R.U.S.E: hands – on preview

What would you get if you mixed the basics of any war based RTS game with Risk and then set it during the 1940s and threw in some espionage? You’d probably get R.U.S.E. We sneaked our way into the beta to see just what it’s all about.

Developed by Eugen Systems, R.U.S.E hopes to redefine a well trodden genre of game by making espionage as important a function as resource gathering or unit building. Not only that, but it presents war on a surprisingly large scale and the first thing that struck us was just how big the battlefields were.

While there will be more modes in retail release, the beta offered the chance to play ranked or hosted 1-on-1/2-on-2 matches on medium and large maps. After watching a six minute tutorial video we dived into our first match.

Can you see my house from here? Not quite.

The battlefield is presented to you as if you were in the war room of your base and if you pull out enough you will actually see the desk and other people in the room working at typewriters and switchboards. You can also zoom in enough to see individual units acting on your orders.

Having played quite a few RTS games, we quickly fell into the basics of play. First step: start collecting resources. Second step: start making an army. It starts to differ a little there however, due to the sheer scale of the battlefield. There is a lot of ground to cover and takes some time to field a large army (although you can build unit producing buildings almost anywhere). You also need to make a unit choice. Do you concentrate on armour or anti-armour? Air or anti-air? Maybe a mixture?

A large part of play is trying to work out what tactics your opponent is using while keeping your own hidden. This is where the ruses in the title come into force. The ability of a ruse might be as simple as hiding all your units in any given sector (the map is broken in different areas) or more subtle things like making it seem like you are fielding a stronger force than you actual are or creating fake buildings to distract your enemy. Mixing the ruses with advantages of the landscape (such as line of sight or cities and forest ambushes) creates an interesting type of gameplay.

Getting warmer...

Once you forget some of the basic RTS conventions and start really paying attention to the ruses you and your enemy can use, it changes the way you play. It makes the matches (that can last well over half an hour) bounce constantly back and forth between who is winning. It also makes something as deceptively simple as seeing an enemy force massing near one of your less guarded supply depots suspect. That could be a ruse, deliberately getting your attention and moving your forces away from where the real attack is about to happen. Or it could be a real attack and in your hesitation you failed to react fast enough.

Thinking a few steps ahead seems particularly important in R.U.S.E as much as trying to ascertain if what you’re seeing the enemy do is real or not. During one match we successfully decimated the enemy thanks to making it appear like the bulk of our army was in a nearby town when in fact, under the protection of a ruse, the main force was hidden in the next section moving on a blind spot. An equal number of times we were defeated by similar underhanded tactics at the hands of our opponents. There didn’t seem to be a set of tactics that would work against everyone (but that is not to say that there aren’t any that would work against a large quantity of people).

Bingo. ...Please don't bomb it.

A decent machine is needed to run at very high settings. We used a PC that met the recommended settings and still had to lower the auto-detected specifications for a smooth enough flow during play. The scale of the maps and number of units you and your opponent can field on it are probably to blame for this and does make us wonder how well it will perform on consoles. If you have Windows 7 and a compatible monitor, you can make use of multitouch technology which makes us giddy at the prospect of sweeping our hands around the screen like something out of Minority Report.

R.U.S.E is sure to appeal to armchair generals that prefer thought provoking RTS games without the dramatics of things like Command and Conquer. It has recently been pushed back to an April 2010 release on PC, PS3 and Xbox360.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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