This game fooled me. At first it messed with me in single-player, then it stuck to me like a kitten in skirmish and multiplayer. It annoyed me with the slow campaign, but then it showed that it was at least half right after the ass-kicking I took in multiplayer. It might seem unbearably simplistic when looking from up there, with a full zoom-out, but you won’t last too long without micromanagement and a clear knowledge of the advantages and disadvantages of your troops. R.U.S.E is the kind of game you hate at first, but if you give it a chance, you won’t leave it any time soon.
Nothing more common than a second world war RTS, isn’t it? And it’s even about real stuff, there’s no alternate history in the campaign, no alien landing in Berlin to kidnap Hitler, nor any Stargate in Africa. Actually, the story follows 2 threads: first through the eyes of the American Major Joseph Sheridan, who will take us from Africa to Germany. Then, we’ll have fun with Major Erich von Richter, the man behind the Blitzkrieg (lightning war).
At the other end of the realistic campaign are the separate scenarios from the Operations section, missions with predefined troops and based on real events. But things go into fantastic directions here as well: England is Italy’s ally and it’s developing futuristic weapons to attack Germany, the Germans win at Stalingrad and then send the Russians to visit the concentration camps; the same Germans attack London on foot, under intense RAF fire and even stand a real chance of winning.
Of course, these things didn’t really happen, but they aren’t 100% the product of the designers’ imagination either: some come from documents discovered after the war that prove Hitler had a couple of the above ideas and some of them would have actually worked if put into motion at certain key points of the conflict.
The most important menu, after the buildings and army one, is the Ruses menu. These are meant to trick the enemy and, at the same time, give you precise information. And that is because, after all the efforts and millions of dead, many battles were won by those who got the best info first.
Maps in R.U.S.E don’t have fog of war, so all units are visible, except those hiding in the woods. Each type of unit (infantry, tanks, anti-tank batteries, transports, etc.) is marked in a certain way on the map. But the ruses will make you think the enemy has 20 tanks and only a few soldiers, while he’s got just the opposite. Or you get the soldiers, you hide them in the woods and, when they’re out in open, throw down in a Radio Silence to continue covering their tracks.
Or let’s assume that you want to fool the enemy into thinking that you are attacking him with tanks. Just like the English fooled the Germans into believing that the Normandy landing will be in Pas de Calais (with life size wooden models), you will also use a Decoy Tank Factory. Then you pretend to attack with the wooden tanks (the enemy sees them as real), while the actual army comes round to cripple his economy.
One of my favorite ruses was Spy, the one that unveils the enemy troops in a certain area, some of the first ruses that the game gives you. Spy can render your fake troops useless and all the strategy goes down the drain, but it will also help you organize unit production and defenses the right way. Of course, the number of ruses is larger and each one comes slowly into play to get used to their utility.
Unfortunately, the storyline itself is really boring and the cut scenes start just when the scenario gets interesting and thus ruin your concentration. Mind you, the producers tried to bring into play the human dimension of the conflict, but the slow approach actually sabotages what is otherwise a tense RTS. Just the same, since units and ruses are gradually introduced, the campaign moves slower than a snail, many missions have a limited number of units and you get to save/load very often just to understand what the game actually wants from you to win.
Between the earth and the sky
Besides the ruses system (unique in the RTS world, for the moment), the interface also stands out in a positive way. Even from the first versions I saw (on console and then during the beta), the zoom in/zoom out system caught my eye. In full zoom out, the perspective is reduced to a war table from the HQ of the nation you are currently playing and the units are represented by circles, triangles and distinct indicators (much like Supreme Commander).
A zoom in on the other hand will get you right in the middle of the action, the tanks come to life and the audio system is filled with the sound of explosions, gun fire and planes buzzing around bombing Leipzig (among others). Between the two extremes there are enough intermediary stages so that you’ll never miss the whole picture which lets you organize efficiently; on the other hand, there are plenty of thrills and the satisfaction that you can go down to see the enemy troops die first hand. Units can be placed inside buildings, hidden in woods or behind structures that give cover, and the artillery must be placed to have maximum efficiency.