Few games in the realm of real-time strategy have pushed the threshold into untreaded waters. The Total War series threw players into the perspective of the soldier from General to Private, allowing players to take in the whole scope of the battle at hand. Hearts of Iron elevated the genre into an era of total control, granting players control of every aspect of game play from invading hostile powers to micro-managing dissenting generals. However, few if any real-time strategy games have added a layer of tactical deceit found in Ruse, released earlier this Fall by Ubisoft.
Developed by Eugen Systems, Ruse casts real-time strategy into a new echelon of coercion with the Ruse card system. These cards allow you to deceive your enemy with a slew of deceptive measures intended to detriment your enemy or benefit your army in a specific manner. From decoy offensives and buildings, to blitz plans that increase troop speed, inspiring fanaticism in your troops to fight to the death or strike terror in the hearts of your foe causing them to flee, to camouflaging your buildings or ordering your troops to maintain radio silence dropping them off your enemies radar; there is a ruse for any situation on the battle field.
Ruse cards offer incalculable amounts of ways to trick your enemies into the perfect trap. Along with the measures mentioned above, espionage also seeps into Ruse. From decrypting enemy communications detailing their troop orders on screen, to spying on the enemy revealing their units in a certain sector, or reverting the enemies intel on your troops (masking your light troops as heavy, and heavy as light); the Ruse cards are the true movers and shakers in this game. Those who fail to utilize their Ruses will suffer the humiliation of defeat, while those who master these cards will play their enemy as a puppeteer to his marionette.
Though you may not understand just how these Ruse cards play out, allow me to parable…
You find yourself at the command of 10 infantry units tasked with holding a small town to the flank of the front lines. The theater is North Africa. To your north an army of Germans sit idle, waiting for the Allied forces to test their defenses. A road cuts from the north into town turning to the east as it moves through the town. Once on the eastern edge of town the road intersects with a larger road running north to south. To your north east, a corridor of trees line the road into town; a funnel of death for any mechanized units. To your east, the desolate desert looms on the outskirts of town begging the Germans to set into motion a full mechanized assault. Reinforcements are en route, but trailing behind. If you fail to hold the town, the Allies will surely suffer a wicked defeat, forcing them to retreat. However, if you hold the town, the reinforcements rushing up the lines will bolster the front allowing for a breakout.
What do you do?
Assuming the Jerrys are spying on you, here’s a cunning way to deploy your Ruse cards for a quick and cunning victory.
Leave 1 infantry unit garrisoned in the town, with luck the German spy will relay this to command and a mechanized assault will be ordered to rush your eastern flank from the desert unimpeded. Move your remaining infantry into the forest corridor to your north and have them lay in wait. Once the offensive on your eastern flank begins mobilizing, deploy a decoy armor base at the eastern edge of town. Radio silence your infantry and then send a decoy tank assault full-steam at the oncoming Germans. Once they retreat, pull back the the decoy assault. With luck, the Germans will take the bait and shift for your northern flank. If all the pieces fall into place, the Panzer Corps that once threatened your survival will fall tank by tank as they venture into the corridor of trees where your infantry will ambush them, quickly dispatching the enemy.
If you have a Ruse left, drop a Blitz on your infantry and close the gap. Time that assault with your reinforcements and watch the German lines decay into complete chaos and oblivion.
Can’t do that with any other RTS can you?
As with any RTS, certain units have advantages over others, while other units suffer detriments when squared up against stronger units. In this case, a tank will drop any infantry unit with ease. However, unlike many RTS games, terrain is the next great equalizer in Ruse, just after the Ruse cards.
As mentioned vaguely above, infantry units hiding in forests gain a surprise attack bonus on unsuspecting units. In game that translates to a multiplication of damage output upon your enemy. Though a Panzer could easily chew through scores of infantry in an open field, forests hinter their ability to maneuver and fire, making for a perfect ambush zone. There have honestly been times in game where a handful of infantry units at my command have halted a dozen strong tank assault by surprise attacking from the treeline.
However, what Ruse offers RTS fans the most in terms of game play; is a bare-boned system. This stripped down RTS, when compared to more complex or massive real-time stategy games, may lack the luster of the more recent RTS trends; but the combat which prevails due to this is hair raising and I love it.
Money is needed to purchase buildings, units, and unit upgrades; not a collection of resources. That is gained through Supply Depots scattered across the map. Simply drop a Supply Depot on top of the specified area and the supply lines will open between the depot and your headquarters.
The user-interface is wide open in regards to selecting between buildings for production. At the top of the screen a bar of tags sit idle for each production facility. Simply click which you want and the units will scroll down in a menu. Select the unit and production begins. No need to navigate yourself to the facility directly. You can start building units while you are hovered over your enemy lines observing their movements.
Though this may appear to be boring, the bare-boned aspect of this RTS opens the game up for thrilling game play. Instead of hording your focus on your base, you can stay vigilant in the fight. Nothing is more useful to an RTS player than building more units while you are micro-managing your troops in the field. Ruse allows for just that. With the Ruse cards at your disposal and a friendly UI to your benefit, Ruse took a turn for hot combat rather than base construction.
Calculate into the equation the variable that your enemy is also using ruses upon, and leave your zerg tactics in the closet. Overwhelming numbers won’t win out easily in Ruse, tactics and strategy will.
With a lengthy single player campaign that takes the player through North Africa, Italy, France, and Germany; Ruse is worth it’s weight and more. I honestly haven’t played a campaign this long in years. Considering the new aspects of RTS inherent with Ruse, the single player campaign is a true challenge and delight. Add into account that Eugen Systems also wrote an interesting storyline that follows the war, and you’ve got yourself a quality real-time strategy.
For real-time strategists, Ruse is a must have. From the Ruse card system to the terrain dynamic and the bare-boned game mechanics; Ruse offers the real-time strategy genre a game on par with Risk at blitzkrieg speed.
|Pros||Ruse cards add a new dynamic to RTS, memorable characters and storyline, lengthy single player campaign, bare-boned game mechanics that make for intense and engaging game play|
|Cons||I'm honestly at a loss here, though I can't stand non-dedicated Steam mutliplayer|
|Verdict||A genre changer for real-time strategy|