R.U.S.E. - PS3 Review
War, most would agree, is an ugly business. This is far less true if you're involved in the video game business where war is the basis for many of the most popular games on the market today. Eugen Systems' recently released R.U.S.E. is another game set during war time, but it differs from most of its contemporaries in many ways, not least of which is because it is a real-time strategy (RTS) game, not a first (or third) person shooter like most war games. Historically RTS games have been more successful on PCs than consoles, and that means few RTS games ever make it to consoles, and even fewer of them convert well. With that in mind I say console RTS game fans rejoice; R.U.S.E. is an excellent game with great depth, surprising tactical ploys with very few control issues. If that sounds like your cup of tea, read on for more.
|Missiles are raining down on the town in R.U.S.E.|
Set in the time of the Second World War from 1939 through to 1945, you play the role of a captain in the US Army trying to overcome the Nazis and their allies in one battle after another. From the very outset of the campaign you will find yourself outnumbered and overmatched, but to accept this fact is to accept death for your men so you'll have to pull any and all tricks out of your sleeve (as Krusty might say, ‘sleeve if we're lucky') in order to pull off victory. These tricks as I called them come in the form of in-game ruses which can do all sorts of things like camouflage your units, allow you to launch fake tank or plane assaults and employ radio silence so the enemy can't see what your units are up to. There are ten ruses altogether, and learning to use them effectively will be a key to any victory you manage in the game.
With each victory you pull off your star grows, and before long HQ will reward you with higher rank, more resources and more responsibility. The storyline in the campaign focuses on the relationships between your character and other high-ranking military officials; some will resent you, others will love you and you'll feel the same way about them. Themes such as jealousy, self-importance and betrayal all take center-stage in the various cut-scenes throughout the game. Whilst the story can be interesting, you'll largely forget it once you get onto the battlefield. Battles can be viewed from a number of different perspectives; zooming out as far as you can gives you the view of a general with a map on a table in his room, with each ally or enemy unit represented by a coloured token. If you zoom in all the way you'll be so close to the action that you can see the gun of each infantry member as they run across the battlefield, and you'll be right in the thick of the action should a skirmish break out. Neither of these views are practical for the duration of a mission, and you'll most likely settle on a view half-way between the extremes where you can see your units and also enough of the map so you can keep an eye on the enemy armies.
|Tanks in formation across the fields.|
In the early missions you'll learn how to move your armies around, as well as become acquainted with the units at your disposal. Moving units is a simple matter of selecting them and then pointing to the spot you want them to move to. You can select individual units with the cross button, a group of the same units in the area with square, or any and all units within a range by pressing R2. When you group units of different types you can easily separate them by clicking on the group and then pressing L1 or R1 to select the unit type you want to move. It's an efficient method that you'll pick up in next to no time, and will allow you to move units in an effective and sensible manner with a minimum of fuss.
Initially you will have only light infantry and tanks at your disposal but before long your options will grow rapidly and you'll have recon units, sturdier tanks, anti-tank and anti-air vehicles as well as a variety of artillery and aircrafts like recon planes, fighters and bombers. You can also set up machine gun and anti-tank bunkers around your HQ to provide an extra layer of defence. Building units takes money, and the best way to make money is to set up a supply route to supply depots which lie unoccupied on the map. Both you and your opposing armies can take possession of supply depots, so taking and holding them will be a key to any victory.
There is the usual paper-scissors-rock relationship between units in R.U.S.E.; infantry is good against other infantry, but weak against tanks unless the infantry is hiding in a forest or town and can launch a surprise attack. Surprise attacks can be foiled by recon units scouting the path for tanks first, in which case tanks will crush infantry in no time. Tanks will take out recon vehicles in short order too. To counter tanks you have anti-tank artillery but they are vulnerable to infantry as well, so your best bet is to combine different units that can handle a variety of different situations. Infantry can capture enemy buildings, but if you want to hold onto them you'd better have some tanks providing support. Aircraft give you an advantage over ground troops but are vulnerable to anti-air guns, and you won't find too many enemy outposts that aren't protected this way. Ground troops can take out anti-air guns easily enough, but getting them close enough to do that can be very tricky indeed. As you can see gaining the ascendancy in R.U.S.E is no simple matter; for every strength a unit has, it also has a weakness. Learning how to best use your units, how best to combine them and where to place them in order to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses is both fun and necessary in R.U.S.E.
|Moving some units across the map.|
As briefly mentioned earlier, you have some tactical wildcards you can use to tip battles in your favour in the form of ruses. You start battles with a couple of ruses and gain an additional one every couple of minutes. Using a ruse is a matter of selecting the ruse you want, as well as the sector you want it to work in. By zooming the camera back as far as you can you'll see that the battlefield is broken into a number of different sectors, and any one ruse will only operate in one sector. Ruses come in many forms; they can reveal enemy units and their orders, you can use them to hide your own units and their orders, you can supply false information to your enemies in a number of ways like setting up a fake base, launching a fake assault on their position or by making them believe your light units are heavy units and vice-versa. Other ruses have a more direct effect like making your troops fight to the death, making your enemies flee quicker or increasing the speed of your units for a short period of time. The effective use of ruses really comes into its own in multiplayer matches – there's no more satisfying moment in R.U.S.E than faking out a human opponent on your way to victory.
