Eugen Systems' R.U.S.E. falls into the cliche genre that is, World War II games. However, it actually offers a a very interesting approach to the real-time strategy genre, and unlike a lot of the typical RTS games aims to fully implement ways of making players think very strategically about their moves as opposed to simply using brute force. In the majority of RTS games, having a bigger army or being skilled enough with the control of an army tends to be the biggest difference with winning and losing. R.U.S.E., however, is attempting to add a completely new level of depth in the form of confusing the enemy into getting complacent. In short, it works and it works well.
R.U.S.E. is set during World War II and follows several offensives across multiple countries, which of course means that battlefields feature fairly diverse terrain. The actual conflicts follow the exploits of one particular officer, an American named Joe Sheridan, as he advances through the ranks by winning a lot of battles despite the odds not being in his favour. His talent is spotted by a British colonel named Campbell, who then supports him throughout his career. During this time another officer known as Weatherby seems to bumble his way around the battlefield making the odds even less favourable.
This isn't just because of his apparent incompetence though. Players will find out that each battle is being manipulated by a character known as Prometheus who seems to be leaking intel to the German forces, specifically an officer named von Richter. While there is an inevitable plot twist revolving around the unveiling of the leak, it really is quite expected as to who it is; rather ironic given the premise of the game. Every engagement results in the Germans being fully prepared or with some kind of 'ruse' already set up, requiring players to use the best of the resources to outwit the enemy. However, for the majority of the missions in the campaign these objectives are achieved through a lot of hints and guidance, almost like a tutorial.
That's exactly what the whole campaign feels like too, a tutorial. A lot of the early missions introduce new units and suggesting uses for them, and while it does become less apparent later on, this still happens. This is also similar with respect to the Ruses players are given to use. These are presented almost like playing cards and are introduced throughout the game, with their uses initially being rather situational and more complex as they go along. The battlefield is split into sectors, and once a Ruse is selected the player can place it on one of these sectors. The Ruse will affect that area for a set period of time. Using these in combination with forces is key to gaining a strong advantage in any offensive.
Unit control and actual combat is more automated to some degree. Players can specify targets for engagement and can move units in groups or individually. But units will then engage accordingly, firing on any targets they can engage as they advance and pulling back if they receive too much enemy fire. Of course simply leaving ones units to idle on the map isn't suggested as their pathing is sometimes rather strange. Often they will attempt to take the longer way around to an area on the map or use open roads to reach destinations faster. This results in unnecessary casualties. Also, on the odd occasion units fall back towards other enemy forces. It makes consistent management of units a requirement to keep them in check.
The actual Ruses that become available add a lot of tactical variation to the gameplay. There are very basic Ruses, such as increasing the speed of units in an area to their ferocity in battle. Then there are much more complicated ones such as being able to give false intel to the enemy making units look like other units instead, and also creating decoy forces and buildings to fool the enemy into walking into an ambush. To be quite honest there is a vast amount of combinations and tactics that can be implemented through the clever use of Ruses, though the majority of this requires some imagination and planning to fully take advantage of.
As the campaign progresses, more of an emphasis is placed on base construction, keeping ample control of multiple buildings and unit compositions and collecting resources from supply depots. It can present a real challenge. Especially when supply trucks must make it back to the base safely in order to produce units. Artillery and ambushes can make this all the more difficult to defend. Some of the smaller units, such as anti-tank guns and anti-air guns can be hidden inside forests alongside regular soldiers. This allows them to do surprise attacks for extra damage. However, this can be countered by using recon units.
The game presents the battles really well, and coupled with the story manages to keep players engrossed in the action. Despite appearing to be slow paced, there isn't really time to sit back and relax and in some respects the limitations of the control over units can be quite cumbersome at times. It's clear to see why the game was designed around a table top control system prior to its console release and sometimes selecting specific groups of units requires a lot of zooming in and out constantly. Perhaps PlayStation Move would make the experience much less awkward at times. Overall though it doesn't really cause too many problems, it just makes it difficult to focus on everything all at the same time.
The multiplayer component of the game seems to be one of the biggest areas for longevity in the game. It seems to be unfortunately under populated at the moment, however, the experience is a positive one as there is an interesting idea present. All players can see exactly what each other is doing, there's no fog of war. Of course using Ruses effectively can prevent this, and a lot of interesting tactics can be applied to trick the enemy. For example, using a combination of radio silence, which conceals player movements, and camouflage, which hides buildings, enables the placing of an Armor Base right near the enemy's headquarters. Several tanks were then able to flank their starting position and cause them a serious headache.
Unfortunately there is only the option to do 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2. And while 2v2 is great fun when you have a solid team, having a weaker team mate causes some serious problems and moving to defend them can open up holes in the defensive line. There is a leaderboard system, but it's only based on the players' experience level. Aside from multiplayer there are a couple of co-op missions available to play online and numerous options for skirmish engagements across several maps.
Lastly, it's worth noting that the presentation of the game is stunning. The maps are incredibly detailed and while towns will generally look much the same across most maps, the detail of the landscape and terrain is very noteworthy. The scale is incredible and zooming out reveals that the entire map is actually a table in a military building/tent. Doing this also changes the sound effects and volume balance of the room surroundings and the action happening on the battlefield itself. Every unit is very detailed as well, and the only really negative side to the presentation is the animation in cutscenes seems a bit off in places.
R.U.S.E is an enjoyable and innovative real time strategy game which actually brings a fresh approach to the genre. The Ruses allow gameplay to have a lot of variation and it allows players to be much more inventive with their tactical approaches. The campaign will last in the region of 14-18 hours and the story, while predictable, is an entertaining spin on the standard historically accurate formula present in most other World War II era games. The controls can be a bit awkward in places and there are some problems with unit AI, but these are the only downsides to what is otherwise a fine addition to the RTS genre.