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R.U.S.E.

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
Developer: Eugen Systems
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1: 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

My dad is a certified board game geek, so I grew up around Avalon Hill strategy games. With the exception of some of the games coming from PC publisher Paradox, R.U.S.E. is probably the closest any videogame has come to replicating the unique strategy mechanics found in tabletop board games. There's less of a focus on building units and running up tech trees, leaving most of the focus on strategy.

The great thing about R.U.S.E. is everything fits into something else. It's not always a perfect fit, but it's easy to see the reasoning behind design decisions. Take, for example, the ability to zoom in and out of the map. You can zoom down right on top of a unit, revealing some of the most detailed models to hit a console RTS in a while. Or, if you'd rather, zoom out to the point where the units turn into small ships on a command board. It's enough to make you feel like you're on Zeus's board in Clash of the Titans, only you can't call in the Kraken when times get rough.

Though it makes for good presentation, it's also directly linked into gameplay. Throughout the game, you'll need to zoom in, out and all around the battlefield in order to get the most out of the game's strategic depth. It also helps clear up some of the issues that tend to pop-up with console RTS games. You've got full control of the camera and can set it up however you want.

R.U.S.E.'s presentation has its faults, mostly during cutscenes. There's something very "off" about the look of characters, a trait that becomes even more noticeable thanks in no small part to lighting. It's just bad. Voicework doesn't help much either.


Gameplay:

R.U.S.E.'s presentation also falters when it comes to storytelling. Set in WWII, the story follows Joe Sheridan, a Major placed in charge of commanding units in the closing days of the war. Though based around fact, the main plotline follows Sheridan's pursuit of Prometheus, a German intelligence source.

Though the story has its interesting points, it's mostly forgettable. This isn't a major problem, but the way the story interjects its way into the gameplay is incredibly jarring. Story sequences pop up at the worst times and disrupt the flow of play. The timing is impeccable, almost to the point you'd swear it was the game trying to throw you off your game. One minute you're ramping up for a big assault only to have the game wrestle control from you, drop a poorly done cutscene, and return you to an awkward camera angle.

R.U.S.E. places more emphasis on tactical play than base building and other bits of micromanagement. You're limited to where you can drop structures and there isn't much in the way of tech trees and upgrades. This is going to come as a turn-off to RTS vets, though R.U.S.E. is a much more strategic game than it first lets on. Unfortunately, it takes a little while for everything to kick in, but once it does, you'll have fun.

Strategic gameplay is further bolstered by a slick interface. Console strategy games tend to take it on the chin in regards to control, but R.U.S.E. finds a way to make things work. Getting around the map is fluid, thanks in large part to the control setup. Just click on a unit and send it on its way.


Difficulty:

Both online and offline play variants are available. Though the offline Story offers its own brand of fun, R.U.S.E. is at its best when played online. It's simply more interesting to employ strategic tricks against a human opponent than the computer. Online matches are intense, particularly when you toss in the limited resources found on the map.

Story missions make for a great tutorial, but that's about it. As previously mentioned, R.U.S.E. is in no real hurry to move you through the campaign. Every few missions, you're given a new tactic and a series of scripted situations where you need to employ that tactic. It isn't until the very end that you really get a taste for what R.U.S.E. really has to offer.


Game Mechanics:

Most of your play time is spent ordering troops around the field, though R.U.S.E. places more emphasis on deceptive tactics than straight-out military dominance. The core mechanic behind every battle is a series of special "power up tactics" called Ruses. The idea behind Ruses is to disrupt your enemy's tactics while giving you the upper hand. The most common form of Ruse focuses on hiding your numbers. For instance, you can drop a "Radio Silence" Ruse on a group of soldiers, completely hiding them from your enemy's view.

You can also "Fake" Ruses to make it look like you're going for one strategy. You can create fake buildings and make it look like you're ramping up production on new weapons, or drop in a fake platoon of troops or tanks, forcing your opponent to place his focus elsewhere while you rush your real offense from another side of the map.

For every Ruse there's a counter-Ruse, adding even more strategy. Spies can cause Ruses to completely go up in smoke. One well-placed Spy can turn an impressive looking base into the Universal Studios backlot.

I tend to favor monkey-wrenching over brute force, so I absolutely loved the concept behind R.U.S.E. At first, the play is a bit disorienting. It seems incredibly complicated and you'll begin to wonder if you'll ever find a use for every Ruse in your playbook. But, as time marches on, you'll start to find multiple uses for even the simplest Ruse. Even more impressive is how balanced each lie is within the confines of gameplay. I expected one or two "ultra" Ruses that always worked, but couldn't.

Taken for what it is, R.U.S.E. is a fun strategy game. It isn't the "next big thing" as far as the genre goes, but it offers something different for players who are more interested in running tactics instead of building a big army and rolling over the other player.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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