Format: Xbox 360 (Version tested), PS3, PC
Release: Out now
Developer: Eugen Systems
You play as a general in Ruse, observing the ebb and flow of battle from a command tent, miles from the action. You pore over maps punctuated by counters that represent Allied and Axis units inching forward and backward in smooth, abstract movements. But, simultaneously, you also play as an observer on the frontlines, panning the camera around your troops as they sprint for cover, catching blood spatters and tank treads in realtime, as your broad-sweep instructions are carried out in agonising detail.
It’s a marriage of viewpoints that could only be expressed in a videogame, where an easing of the analogue stick zooms the camera in from the general’s sky view of the theatre of war to the front stalls, the game space transformed into a zoomed-in view of the unfurled map.
The long zoom technique also visually captures the unique systematic feel of Eugen Systems’ World War II-themed RTS, which is rendered as a turn-based board game, yet plays out in realtime, expecting you to observe, react and, through the use of the card-like Ruses, attempt to deceive and out-intelligence your opponent on the fly.
The size of maps facilitates strategy on a grand, ambitious scale, and soon into the generous singleplayer campaign, you’ll be pushing against and defending on multiple fronts. Troop movement orders are rendered in large attractive arrows, and, while the action is often tortuously slow as infantry and tanks creep across the landscape, the accuracy of command afforded by the zooming viewpoint is precise.
Maps are divided into sections, onto which you can play the titular Ruse cards. These offer temporary intelligence and counter-intelligence advantages, revealing the identity of all enemy units in an area, for example, or hiding your own units from your opponent’s gaze.
The Ruse mechanic helps add short-term strategy to battles, moving the tactical play away from simply seeing who can build the largest army the quickest to something far more nuanced and fresh. The option to deploy decoy units enables you to manipulate your opponent’s strategy, potentially tricking them into focusing on a type of unit that you’re strong against, and these mind games bring something new and exciting to competitive play.
Eugen’s real triumph has been in packaging the game’s complexities in an entirely accessible manner. By cross-developing for PC and console, the French developer has found a way to facilitate deep strategy on just a handful of buttons, streamlining the interface at little cost to the tactician.
The conservative setting and lack of an engaging storyline may do little to excite RTS veterans but, in its ruleset, Ruse expands upon the genre in a way that goes beyond gimmick. As a result, it’s deserving of a wider audience than recently released high-profile rivals might allow for.