, Joe seems to have reached a new rank. A few creative liberties were taken, causing the game’s plot to veer in unforeseen directions at a few points, but most often, the story, rapid advancement of Joe Sheridan, and the leaps of even months at a time, are a vehicle used to let players recreate important battles of the second World War.
I was vastly impressed with the game’s controls. Without access to Move or a mouse, the DualShock controller really did offer a strong alternative. RUSE assigns various selections to nearly every button on the controller, and then locks onto units and buildings near the center of the screen for precision selection. It’s possible to select a large group of units by just pressing a button, then highlighting all the units with an on-screen circle, which is different from StarCraft’s “Box” method of selection, but it’s a method that does work well for the PS3 controller. Still, control lags behind the precision and speed of a computer mouse, unfortunately.
For me, RUSE’s greatest feature would almost certainly be its map. Remember the earlier war room description? Games are played on that table. When zoomed in, tanks, troops, and artillery appear normal, albeit a bit larger than their living counterparts would be, but zoomed out, the units become slow-moving chips while the edge of the table and glimpses of the room become apparent. Visually, this effect, while fathomable, is stunning. There’s no need for a mini-map: Just zoom out, move a little, and zoom in.
The core of the game, a competitive RTS based on real war has its ups and downs. RUSE’s greatest strength is its greatest weakness: Complexity and variety. There are six available nations to play as in RUSE. Each has its own units, restricted to use in one of three time periods based on technologies used at that point in time during war. Essentially, this means there are eighteen possible sets of units to battle with, and no individual set lacks variety and possibilities.
While the sheer volume of choice in options and play styles is astounding, it isn’t a game one could pick up and play with any degree of competitiveness without a massive investment of time. Perplexing this is the game’s chess-like nature: Units trump and counter other units, but individually, all units move very slowly. Players absolutely must think and plan ahead, positioning units in trees for tactical advantage, or sending in paratroopers to surprise foes. Since a unit can be devastated by its counter in mere moments, there’s consistently a sense of urgency. Damaged units will attempt to retreat and auto-heal, but these units will be doomed without proper back-up.
Ruses add in an extra element of strategy. The game‘s namesake, an individual ruse can alter the playing-field drastically. One ruse reveals all unit types in a given area. Another makes troops faster. A third scares away enemy troops, in a sense, making use of the game‘s retreating system. Enemy positions are, under normal circumstances, revealed, while nearby units are even more visible. Each map consists of several sectors of different shapes and sizes, and individual ruses can only affect one particular area, making choice and timing absolutely crucial.
In the end, RUSE is certainly a deep, complete title. That said, it’s far too complex for the average player. Personally, I felt the World War 2 theme felt a bit too much like a history lesson, but in all fairness, the theme is executed well. It’s difficult to pinpoint an audience for the title; the generic, similar designs across all six nations combined with the innate complexities behind so many possibilities results in a relatively average title. While the game is fundamentally sound, it’s bound to be too difficult to pick up for most players out there, and is likely a title just for RTS veterans looking for a unique experience, one different from a game like StarCraft.