There are a number of different game modes you can play; campaign is the major single-player mode but you can also play battle mode (you versus the AI in 1v1, 1v2 and 2v2 skirmishes) and operation mode (a pre-set mission with your choice of country) in single-player. Playing the battle mode has the additional benefit that you can set the style of play the AI will use, whether it's aggressive, defensive (called Turtling in-game) or is tank or aircraft heavy. This allows you to refine your tactics outside of the campaign, and better prepares you for the rigours of multiplayer battles, which are definitely a step up in the tactics department.
Multiplayer matches involve 2-4 players in either 1v1, 2v2 or free-for-all fights. You have the option to join up to a quick match or to set-up a private or public match of your own. There are 21 different maps you can play on; seven of which are for 1v1 battles, three are for three-player free-for-alls and eleven are for four-player matches. There are five map sizes ranging from very small to very large and you can set a time-limit for the match. If no player or team has destroyed their enemies completely within the time limit the player or team with the most points wins. You can choose to play in one of three eras; 1939, 1942 or 1945. The primary difference between them seems to be that earlier eras have fewer buildings compared to the latter eras. The biggest decision you will have in multiplayer matches is which country, called “factions” in-game, you want to control. You can choose from the USA, Germany, the UK, France, Italy and the U.S.S.R. and each faction has its own strength and weaknesses for you to figure out. Although the factions have the same broad types of units (i.e. infantry, armour, anti-tanks, airfields, etc.), the units themselves are different and are therefore used differently. The multiplayer games I played all ran smoothly with no hint of slowdown or lag, which makes them a lot of fun.
|Dropping into the R.U.S.E. battlefield.|
I had a lot of fun playing R.U.S.E., and given the history of RTS games on consoles I have to say I had far fewer issues with it than I expected. In fact all the issues I had with the game are minor; the story isn't great, primarily because almost all of the characters are unlikeable, and the voice-acting is sub-par. Although the controls are intuitive and work really well for the most part, I did have trouble with some of the more intricate tasks like splitting grouped units in a hurry. This is not a major problem as a bit of forward planning will solve this altogether, but on the occasions you're caught off-guard it can be tricky to get right in time. I also found that my aircraft were unable to avoid enemy anti-aircraft bunkers, even after they had been spotted, which meant I had to micro-manage them more than I'd have liked. The last issue I had was that the game froze a couple of times mid-battle. There's every chance this problem was caused by the specific disc I have, or maybe even my PS3, but I thought it was worth mentioning seeing as an hour or so of hard work was wiped out both times which was very disappointing.
Visually the game ticks all the necessary boxes, but it is not a great looking game by any stretch. At full zoom you can clearly identify your units and watch as they make their way through a town, seek cover in a nearby forest or fire their weapons at the enemy. Different terrain is quite obvious, which makes it a breeze to send units into a forest or town where they can lay ambush on unsuspecting enemies. Characters in cutscenes look waxy, but one thing they nailed was the lip-synching, which is so rare these days I felt I should make special mention of it. The best thing about the graphics is the in-game presentation which is pretty much spot on. By pushing a button you'll bring up a menu that has all of the units or buildings you can build (along with a brief description of what they do), as well as any ruses you can use. It's a simple and intuitive set-up that makes the difficult task of managing an army as easy as can be.
|A plane is going down, in flames!|
There's not a lot to say about the sound other than it is pretty forgettable. The voice-acting comes across a bit amateur, though the script doesn't help matters. I actually turned the music off so that I could better hear the reports from my on-field units, and to be honest I didn't miss it. The sounds of war are pretty good; machine gun fire, artillery, bombs and the reports you get from your units will keep you in the thick of the action.
Overall I was impressed with R.U.S.E., which is both deep and complex but still easy to learn and play. The campaign moves a bit slowly at first which will help newcomers to the RTS genre find their feet more easily, but is likely to chafe more experienced players. Ruses add another level to the gameplay and learning to use these effectively, especially in multiplayer battles, is definitely rewarding. The control issues that usually plague RTS games are barely sighted here, which makes the few minor faults easy to overlook. Anyone looking for a challenging and entertaining strategy game need look no further than R.U.S.E.
Review By: Mike Allison
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|GRAPHICS||Decent but not dazzling. The range of zoom at your disposal is impressive, and the presentation is nigh on flawless.||75%|
|SOUND||The voice-acting and music are instantly forgettable, whilst the in-game sound effects are pretty good.||67%|
|GAMEPLAY||Managing an army has never been so easy, nor as rewarding. The ruses spice up battles, and faking out human opponents with a well-timed ploy is great fun. The controls are mostly excellent.||85%|
|VALUE||The campaign is lengthy, and the set-piece operation battles will keep you busy for a while too. Multiplayer is extremely tough but if you persevere there's plenty of fun to be had there too.||87%|
|OVERALL||R.U.S.E is deep and challenging, but handles so well you'll never be overwhelmed. Strategy fans or anyone looking for a challenge would do well to check this out.||84%|