Reviewed: October 29, 2010
Released: September 7, 2010
It's hardly a secret that World War 2 games are saturating the market. We've seen Operation Overlord, we've seen the campaign for Normandy and the push to Berlin. We've seen earnest squads of soldiers working together to take hills. Just when it seems like World War 2 is entirely tapped out in terms of material for video games, R.U.S.E., developed by Eugen Systems and published by Ubisoft, hit PC and consoles. Featuring a focus on intelligence and command both in the narrative and the game, R.U.S.E. brings a fresh coating of deception to World War 2 strategy.|
The single most innovative part of R.U.S.E.'s gameplay is its eponymous ruses. Each ruse is an effect you can deploy to a section of the battlefield, ranging from decoy attacks and bases or hiding enemy intelligence on units out of sight to effects that cause enemies to retreat faster or fortify your soldiers morale for otherwise suicidal assaults. You get ruses on a set timer, making them more of a test of strategic skill than micromanagement, though the cap on how many you can score forces you to use them over the course of a battle rather than save them up.
The use and manipulation of intelligence is at R.U.S.E.'s core. Enemy units in the open are represented as large and small chips to represent heavy and light units. Ruses can be used to identify the specific units, hide units from enemy intelligence, hide your base buildings to render them undetectable, and flip the light/heavy designators for units, among other things, making managing your and enemy intelligence crucial for defending your base and being able to strike at enemy weaknesses. Units on foot can hide in the forest or in cities, which both hides them from enemy intelligence and allows them to ambush units, allowing infantry to stay relevant late in the battle as defenders, while reconnaissance vehicles allow you to spot hidden units and identify enemy forces without the short-lived Spy ruse.
R.U.S.E.'s presentation swings between genuinely interesting and a workmanlike, if plain, typical World War 2 setting. When you're zoomed in to the battlefield, you're presented with a no-frills presentation of soldiers and vehicles progressing through the countryside to the accompaniment of brassy, John Williams-esque music. When zoomed out, thought, the battlefield becomes a scale model of itself, the soldiers and vehicles replaced by models placed on stacks of chips, the music becoming the sounds of a World War 2 headquarters far behind the lines, surrounded by the accouterments of military planning. The atmosphere reinforces the distance the game tries to create, the feeling of high-level strategy separated from the mud, blood and grime of the battle itself.
If there's a major place where R.U.S.E. stumbles, it's the single-player campaign. Following the career of Joe Sheridan, a major in the US army, it manages to hit a few notes that aren't very played out, with a story largely focused on the use of intelligence and counter-intelligence as a means of waging war, and missions that include battles in northern Africa, the Italian campaign, and one of the more unique portrayals of the Normandy landings on D-Day, where taking the beach was only the beginning of the battle. However, cutscenes frequently interrupt missions, the animation resides somewhere in the uncanny valley, and the missions tend to be more puzzle than strategic cat and mouse.
Though the promise of showing war from a distinctly detached general's-eye view, rather than the more personal or more generic perspectives of other games could have been interesting, it falls flat and ends up feeling bland. Additionally, with World War II having such a rich history of deception and espionage, many of the missions seem to be based on fictional events, with groups like the Army's 23rd Special Troops, a group of artists who managed to pull off some of the largest decoy operations in the war, conspicuous in their absence.
However, where the single-player fails to live up to its potential, the multiplayer, in both one-on-one, two-on-two, and free-for-all formats stand out. While much faster paced than the campaign would lead the player to believe, the online multiplayer manages to live up to expectations, with feints, attacks and counter-attacks, and information warfare being the order of the day. If anything, the most meaningful downside is that out of the game's six nations, you only play as the United States during the campaign that serves as a tutorial.
The rest, consisting of the UK, France, Russia, Germany and Italy, are differentiated by what units they have available, and it becomes difficult to identify their specialties, leaving a look at the in-game unit list and careful analysis of the nations being the only way to figure out how they'd play outside of actually taking them for a spin and hoping you learn the right lessons from playing them. With so many factions with such relatively subtle differences between them, some method of telling how the nations are supposed to play would have been a marked improvement.
While R.U.S.E. isn't perfect by any means, its concept is refreshing, trying to promote information warfare in a genre where victory often comes down more to knowing the systems of the game than general strategy. For any fan of strategy looking for something outside of the norm, R.U.S.E. breathes new life into an old war.