Over the past couple of years, an interesting trend has taken over the real-time strategy genre. As more RTS games have come out, the genre has gotten, well, faster. What was once a genre that relied on thoughtful tactical precision evolved—or devolved, depending on who you ask—into memorizing the fastest build orders and knowing idiosyncrasies of individual units. So as more genres started to emulate popular games like the Halo or God of War series that revolved around the philosophy of constant action with constant reward, the RTS genre followed suit with games that focused on a more action-based experience. In turn, these slower, yet more tactical, focused experiences that put more emphasis on thoughtful strategy than on how efficient one could create an army were being phased out. While this reason alone would make Eugene System’s R.U.S.E. standout from the glut of other RTS’s, it’s the game’s specific mechanics that’s so memorable.
On its surface, R.U.S.E. doesn’t look to be any different from the usual RTS. Set during WWII and initially presenting itself as a very simplistic RTS with a generic rock-paper-scissors mechanic, the game doesn’t do itself any favors early on. But after the initial hour or two of mundane gameplay, the game starts to become more intriguing with the introduction of the Ruse Card System. The card system works by presenting the player with an intelligence or a counter-intelligence advantage depending on what cards you play. These advantages range from temporarily revealing your enemies orders (Decryption) to creating decoy structures (Decoy Structure) to hiding your troop positions (Radio Silence). Cards within the game can also act as temporary stat bonuses, like the Blitzkrieg card that speeds up your troop movement and supply vehicles. While the card system sounds more like a gimmick in theory, it’s in actual practice where you see its value.
Even though the game still plays like a traditional RTS, the mind-game aspect of whether something is real or not slows down the game into a more tactical full-scale war. Unlike games like Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, where speed and efficiency wins matches, winning a battle in R.U.S.E. requires patience and precision. A well-timed strike with a handful of units and effective use of Ruse Cards is usually the formula for success.
What initially starts as a traditional RTS quickly evolves into a tactical mind game making players on both sides question various incidents on the battlefield. In such moments, R.U.S.E. becomes a truly unique experience. The feeling of sending an army of tanks to an opponent’s stronghold only to be revealed as decoys for your aerial attack is a satisfying experience games like Starcraft II have had a hard time emulating. Yet the game mechanics are only half of R.U.S.E.’s winning formula.
The feeling of a large-scale tactical mind game is supported quite nicely by the game’s fields of view. The perspective in which R.U.S.E. presents the player is impressive from both a technical and gameplay standpoint. When the camera is zoomed all the way in, the game looks as if you are hovering right over the battlefield hearing the various explosions and orders being screamed by various units. When the camera is zoomed all the way out, however, the game’s aesthetic greatly changes from a chaotic warzone to a war-room setting with a map of the battlefield laid out on a desk. The game’s various fields of view are not there for technical splendor alone, they also serve as a vital gameplay mechanic. There will be instances where the player needs to be as close to the battlefield as possible (issuing orders, placing structure, etc.) and at other times the player’s best option is to view the battlefield from a table-top level (when unleashing decoys at this view tends to be the most helpful).
From an RTS standpoint, R.U.S.E. may not be the technical wonder as Starcraft II is, but it’s hard not to fall in love with what it’s trying to do. With the unique Ruse Card System and incorporation of various fields of view into its core gameplay, R.U.S.E. presents an alternative formula which the RTS genre should really take notice of.
R.U.S.E. Publisher: Ubisoft. Developer: Eugen Systems. Release Date: September 7, 2010. Platform: PC. ESRB: Teen. ESRB Descriptors: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Use of Tobacco. To purchase, click here.