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Review: R.U.S.E.

R.U.S.E. offers a twist on the real-time strategy genre by putting the emphasis on deception and misdirection instead of building up a huge mass of units and rushing enemies. In fact, resources are often too scarce for rush tactics, especially in the campaign. So players have to rely heavily on their wits to make strong strategic decisions and overcome the odds. Unfortunately, overcoming the odds also includes working against some game design decisions.

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Set in World War II, the player takes the role of Sheridan, an up and coming commander battling across Europe and contending against a number of different factors. There are German commanders to compete against, but there's also a spy named Prometheus feeding sensitive information to the enemy. At the same time, there's a minor side story dealing with different associates in the military react to Sheridan's rising star, but it's mainly there to distract from finding the spy. The story is interesting, although a bit drawn out at times, and the voice acting is decent. However, the timing is a bit off in many of the scenes. At one point, a character interrupts another, but there's a long pause in between lines, making the conversation sound unnatural.

The game scores points with its unique and attracting look, which sets it apart from most other RTS games. Zooming in close provides a detailed look at units while zooming out transforms the map into a sort of animated 3D strategy board where units are represented by tokens and move orders are represented by large colored arrows. Selecting units in this mode automatically picks up the whole stack, and it's easy to accidentally select other units that are close by. The interface also relies solely on a single mouse button, as opposed to using one for selection and the other for commands. This becomes a problem because players lose focus on the selected units after issuing a command unless they hold down shift to queue orders. So, recovering from mistakes and adapting to changing situations can get awkward.

Resources can be gathered from depots using supply trucks, which means that money doesn't really come in at a steady pace. More often, there are periods when nothing is happening until there's a sudden burst of income. Supply depots have a finite amount of resources that quickly run out, so players need to plan carefully to make the most of their income. Reaching out for more distant resources leaves the supply line vulnerable to attack. So, while the game generally feels slower paced that many other RTS games, it's not designed for prolonged engagements either. Additionally, apart from the small trickle from the HQ, unless there's access to an administrative building, supply depots are the player's only source of income. Therefore, some of the campaign missions can be won by setting up a strong defense using ambushes positions inside cities and forests. Then it's just a matter of launching guerrilla attacks against the computer until it gets starved out.

The stand out feature comes in the form of ruses, which are cards that be activated for a number of different effects, such as hiding your unit movements, speeding them up, launching a fake attack, or intimidating the enemy to force them to retreat. When used properly, these ruses can seriously turn a battle around and overcome incredible odds. After draining all the supply depots and essentially stalemating against the computer, we were still able to win using a combination of ruses and a small handful of units.

One really annoying aspect of the campaign is how it steals away control from the player to highlight a different part of the battlefield, but doesn't pause the game. So, if players was in the middle of a fight, they can pretty much kiss those units goodbye. It's very jarring (oftentimes infuriating) to be in the middle of planning your next move and suddenly have the camera whisked to some other part of the map. The campaign also puts absurd restrictions on the player. Attack aircraft can't target ground units they're flying right over unless there's a spotter. Players can see bases and troops on adjacent territories, sending in waves of troops, but the sometimes the borders are locked so that players can't eliminate them. We also couldn't find any way to assign aircraft to return to a given area to patrol. After a plane spends its ammunition fighting, it returns to base to repair and await new orders. Some way to automatically send it back would be very useful.

The campaign also provides you with allies that you can't control or communicate with. So, if a line of allied tanks are headed for an ambush, you can't tell them to hold position until you can clear the area. You have to rush in and battle before the lemmings get there. Then there are missions where the enemy will suddenly break through and players only have a few seconds, and precious few resources, to reinforce and defend an area. Finishing missions, completing side objectives and multiplayer matches earn xp and increases your level. However the level system isn't associated to anything. They don't provide extra resources, ruses or unlock units. As far as we can tell, the levels are just there for the sake of having them. Ultimately, the campaign ends up being more annoying than entertaining.

R.U.S.E.'s real strength is in its multiplayer, as long as you can look past the controls. The feeling of two generals trying to outsmart each other can only be achieved when the two are on relatively equal footing, with full access to the ruses and technology. At the same time, the game falls into a weird gray area for RTS gaming. Relying primarily on deception might be a bit too much for new players to take in. Veteran RTS players who are used to fast based games might not take well to R.U.S.E.'s pace. That leaves the game in a spot that isn't quite here nor there. At best, the game is well suited for players who are familiar with RTS games, but are looking for a change from the build up and rush style of gameplay. Still, the unit balancing is very good and even though the game is skewed a little too far toward supporting defensive turtling, it's refreshing to have a game that emphasizes outsmarting opponents instead of overpowering them.

All things considered, R.U.S.E. is an excellent real-time strategy game. It has some quirky controls and a so-so single player experience, but the strong multiplayer makes up for that. We would have liked the leveling system to be connected to something, and a map editor would have greatly benefited the game. But if you're interested in a strategy game that's more cerebral than most others and offers a good change of pace, then we recommend picking up R.U.S.E. when it goes on sale solely for the multiplayer experience.

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