Review

For years the real-time strategy genre (RTS) has been mired in the turgid, tiberium soaked legacy of Command & Conquer. Once a pioneering game, it’s regular as clockwork sequels have done little to improve the series beyond the occasional graphical overhaul and a handful of new units. The formula always remained the same: build base, farm resources, amass army and storm your enemy with enough troops to ideally drop the frame-rate. Other strategies could be undertaken by the hardcore (like storming a base with a hand full of cigar-chomping commandos) but they were rarely encouraged by a game that was in essence, as subtle as a breezeblock strapped to a nuke. Other series’ emerged, most famously Age of Empires, but were little more than copies in historical garb.

But now Ubisoft have boldly entered the fray with their first RTS (unless you count the Splinter Cell series of course) and R.U.S.E. promises to evolve the genre with a welcome fresh perspective. Being a bit of a board game geek, I was particularly looking forward to this title, which borrows its aesthetic and mechanics from tabletop gaming. For instance, the title refers to the various cards that can be deployed to affect various sections of the play area, such as ‘radio silence’, which effectively hides your units from the enemy. The ruses are perhaps the most obvious and original example of the many instances in which the game breaks away from the norms of the genre to give an interesting new dynamic.

The game is set towards the end of WWII, with the allies forcing the fascists back through central Europe with all of the drama and desperation that an end-game scenario entails, and it’s certainly elegant in its presentation. Zoom the camera in and you have an incredibly detailed view of the battlefield and the ability to micro-manage individual units, but zoom all the way out and you immediately have a sweeping over-view of the entire battle. It’s an excellent solution to one of the biggest problems the genre has always faced: how to reconcile the need to have full control over each and every unit, without losing sight of the bigger picture. Rather than rely on a tiny inset radar/map, the standard solution, the player can now alternate between the point-of-view of a soldier on the front line and a commander at HQ over-seeing the battle in a fairly fluid transition.

This isn’t just a clever gameplay mechanic, but a way to give consequence and a sense of human cost to your orders. Moving a platoon of soldiers incorrectly at an abstract level where they are merely represented by large or small discs bearing their national flag is easily done, but when you zoom in and see them slaughtered by a flamethrower tank it makes you think. The game’s storyline, which revolves around an ambitious American officer named Joe Sheridan, picks up on these issues, exploring how a thirst for personal glory can come at a high price indeed.

In spite of its presentation, the biggest problem with the game is still how difficult it is to get to grips with everything. Even on the easiest setting I struggled to stay on top of the mounting problems; balancing resource management with fending off attacks from all directions. Allied units can’t be controlled and have a tendency to throw themselves against Anti-tank defences and then complain at you for not clearing the way for them. It’s also frustratingly easy to accidentally select a carefully placed anti-tank gun with a bunch of other units only to later be confronted by the sight of a Tiger tank merrily decimating your base.  In later campaigns, as the number of units on the battlefield increases, things get even messier.

This is as much a problem with the genre itself than simply with the game. In fact ‘real-time strategy’ is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Strategy is about planning and preparation, or it should be at least. The reason games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles are so brilliant is because they are both built upon incredibly tight turn-based mechanics. The problem with R.U.S.E. is that it borrows a great deal from board games apart from that measured structure of the gameplay. As it stands it has all of the elements of a great strategy game, but they’re mixed with an incompatible twitch gameplay; like playing a game of poker with no turn order and everyone drawing cards when they feel like it. For strategists it will lack nuance and control, but for gamers not used to the genre at all it’s simply overwhelming.

Summary

R.U.S.E. is an original, charming title that goes someway towards refreshing the tired RTS genre, and may yet prove quite an influential game; it’s just a pity the execution doesn’t make it as much of a breakthrough as it could have been.
7/10

The game cleverly takes place on a battlefield that is both a tabletop and a real environment.

Bombers are good for clearing enemy defences. Just watch out for AA guns.

  • Martin

    I’ve played the demo and I’m not entriely sold on it, it was fun-ish but overwhelming at the same time. I think you maybe forgot to mention End War which was an Ubisoft I.P. and offered the voice controlled RTS, maybe a better option because you can get it for less than a tenner now.
    I think i might pick up R.U.S.E. when it drops in price a bit. Good review though, nice read.

