R.U.S.E., Ubisoft's upcoming real-time strategy title, is a satisfying combination of trickery and tactics, though it may feel a bit light for hardcore fans of the genre.
Ubisoft had their tactical title set up in a backroom of Cologne's Gamescom last week, giving press a chance to go hands on with the title. I played live against the tag team of a spokesman and another journalist, running through Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of southern France during World War II.
While the game still relies on the cornerstones of most tactical titles, gathering resources, building production facilities and a rock-paper-scissors approach to combat, there was enough new in the game to make me anticipate learning its subtleties.
For instance, early on in my game I learned that roads, not necessarily resource spots, are the most important element to hold in R.U.S.E. Since both resource facilities and roads are tied together, it may be initially confusing to understand the difference, but it can be game shifting.
I played on a PC build with a Xbox 360 controller, though you can play the game on a PC with a mouse and keyboard. The controller streamlined controls, making it easy to call up a truck and tell it to capture a production facility. When you capture an unheld facility, located around the map, the truck has to travel on a road to get to it. Once captured you start earning cash, but almost more importantly you also capture the road leading to the facility, which greatly speeds up travel time to that point on the map.
As the game progresses, and you capture more and more facilities, your network of roads expands, making it easier to speed up troop movement. Subtle, yes, but also incredibly important.
Barracks building is fairly similar to what you'd find in most strategy titles. The type of facility you build dictates the type of units you can produce, from tanks and men, to planes. Once built, you select the building using the controller and then move through the unit types available to start production.
The units available to players are pretty straight forward, though you can also purchase and place a number of different defensive units, such as machine gun nests and anti-tank fortifications. Granted, plenty of games now have this, but it's nice to see it in R.U.S.E. which could have easily cut it out in pursuit of a less hardcore title.
Once you have units on the ground you can select them by holding in a button and painting an area, highlighting the units you want. The air units are all automatically tied to the D-Pad, making it much easier to select these units which are constantly hovering around the air base. I was a bit disappointed to find that you apparently couldn't, using the controller, assign units to hot keys. But it didn't have that much of a negative impact on the game.
One of the game's really nice touches is it's ability to start zoomed in to almost the unit level and then zoom so far out that the once 3D terrain looks like a flat map sitting on a table in an operations room, and the units look like pieces from a strategy game.
The biggest change brought to the genre by R.U.S.E., is the title's namesake ruses, a collection of espionage-heavy tricks that can be played during the game against your opponent. These take the shape of ruse cards, which can be earned and played with points gathered as the game progresses.
And these time-limited cards can easily change the course of a battle or the war. They allow you to hide all of the units and buildings in a sector, to create fake headquarters and entire armies and also reveal enemy units and troop movements.
Used together the deck of ruse cards adds an element long missing from strategy titles, subterfuge.
I've always been unhappy with most strategy titles' basic inability to perform the sorts of feints and hidden troop movement not just found in real war, but often the most important element of it.
Playing through the single map, while being taught the controls on the fly, I wasn't able to fully explore the use of ruse cards in battle. I used them, to some effect, but to use them effectively will require not a little forethought and planning.
That's what's so exciting about R.U.S.E., the potential for this game to take the fast-paced, Blitzkrieg-approach to most real-time strategy battles and slow them down, pushing them closer to the reality of war, something that bears a closer resemblance to chess then Starcraft.