Just a couple of short years ago, almost everyone in the gaming universe was united in the opinion that Real Time Strategy games simply did not work on home consoles. Some had definitely been sharper than others (with Japanese PS2 launch title Kessen being a notable standout) but mapping the vast number of essential commands to the limited number of buttons available on a control pad has always been a devoutly painstaking endeavour that few have managed to adequately master.
But following the release of two near-perfect console-based RTS games in the past eighteen months (Ensemble Studio’s Halo Wars and this year’s Supreme Commander 2) publisher Ubisoft have now entered the fray with R.U.S.E. – and the results are pretty much perfect. We unfortunately didn’t have a chance to get any hands-on time with the Playstation Move compatible version – which is, according to word on the street, outright brilliant – but regardless of whether you’re using a Dualshock or an Xbox 360 pad, you’re definitely in for a real treat.
By going out of its way to appear as accessible as possible, R.U.S.E may alienate a small handful of genre devotees, simply because many of the standard features of these games – in particular, the ability to build bases – aren’t available immediately. This is a shrewd move designed to welcome newcomers in as painlessly as possible, by giving them a chance to get up to speed with the basics before progressing onto the more demanding stuff. Longtime fans of Real Time Strategy should definitely be patient though, because once things hot up, the experience is a pretty formidable example of the genre.
Even when those aforementioned staple abilities begin to appear after around an hour or two, they’re mapped to the buttons of the PS3 and Xbox 360 controllers perfectly. Everything is kept as simple as possible, and there’s no cursor – for the vast majority of the time you just point in the direction of a specific unit, and press one button. Everything else is done via one single, simple, unobtrusive menu. If you become overwhelmed at any one point, you can just zoom right out of the action to view the entire battlefield as a whole, or effortlessly move across ground at speed.
The game’s title is inspired by a series of new innovations that allow you to gain a series of sly advantages over your opponent. One of them makes a select band of your units invisible (allowing you to launch crafty surprise attacks) and another allows you to gather intel on enemy locations so that you can adapt your strategy to fit their tactics, which you can observe in real time. These techniques bring out the very best in the multiplayer component, which not only commands an entirely purposeful level of concentration, but also means that victories are extremely hard won, and will probably be celebrated with a joyful fist in the air at the very least.
Blizzard’s estimable Starcraft games aside, storyline has understandably never really been the RTS genre’s strongest suit, but R.U.S.E is much more effective than most. Aside from looking quite lush, the cutscenes here are also very well-written and directed, and boast a resolutely cinematic sheen to boot. They form the backbone of the entire experience, and the way that the new ‘ruse’ tactics are worked into the fabric of the story – one of your number, in both the American and the German campaigns, is suspected of being a spy – is devilishly effective.
With its broad primary colours and friendly measured pace, R.U.S.E is easily as accessible a Real Time Strategy game as Nintendo’s Advance Wars was a turn-based one. It doesn’t mess with the foundations of the genre but instead builds very inventively upon them, and is certain to be a deeply influential title, that newbie RTS development squads will probably be calling upon for ideas for quite some time. It is a fresh, challenging and wholly enjoyable affair.
Watch the R.U.S.E trailer here…