The first thing I learned about about RUSE when I jumped into the freely available public beta (available via Steam) is that I’m extremely bad at it. The good news is that I suck for all the right reasons.
When I lose in RUSE it’s not because my opponent clicked faster than me, or because he had a better knowledge of an intricate upgrade tree or knowledge of damage values and success ratios, it’s because he damn well outsmarted me. The simplicity of RUSE’s core rock paper scissors mechanics melds perfectly with the deception elements to create a competitive strategy experience that will genuinely match your wits against your foe.
RUSE’s basic tenants will be familiar to anyone who has played an RTS. There’s one type of resource which can be claimed by building supply depots on top of the yellow supply points placed across the map. Then your resources can be spent on base building and unit deployment. This entire process is condensed into a neat pop down menu that springs to life at the click of an icon at the top of the screen. Any developer who devotes half of the screen to the UI in an RTS (pretty much all of them) should take a look at RUSE’s neat system of sliding menus.
Zooming out turns the battlefield into a moving boardgame spaced in the middle of the general’s tent. The sounds of war fade and are replaced by the low hum of power generators and the faint chatter of your staff. From here the map is split into a series of sectors. Up to two Ruses can be played on a given sector. A Ruse is a special deception effect, you gain one every minute or so. Most of them last 2-4 minutes and can do anything from create a fake base to send out a dummy army.
Beyond the fog of war enemy forces are depicted by poker chips, large ones representing heavy units like large tanks and small ones lighter fare such as infantry and recon vehicles. Many of the Ruses revolve around piercing or distorting the fog of war. A spy ruse will reveal the units in a sector to the player, a camouflage net will hide your base structures for a few minutes, protecting them from discovery or artillery bombardment, there’s even a ruse that swaps round small and large poker chips, making your main strike force look like a platoon of footsoldiers.
There’s no micromanagement of your units, you stack up your chips and move them around. Anti tank guns beat tanks, anti air beats air, it’s all fairly straightforward. The trouble is those tanks rolling down your eastern flank might not actually exist and the only way to find out is to attack them or let them reach your base. That base your shelling turns out to be fake, and the real one was camouflaged on the other side of the map spitting out tanks big enough to mince your defences in a few minutes.
There’s a few small niggles. Fights often stretch across the sector borders, which results in the ridiculous situation where half of the units in the fight are affected by your psychological warfare and the those in the unaffected sector are fine. Ruses that effect combat should have an area of effect, or contaminate units firing into the sector to get around this. This is small stuff, though. It’s a slick and genuinely tactical RTS that will give you a fascinating contest and some explosive action in the space of a 25 minute game. The beta is still running so hop on to Steam if you fancy a go. It’s an extremely promising early showing and I eagerly await the full release but BEWARE: Ubisoft’s oh so sensible and popular new DRM system will apply, which means the game will require a constant net connection to play, even in the single player game. If this is a deal-breaker for you then do avoid the beta because it will make you excited and sad at the same time. /sob