R.U.S.E. Review

By Kevin Kelly - Posted Sep 16, 2010

R.U.S.E. takes a fairly simple WWII real-time strategy game and turns things upside down by adding ways for you to practice trickery and deceit against your enemies. A phalanx of advancing tanks might seem imposing, but the game changes when a single card can deter them, or turn them into decoy ghosts.

The Pros
  • Streamlined RTS gameplay
  • Campaign tutorial is comprehensive
  • R.U.S.E. cards are gamechangers
The Cons
  • Controls sometimes frustrate
  • Not granular enough for hardcore wargamers

R.U.S.E. is not a complex game as far as RTS titles go. In fact, it is easily outshined in the unit management and depth arena by the recently released StarCraft 2. R.U.S.E. boils things down managing only Supply Depots, which keep cash flowing to your base allowing you to build new units. Other than learning how units stack up against each other, and how to best use the terrain to your advantage … that's basically the entire game.

The twist is that it does this against a WWII backdrop, referring to actual historic battles in the war. And of course, it throws in the all-important R.U.S.E. tricks.



Delays Can Sometimes Be Good

R.U.S.E. notoriously missed several ship dates, and I can only assume that's because the public beta they had gave them a lot of feedback. Feedback that said, “Hey, this game has some problems.” Which it did. I was in the beta early because I was a huge fan of the tabletop concept that R.U.S.E. is based on: use the IRISZOOM engine they're so fond of pimping when talking about this game, and you can pull all the way out of the game so that it looks like a model on a table in a situation room, yet with units moving and the sounds of battle still going on.

But rather than having a learning curve, that version of R.U.S.E. actually had a learning wall. Meaning there was no slow ramping up. Instead you crashed headlong into “How do I play this game?” Thankfully, they took the time to tweak things extensively, and the version you can now purchase is very different from the one I was first dropped into. After a couple of hours with R.U.S.E. last time around, I was ready to throw my mouse through a window. Now, it's an enjoyable game right from the start.

The game now has a framing campaign that slowly teaches you how to build units. select them,  position them, set up attacks and so on, and it does this very well. In fact, my only gripe is that after you issue a command to a unit, it deselects that unit, so you have to click on it again to reposition them, or make them attack. It's a minor annoyance, but is present constantly.

While putting you through a rough history course with references to real battles, the game campaign plays with you as Major Joe Sheridan, a no-nonsense army officer who likes to charge headlong into battle. He's paired with veteran British officer who is more calculating, which is where the R.U.S.E. cards come into play. There isn't a lot of depth in the game; units don't have special abilities, you can't seed field with mines or develop secret tech. But the R.U.S.E. cards are meant to fill that void.

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Randal: I don't appreciate your ruse, ma'am.
Indecisive Customer: I beg your pardon?
Randal Graves: Your ruse. Your cunning attempt to trick me.
Clerks - 1994

R.U.S.E. is really what this game is about, and there's a reason it's the title. Tricking, outwitting, or spying on your opponent is all about playing the proper R.U.S.E. cards, and they can make or break an entire mission or match. Play a decoy R.U.S.E. to make it look like you have a large army, and then sneak up behind your foe, or intercept their movement orders to find out what they have planned.

There are eight different R.U.S.E. cards in the game, and they each fall into one of three categories: Hide, Reveal, and Fake, and these serve as timed bonuses that either let you fool your enemy, or see what they're up to. In the single player campaign, you'll learn how to use these one by one, which serves as a great lesson in how valuable they can be, and in multiplayer you'll quickly see how sneaky they are.



Nothing To Put Back In The Box!

If you ever played a game of Axis & Allies, then you know what a pain it can be to set up the enormous board and keep track of the bajillion little plastic pieces. Before that, in the dark and dusty days of simulated wargames, you did the same thing, but with dozens of little cardboard squares that you had to punch out. R.U.S.E. represents the future, where a computer now handles all of that for you.

Instead, you just have to keep an eye on your cash supply in the game, to make sure that a steady stream of money is coming in while units keep going out. This allows you to build bigger and better units, which you'll need throughout the game no matter how many R.U.S.E. cards you've accrued. Playing through the entire 23 episode single player campaign is your best bet to familiarize yourself with R.U.S.E., and although it might sound daunting, it's actually a lot of fun. Yes, the plot is paper-thin and the voice acting can be overly cheesy at times, but the different episodes show you how to use different units and R.U.S.E.s effectively, which pays for itself in terms of time spent in-game.

I'm Done With The Campaign, Now What?

Most people will play through the campaign to learn how the controls work, but other than ramping up the difficulty, there's not much reason to return to it. So where does the replay factor come in for R.U.S.E.? Luckily there are several options to choose from that will keep this game on the top of your stack for awhile.

Operations are RTS challenges, where you'll need to mount an attack or defend an objective to win. Although the campaign is single player, two of the Operations objectives are co-op, letting you run and gun with a friend. It's a pity that more co-op wasn't introduced in the game, as it's a fun way to play that better simulates multiple commanders engaging in a single battle.

Skirmishes toss you into immediate multiplayer battles, and these can be epic or short-lived, depending on your familiarity with the units, and your knowledge of the different maps. If Eugen had included a map editor for R.U.S.E., you might be seeing some domineering gameplay. As it stands now, there's an addictive quality to jumping in and besting your opponent because of a particularly well-played R.U.S.E. Hopefully they will continue to support this title with DLC Operations and different maps/units.



R.U.S.E. on The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3

Playing R.U.S.E. on an Xbox 360 or a PS3 means you have to abandon the mouse and keyboard for a controller, and that means you're going to play a bit slower. You'll mostly notice this when skirmishing against others online, but it's definitely there. Despite the fact that R.U.S.E. is fairly easy to control on a console, you just can't achieve the same level of speed and accuracy that you can on a PC.

Graphically, the PC excels as well, and you'll notice a lot of texture pop when you play on the consoles. That's not to say it's not a fun console experience. Halo Wars on the Xbox 360 proved that RTS games can be both successful and enjoyable with a controller, and R.U.S.E. walks that same path. Both console versions control exactly the same way, and it doesn't take long for it to feel natural.

The PlayStation 3 has a slight advantage over the Xbox 360 version of the game in that it includes Move support right out of the box. There's definitely a learning curve to using R.U.S.E. with the Move controller, although it's not as steep as you would think. After about 30 minutes with it, you'll feel natural enough to breeze through campaign missions. However, it is can be difficult to target single units at times, and you have to keep the controller pointed at the screen, even during cutscenes.

This Is One Ruse That Worked

R.U.S.E. isn't going to set the RTS world on fire as the next big thing, but it's a fun and enjoyable game, both in campaign and multiplayer alike. When you're deep in battle with an A.I. or real-life opponent, and you start breaking the game down into trying to decide whether or not to build more artillery construct an airfield, that's the type of decision-making strategy that makes games like this fun.  

Thanks to the last-minute decision by Ubisoft to avoid using their own DRM and to support Steam, getting this on the PC is a smart decision, although I enjoyed the console versions as well. If you're a fan of wargames (albeit without a lot of depth), RTS games, WWII, or trickery, R.U.S.E. is a safe bet and will keep you happily occupied.