  • Dean

    Hi Martin. Being a console only gamer i never came across End War, but looking at the trailer now i’m amazed. The viewpoint in RUSE, one of its saving graces, isn’t quite as original as i thought, and the AI and troop behaviour in End War looks a lot more manageable. Glad you liked the review though.

  • Jack

    Just wanted to mention after reading the comments, End War was on the console, and End War was seriously disappointing and boring and stale and frustrating and just rubbish; but that’s probally the reason you never came across it on the console because that game had no reason to make itself known due a shameful attempt of bringing something new to the RTS genre.

  • Dean

    It’s amazing how games can make themselves look so much better in trailers. even more so than films.

  • Martin

    Just to clarify, End War was on 360 and PS3 and really was a novel take on the RTS formula with voice controlled movement that actually worked. It’s not that bad, worth a punt at the price.

  • Jack White

    Also Command and Conquer doesn’t have yearly titles they have only been 2 on consoles

  • George Moshington

    That might be the worst, and most laughably broken opening paragraph i’ve ever read in an RTS review.

    Please tick off which of these RTS games you’ve played in your extensive research, each of which have a unique take on the genre that differs fundamentally from the CnC formula…

    company of heroes
    men of war
    world in conflict
    homeworld
    the total war series
    the dawn of war series
    the anno series
    the settlers series
    the hearts of iron series
    the…

    I’ll hold up there. I can’t imagine what kind of myopic bubble you exist in if your only experience of RTS evolution is in the handful of CnC games; even CnC4 did away with the base-building and resource farming that you so duly referenced as stagnating the genre, leaving that to the current genre king of Starcraft. Try “massing enough units to break the framerate” and throwing them at the enemy base in that, see how it works out against a semi-functional human being.

  • Jamie

    I have to agree with George on this. After reading the laughable first paragraph, I can tell the rest of the review is, in essence, pointless. Is there nobody on the team more suited to a RTS?

    Dune 2 (several years later graphically overhauled and renamed Dune 2000) hit the shelves three years before Command and Conquer. 11 Floppy Disk changes later, and the wonderful World of RTS had been made. Saying Age Of Empires was merely a copy of Command and Conquer is like saying FIFA is a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer – The same genre but a completely different take on the game.

    Perhaps the most laughable moment of the first paragraph is “Other strategies could be undertaken by the hardcore (like storming a base with a hand full of cigar-chomping commandos)”. A “hand full” of commandos? Maybe you want to go back and replay the CnC series instead of living on false memories.

    Finally, “Regular as clockwork sequels”. Really? If you count CnC: Renegade (a FPS) there’s a 3 year gap. Hardly regular as clockwork. There is also a four year gap between CnC: Generals and CnC 3: Tiberium Wars. “Regular as clockwork sequels” really should be left to the games that are yearly franchises.

  • Andie

    Easily one of the worst reviews i have ever had the displeasure of reading….ever! Come back when you’ve done more research.

    As the comments above me have brilliantly pointed out, the reveiwer’s point of view is so myopic, Specsavers would have a tough time catering to him.

  • Pingback: The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun

  • Redirected

    The review fails because of its nearsightedness. However, it truly grates with its generalities. Let me just tighten up that last paragraph for you:

    “This is as much a problem with the genre itself…‘real-time strategy’ is a bit of a contradiction in terms…for gamers not used to the genre at all it’s simply overwhelming.”

    So lazy. Why RPS linked to this article I will never know. Kicking the bees’ nest perhaps?

  • Stewart

    Dean Bowman, Werner Professor of Strategical Studies Emeritus at the University of Bonn, formally invites you to this year’s Clark Symposium on Stratego-Tactical Analysis entitled Overwhelmed: Towards a Measured Structure of Gameplay. RSVP-regrets only.

  • Frenchie

    Just to say that Ubisoft is just the Publisher, all the credits (and the risk taking) goes to Eugen Systems, a Paris based RTS game developer.
    And you should have seen Ruse played on a Microsoft Surface.The game was really nice responding and it looked soooo cool.