This intriguing real-time strategy game overcomes its feeble campaign by encouraging a different approach to battlefield tactics.
- Ruses provide a nifty and original strategic element
- Slick tabletop interface makes it easy to stay organized
- Recon, ambushes, and other elements make for lots of flexibility
- Online and skirmish matches are really fun.
- Bland story characterized by poor cutscenes and inferior voice acting
- Campaign is boring and badly paced
- Problems finding online opponents.
R.U.S.E. is a fun and fascinating real-time strategy game, as long as you know which parts of it to invest in and which to skip entirely. In spite of some difficulties finding an online opponent, it prospers in the competitive arena, putting an intriguing use of bluffs and reconnaissance to good use on expansive maps that will test your ability to control the battlefield. Offline, you get some mileage out of its single-player skirmishes, but where R.U.S.E. falters is in its plodding, poorly paced campaign. Bizarre character models and bad writing prove distracting, while too-frequent story intrusions interrupt the flow of missions just as they start to get interesting. But the clumsy campaign aside, R.U.S.E.'s unique mechanics lead to tense and enjoyable standoffs in which, literally, things are not always what they seem.
One of R.U.S.E.'s finer aspects is its ease of use, which makes it approachable for both newcomers and experts alike. When you zoom all the way out, you see the entire battlefield as if it's mapped on a general's strategy table, where units are depicted as stacks of chips. If you zoom in, you can watch and give orders to a single infantry squad or individual tank; if you zoom out, nearby units are grouped together into single stacks, which isn't just a neat effect because it enables you to command large groups of units with a single click. It's a smart and friendly way of keeping track of the entire map at once, while giving you precise control when you need it. There's a certain simplicity to it all that may at first turn veterans off; there are limitations to where certain structures can be built, tech upgrades are very elementary, and you can't set up patrols or assign units to guard others. But once you get wrapped up in the game's more unique attributes, you discover that R.U.S.E. isn't as simple as it first appears; rather, it plays by a different set of rules than you might be used to seeing in strategy games.
The most obvious way R.U.S.E. mixes up the standard real-time strategy model is by employing ruses, which are special skills that allow you to fool your opponent or reveal his or her secrets in a variety of interesting ways. Maps are divided into segments in which you can activate these ruses, and there are limitations to how often you can use them and how many can be active in a particular sector at a given time. Games are won and lost with these ruses. Perhaps you will send in a squad of decoy ground units so that you can distract your opponent's front lines while you attack from the rear. Or maybe you would rather send bombers to attack an oncoming prototype tank from the skies after activating the terror ruse, which causes enemy units to rout much more quickly than normal. There's a tremendous amount of satisfaction in seeing your plans come together or in foiling your adversary. Hide your buildings from view and spoil the opposition's attempt to destroy your airfield. Use radio silence to sneak antitank defenses and artillery into firing position and then use your spies to unveil their units. Ruses open up possibilities you've never seen in a strategy game before, and it's a blast to create new ways of playing on the fly just to see where they lead.
R.U.S.E. is at its best online, where you choose one of six nations and battle it out on maps that support up to eight players. Each nation is similar enough to make it comfortable to switch from one to the next but different enough to open up fun new ways of playing. Perhaps light tanks may be available to you even if you've just built a barracks, or perhaps you will have access to a flexible defensive emplacement that fires both antitank and antiair salvos. Regardless of which country you choose, reconnaissance is key to success: Your units will only automatically fire if the enemy's units are actively spotted by recon vehicles (or perhaps, revealed with the spy ruse). Environmental cover is another important factor. Certain units, such as elite infantry, can be placed in woods or in cities, where they are usually hidden from the enemy's view and will ambush units that happen upon them unexpectedly. Things often get intense because there are so many ways of playing but only so many resources flowing in at any given time. If you play smartly, you can capture enemy resource nodes with your infantry. But if you get careless, you might lose an entire battalion of tanks to a few infantry units hidden in a forest near a strategic road juncture.