On Monday, I was given the opportunity to see a demo of R.U.S.E., Ubisoft's new real-time strategy game for the PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Developed by French studio Eugen Systems (creators of Act of War: Direct Action), R.U.S.E. is an interesting new take on the genre featuring some very impressive new technologies.
The core mechanic of R.U.S.E. is that the player is encouraged to use deception to trick their opponent into making ill-advised tactical moves. Gone is the conventional RTS staple of the fog of war and instead, players are given ruses which are similar to the perks you might find in a shooter such as Call of Duty.
Before each match, the player is allowed to choose three ruses that they will be able to employ in combat. From the demo it appeared there were upwards of 20 ruses available in the game. They are broken into three categories: hide, deceive and steal. On a basic level, hide ruses allows players to hide units and buildings, deceive ruses allows the player to build decoy structures and armies, and steal ruses allows the player to steal information from their opponent, such as army movements.
Continue reading for the full R.U.S.E. preview.
The goal of the ruse system is to make the player feel like a crafty general, rather than just an overseer who built the biggest army or figured out the correct rock-paper-scissors counter to an enemy army. For example, a player could build a tank unit, but then also build a decoy tank unit. The decoys could then be sent to draw defenses away from the base, while the real unit is sent around the side for a sneak attack. Of course, the enemy could be countering with ruses and decoys of their own. It will definitely be interesting to see how the whole system plays out when the game ships.
One aspect of R.U.S.E. that really stands out is Ubisoft's new IRISZOOM technology. IRISZOOM allows a player to instantly zoom in and out from as far away as a satellite view of the battlefield, all the way down to the ground level where troops are engaged in combat and bombs are being dropped. In our demo, there was a little chop at the most detailed level, but the game is probably still a while off and the zoom technology was incredibly impressive. The camera does not jump from view to view. Rather, it smoothly rolls in and out through levels of detail, as if you were adjusting a camera lense.
At the furthest zoomed out level, the player can see movements across the battlefield including troop stacks, and make adjustments to their overall strategy. Once zoomed in, the player can micromanage their army, tell infantry to take cover in the woods, or just enjoy the show while artillery batters the coast-line, tanks roll through villages, and B-52's drop bombs on enemy strongholds.
R.U.S.E. is set during the events of World War II and the developers have promised over 200 units will be available to play with. Ubisoft intends for the game to be intuitive and at this point it appears that players can do everything including build units, move troops around the map, and employ ruses using only three buttons on a console controller. No longer will you have to click on a structure to start a unit queue, it can all be done through a dynamic series of menus that appear in the lower portion of the screen.
Another interesting aspect of R.U.S.E. is that damaged units can heal if they are pulled back from the battle before they are destroyed, similar to how health functions in shooters such as Gears of War and Halo. Resource harvesting is also a part of the game, although players must send trucks along established roads and pathways, so the enemy can attempt to disrupt your supply lines. Additionally, units can be built on any part of the map. However, the further away from your home base they are built, the longer they take to complete, so it will a balancing act for the player to decide if they need units immediatly, or at a more tactically advantageous location.
R.U.S.E. appears to be a bit of a gamble for Ubisoft. Console RTS' such as Tom Clancy's EndWar have been met with lukewarn reception, and although Halo Wars sold well, it had the Halo name to help with that. It will be interesting to see if the game's control scheme really does work intuitively on a 360 or PS3 controller. In addition, R.U.S.E. is very different from traditional RTS games. A big question will be if the strategy community latches on to a new take on the genre, or rejects it and goes back to playing established franchises like Dawn of War or the upcoming StarCraft II. The IRISZOOM tech certainly makes for a graphically stunning game, but it remains to be seen if the ruse system will lead to engaging, thoughtful combat, or if it is just a gimmick. Additionally, the combat at times seemed detached when zoomed out, yet completely chaotic when zoomed in.
In the end, the success of R.U.S.E. will likely come down to if Ubisoft can get the balance right. If smartly used ruses really work to give the player an advantage, and allow a weaker army to actually turn the tide of battle against a stronger one, it could lead to a thrilling chess match. Hopefully I get a chance to play R.U.S.E. in the near future, and find out if that actually is the case.
Also, in case you missed it, here's the first trailer for R.U.S.E.: