Deep down inside there is an real-time strategy fan inside my video game soul waiting for certain RTS games to arrive.
When I was in college it enjoyed games like Command & Conquer and Dune. When released from the confines of college it soon discovered other genres and pretty much forgot how much RTS games truly were.
R.U.S.E.: The Art of Deception has brought that piece of me out again.
R.U.S.E.: The Art of Deception is based on World War II history. I can't recall the last time someone based an RTS off of World War II events, but I'm sure it isn't the only one. You play the British/American troops and you have to go into several different campaigns to take out the Germans, or at least thwart their plans to affect other portions of the war.
The game sets you up on a giant war board (something you would find in a World War II freak's basement). The terrain you play on are based on actual terrains from the 'actual' war. You have the ability to zoom in and zoom out of the board any time you feel like it and adjust your angles using your analog sticks; so you get a full view of the entire fight. It's very useful when you need to see German troops on the move, even when they are not close to you.
Anyway, the missions you receive during the game span from holding your ground against an invading army, invading an army to drive them out of a town, creating ambushes for incoming armies and destroying headquarters of the enemy (there are more than that, but you get the idea of what you need to be doing). I found the missions in this game to be anywhere from simple to downright impossible. For example, the second mission of the entire campaign mode asks you to hold a town from invasions coming from four different directions. Granted this is only your 'second' time playing the game and it's already asking you to think about many different things at once. At the beginning of the mission you don't think it's too bad; you have one or two different tanks, troops and anti-tank guns fighting you. By the middle of the mission the official 'onslaught' begins against you. You have to keep your troops close and fend off four different directions at the same time. So, you might have three tank armies coming at you trying to take over your 'holding area' and you only have three to four anti-tank guns fending off each. Not bad, right? Well, take into account that you also have troops invading as well from all directions. Still not that bad? Okay, so the troops take out your anti-tank guns pretty easily and then you're basically left with nothing. Once those anti-tank guns are gone then the mission might as well be restarted. What's even more irritating about this 'second mission' is that your anti-tank guns that can destroy giant tanks with four to five shots can't attack the enemy ground troops at all. Yeah, you read that right.
On the flip side to that mission there are missions that are easy peasy. For example, there is a mission to invade a city in Tunisia. You're armed with medium and light tanks and you simply roll over everything in front of you; it's quite unfair to the Germans, but eh.... screw'em. The mission takes all of ten minutes to complete and if you fail it's probably because you had to run to the bathroom and your forgot to pause your game.
Now, looking at this game from a distance, the inconsistent levels could work for you and against you. The good part of inconsistency is that you simply don't know what you're going to get with the next mission. Is it going to be easy? Is it going to be impossible? Is it going to find itself somewhere in the middle? Regardless, it's nice to 'not' know where you're going to go and 'not' anticipate the next mission's difficulty.
With that said, the inconsistency is bad because we gamers have been trained that games start you on a low difficulty and gradually raise it as the game reaches its climax (stopping giggling Chris Stone). Change is good, but not everyone is going to like this up and down difficulty movement. I can't recall if any other RTS games do this, but I'm positive that R.U.S.E.: The Art of Deception isn't the first. Still, it's not a typical method of gameplay.
Overall, the missions in the game really do entertain as much as they frustrate. I found myself cursing at the screen more than once, but ultimately I kept playing the game because I 'needed' to finish the campaign. Ultimately, any time you put Nazis as the bad guys you're obligated as a human being to make sure they don't win. Maybe that was the motivation, but I would like to think that the game was entertaining enough to keep pushing me; even when I was tired of being pushed.
Shifting gears, I would like to talk about the individual elements of the game and how well they did or didn't work. The first element, and one that most RTS fans have dealt with in almost every RTS game, is the building of resources.
Right around mission four of the game you are introduced to building resources. R.U.S.E. starts you off with something simple as building a complex and building a facility to house/create troops. The process is a little confusing at first, as you don't get a particularly good explanation about what you're doing. You've got an already established base in an Italian backdrop that engineering trucks deploy from. You can choose an open ground to build your complexes and you're given a certain amount of reoccurring money to make troops; $9 a troop, if my memory serves me correctly. By hitting the triangle button and pulling down a menu you can build troops over and over again. What's neat about this process is that it doesn't take long to finish producing the troops and you can place them wherever you want on the game board.
