27th September 2010 - After a few too many well-under-par attempts at strategy games on consoles, people generally understood that these types of games were meant for PC’s only, given a mouse is far more appropriate for controlling and organising units than a controller. But yet, there are still a few developers who try to bring the strategy magic to home console owners. They all try to reinvent the control systems and bring new innovations to the table, but they still generally seems to fail at execution. One notable exception is Halo Wars, showing that this type of game is possible on console. But with Ubisoft’s R.U.S.E, can this top-tier developer bring their deeply innovative new strategy IP to consoles to relive the glory that Halo Wars brought to the genre? Read on to find out…
The strategy genre is one of far more important genre’s where gameplay is undoubtedly the most important factor; most people really don’t care for stories and character study in a game built around shattering an opposing army. And the one thing which comes under the most scrutiny for a console strategy is how it controls. R.U.S.E feels good to play at first glance and feel, but once you get into the campaign, the game’s good use of slow combat and lack of tactics for the earlier missions quickly get thrown to the back burner, and the complex nature of the many executable R.U.S.E powers and deeply strategic missions makes trying to control everything in good time and with little frustration become a very difficult task. It’s very much a shame the game becomes such a nightmare to play when what its packing under the hood is undeniably awesome.
Where R.U.S.E. stands itself out from the crowd is in its many unique strategy features that other genre games don’t much touch on. Where others rely on player instinct and obligatory movement and placement of units, R.U.S.E. presents its own ‘R.U.S.E.’ powers (where the game gets its name from), which really make some of the bigger battles truly chaotic and deceiving. You can use your powers to do things like reveal hidden enemy units, hide your own, reveal enemy orders and even do things like send fake units to distract the enemy and set up decoy bases that can take the heat away from your real army as you disguise your continuously enlarging force to take the world by storm. There is nearly unlimited possibilities for what you are capable of with these R.U.S.E. abilities, and to gain a proper understanding of them you have to give the campaign a playthrough before you even try to take on some online opponents.
The game’s campaign mode has tried to give the game a sort of military story, and through dividing cutscenes, narrative and some terrible actors, the whole thing pretty much collapses, metaphorically of course. It was a horrid idea to try to give the game a story - at least with the one Ubisoft picked out for it - and it simply makes the campaign feel even slower than its gameplay is. Until you get well into the story, the missions all feel like one massive tutorial, leaving you to slowly discover what R.U.S.E abilities to what, and what units are good against what others. If you’re good, you’ll fly right through it, albeit very bored, and then if you still feel like playing the game, you’re now ready to take on the online world, one R.U.S.E. at a time.
So the multiplayer is really where R.U.S.E. shows its gameplay powers, and with the extreme possibilities of deceiving and helpful R.U.S.E. abilities, if you and you opponent are both talented tacticians and thoughtful gamers, you are in for one hell of a ride. The battles can be intense, and require more quick wit, thinking and frustrating button pressing and control fiddling than any strategy game I’ve played, which is both good and bad respectively.
To be honest, I myself am quite terrible at this game’s more tactical gameplay, finding myself often simply trying to go full-force with an attacking force, usually resulting in either being deceived by decoys and taken out from hidden flanking enemies, or simply attacking the right base and being taken out by thoughtfully placed defences. I even played a good slab of the game on a PC to see the difference between the console port and computer counterpart, and although the game was a far better experience on the PC, I still couldn’t manage to keep my cool and have enough patience to beat my opponents. It just goes to show a hardcore shooter fan such as myself really hasn’t the brain span for such a game like this. Truly a thinking mans game, and If you have some good friends with the game too, you can conquer enemies in R.U.S.E.’s co-operative modes, which are actually very fun, even if you aren’t particularly good at the game itself.
If you look at last years Halo Wars, its easy to instantly see that the game looks great. Its models, textures, animation - everything. So it’s a wonder to see that R.U.S.E., while being from such a bigger developer who had actually developed titles before, doesn’t managed to look any kind of pretty. In fact, the game is quite ugly, and definitely the worst looking strategy game I’ve seen on the Xbox 360. Even Civilisation: Revolution (which I personally think is the best strategy game on consoles) managed to make its cell-shaded visuals work in par with its gameplay more than R.U.S.E.’s bad graphics complement its also-underwhelming gameplay.
The battles can be zoomed in-and-out at will, giving you a good view of the battle field (or should I say, Battle Board?). The fights take place on what seems to be an army Generals tactical board, complete with little model fighters and buildings, in what seems to be a war room or something of the sort. Zoom in however, and the models turn into real game models, with real animation and detailed fighting stances and firepower. Its certainly nothing special, but its neat little feature which add’s to the feel of being in total control of a real army.
As I mentioned earlier, the game’s campaign progresses its weak storyline though cutscenes. These actually have some amazing textures and character models, but the animation here is absolutely shocking. The characters all stand around and talk to one another (through some bad signature Ubisoft ‘lip synching’, I might add) in overly stiff and awkward positions, looking very unreal. But for the type of game it is, this is actually forgivable and its obvious you shouldn’t be focusing on these cutscenes where there are Nazi’s to be crushed!
R.U.S.E.’s sound department has the pro’s and con’s split right down the middle here. What I mean by this is that while there is some very bad sounds and voices, there are also a lot of quality ear-massaging battle sounds to be sucked up and swallowed.
Just like the aforementioned cutscene animations, the voices of the characters in these scenes fail to do the game any justice. The sound itself is quality, but the actors sound overworked and under directed. They don’t seem to realize when and why they should be angry, upset, or happy about a victory. They sometimes sound like they’re yelling at their commanders because they’re proud of winning a battle.
But as for the good points I mentioned, this comes in the shape of actual gameplay sounds. The sounds of tanks launching missiles, soldiers kneeling over as they shoot one another, planes dropping bombs and just the whole ambience of war. It also changes in conjunction with how and where you are zooming in and out of the battlefield, which is also a great little, and often overlooked feature. But such trivial sounds and graphical abilities really fail to hold up the falling structure of the core game itself.
R.U.S.E. does feature a good amount of playable game modes and possible battle experiences, so if the game had with it a good execution of gameplay and innovation, it would be an easy recommendation. But truth is, unless you happen to be a hardcore strategy fan and looking for more intelligent genre games than the likes of Age of Empires and Starcraft, then you really wont get much, if any enjoyment from this title. Even if you feel like digging deep for this full-priced game despite the slew of games on the incoming and at the same time as Halo: Reach, then go right ahead, but you best pick up the PC edition, as R.U.S.E. has laid it head right in the top of the pile of strategy games which fail to work or feel good on a console controller.
With good innovation and idea’s come’s great failure in solid execution. Even on the more appropriate format of a computer, this game feels and plays bad. It has a lot of really good ideas and the R.U.S.E. abilities can make some battles immensely enjoyable, especially in co-op, but with awkward control schemes and complex batteries of needed tactical gameplay, it just isn’t high on the fun chart. I thought this game was going to change the way I look at strategy games in whole, but in a similar bid to how it failed to uphold what it promised in terms of playability, it let me down something fierce.
AAG SCORE: 6.2/10
+ Unique R.U.S.E abilities
+ Good co-operative modes
+ Multiplayer can be awesome
- Looks very dated
- Terrible controls
- Disappointing storyline and campaign
Reviewed and Written By John Elliott