Strategy games remain one of the last vestiges of computer gaming superiority.
As close as some console games have gotten to cracking the code to deliver the sort of real-time strategy fun that gamers expect from these sorts of games, no one has quite nailed it.
The latest attempt comes from Eugen Systems and Ubisoft, which bring a stripped down form of strategy to the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that makes up for its lack of deep gameplay with the addition of game-changing deception plays.
Does sending out decoy units, hiding troops under camouflage and spying on enemies make up for the nuance many console strategy games lack?
The Ruse: The central point of R.U.S.E. are the titular ruses, a collection of diversions, espionage tricks and smokescreens meant to liven up the pacing of this real-time strategy title. And they work, adding a fascinating, mostly unexplored element to the genre.
Strategy Trainer: R.U.S.E.'s campaign is at its best when it focuses on broad strategic lessons, rather than the nuance of at-the-moment combat. The game is at its most fun when it feels more like a strategy puzzle title than an action game.
Line of Sight: Plenty of games use a units line of sight to impact the outcome of combat encounters, but I liked this game's approach the most. By clicking on any unit you could see it's area of fire and what was blocked, making hiding in cities or trees very important.
Room With a View: The game's unit graphics are interesting, and the terrain well modelled, but what caught my attention was the ability to zoom so far out of combat that units because pieces on a table in a tent or headquarters.
Here's Waldoes: There are plenty of ways to play R.U.S.E. on the PS3, but the best is with the Move and Nav controllers, which feel a bit like you have an invisible waldoes pushing your units around on the game table.
Simple: While the puzzle-like, stripped down nature of R.U.S.E.'s gameplay could be fun at times, it also meant that it lacked the complexity many of us are used to in tactical titles.
Story: A story drives you through the actions of World War II, charting your rise to fame as well as the tide of battle But the characters of this story are as wooden as the decoys you can deploy in the field.
Running Out of Money: There are plenty of ways to lose a battle in R.U.S.E., most come with lessons, losing because you run out of cash and don't have the ability to kick start your support lines shouldn't be one of them.
Make It Stop: The story, already the weak point of R.U.S.E., is also the reason the game seems to drag on a bit too long. The war ends, but the game doesn't, not until it enters the realm of bizarre historical fiction.
Console Controls: As much as I enjoyed playing R.U.S.E. With Move and the navigation controller, playing it any other way on the PS3 was slightly annoying to painful. Standard console controls still feel too imprecise and slow for this sort of game.
R.U.S.E. was an engaging single-player experience, one that left me feeling like I learned a bit about basic strategy and the art of war-time deception. While the game is completely open, many of the levels were so well crafted that they felt as if they had only one real way of winning. Each of these seemed to impart a lesson without feeling like hand-holding or a tutorial. I'd love to see games that further explore the notion of puzzle strategy, it could be a great console fit.
While R.U.S.E. worked on many levels, I suspect that fans of this genre will find it a bit too simplified for their taste and the sorts of gamers who don't play strategy games certainly won't be satisfied with what they find in R.U.S.E. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the campaign, especially with the Move controller, but I don't think it's the sort of title I'll be spending much more time with online.
R.U.S.E. was developed by Eugen Systems and published by Ubisoft for the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on September 7. Retails for $109.95 ($89.95 for PC). A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the PS3 version of the game's campaign using the controller, the Move and a controller and the Move and the Nav controller. Played multiple matches online.
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