Sounds easy, right? Well, one of the elements that most RTS fans adore (though some will argue) is that you generally go out and collect resources to build complexes. In Command & Conquer you get to go out and acquire limited amounts of tiberium to build weapon depots, troop barracks and other things. You have the resources and you have to create some sort of strategy on how best to use the limited resources; it adds just a bit more strategy to everything. R.U.S.E. doesn't really do that, though I slightly understand because you can't create a fictional element and apply it to history (see Singularity for details). This portion of the game just seems a bit emptier than other RTS games. They could have of thought of something to make this portion of the game more exciting, but they didn't.
The element of the game that makes it all exciting, and perhaps works as a decent substitute for the resources, is the R.U.S.E. (Reveal Undermine Subvert Entrap -- Joystiq/July 2009) option. R.U.S.E. is a way to get the upper hand on your enemies through various means. Here's a breakdown of each R.U.S.E.:
- Decryption - This allows you to catch enemy communications, so that you understand the strategy of the enemy. You activate this and choose a section of the board that is close by yours. One of the more useful options and the first one you acquire.
- Spy - It's a neat option that will help you identify enemies on the battlefield. When you're not close enough to an enemy you only get their 'chip' icon. This allows you to know exactly what an enemy is, so that you can send the correct response. There's nothing more depressing then losing all your anti-tank guns because you didn't know the 'chips' were ground troops.
- Radio Silence - Probably one of the more useful options in the R.U.S.E. category. This allows you to basically hide your troops from the enemies. You'll see how this works (unfortunately against you) around the fifth mission.
- Camouflage Nets - This one allows you to hide your structures, which is great. You don't want enemies to destroy your hard work and your only chance for producing troops.
- Reversed Intel - Enjoy this one. I won't go into detail.
- Blitz - This allows your troops to move 50% faster. You will learn exactly how useful this one is when you're asking your ground troops to race back to a particular area before it is attacked.
- Terror - Nothing is more relaxing than having enemy troops flee sooner than expected. Sounds like it should be some badass method to blow the holy hell out of an army, but it just makes them turn to wussies much faster.
- Fanaticism - Typically, when your units get damaged heavily they want to turn tail and run. This R.U.S.E. makes them fight until they die, which can be useful. Of course, it could be a grand way to get the crap kicked out of you much faster.
During a fight you're given several opportunities to use your R.U.S.E., as they are activated by simply hitting the 'production' button (triangle). You have a limited amount, so use them wisely. Understand that this is probably the strongest part of the game and the one that makes it unique from other RTS games. I'm not sure it's enough to forgive the other parts that lack or the linear gameplay that comes with it, but it does make it fun.
So is the game worth the money? I think it might be, but I do fully acknowledge that there are other stronger RTS games out there. I think that if you're looking for a decent World War II game that involves a heavy amount of strategy then you're in the right place. R.U.S.E.: The Art of Deception does a lot of neat things with the 'World War II' theme, including building a very strong story around its gameplay. Having cutscenes of generals discussing plans and of actual invasion events puts the entire game in perspective. It draws you into a story and makes you want to complete missions. What I'm saying is that there is enough motivation to feed off of the story to drive you through the game.
The online component of the game is well crafted, yet just as simple as the campaigns. You get ranked and quick matches with the multiplayer (nothing you haven't seen before). You also get individual and team championship opportunities, which are fun if you can get your friends to play along side of you (or against you). I wish the game did give you the opportunity to have more than 2-4 players online. Call me crazy, but I would love to see 4-8 in this RTS, as there should be enough countries in World War II to make it that epic. Anyway, the online component is good and it's what you would expect from an RTS online.
One thing I didn't get a chance to talk about early in this review is the controls. I don't have a 'Move' yet, so I'm not going to pretend to talk about that option. What I would like to briefly talk about is how the console controls don't work as well as the PC. Don't get me wrong; you'll be fine using them, but were more than one occasion where I would accidentally overshoot my target when I was sending troops to go attack the enemy. The analog sticks feel loose and a bit clunky when trying to 'accurately' do something. Ubisoft did a helluva job translating the PC controls over to a console controller, but ultimately you will prefer a mouse/keyboard over a simple controller. That was a portion of the frustration for me in this game and one that I'm hoping the Eagle Eye from Penguin might rectify; because I know the Move will more than likely not improve the situation (just can't see that happening).