Strategy games haven’t exactly been thin on the ground this year. I’ve personally played enough tactical titles in the past twelve months to consider myself a bonafide general. I’ve even taken to smoking huge cigars and stomping around in leather boots, and occasionally invading Poland. Despite the clutter, French-based developers Eugen Systems have come up with yet another entry in an ever-expanding genre, due for release early 2010. Their project is called RUSE, and Eugen haven’t exactly held back on the hype, labelling it the most innovative and immersive strategy title of recent times.
This boasting is nothing new, and unfortunately more often than not sets developers up for a massive ego-crushing fall. More worrying is the fact that RUSE is due out on consoles as well as the PC, leading to concerns over ‘watered down’ gameplay. A quick stroll around the beta confirms that the controls and the interface are incredibly simple to use. Rather than present a complex HUD, just a single button is provided in the top left corner - one click brings up a number of building types, along with the units each building can produce. Only a cash counter, a timer and a score make up the rest of the display. There’s no need for a minimap thanks to the impressive zoom feature. Your view starts pulled all the way back from the map, revealing the entire area as a network of roads and towns. A simple scroll of the mouse wheel thrusts you down to the ground, to reveal a close-up of your base and any surrounding units. It’s not an entirely original system, but it works incredibly well.
Although the interface is refreshingly intuitive, RUSE’s gameplay seems far from innovative when you first load up an online versus match. You build up a base like in most other strategy games, you harvest supplies like in most other strategy games, and you gradually build up a force strong enough to take down your opponents - like in most other strategy games. Sadly you don’t get a crazy gun fetishist called Sonja or a balding Tim Curry hamming it up with a fake Russian accent. However, Eugen have included one feature not seen in any other strategy title - the very thing that gave the game its name.
Ruses add an interesting and fresh layer of tactics to what could so easily have been another bland, stale entry in the genre. These are basically deceptions which you can use against the enemy, to give yourself the upper hand in battle - with the twist that your opponents can use the exact same ruses against you. A variety of these are available in the beta, including the ability to camouflage your buildings or units, present your heavy artillery as recon vehicles, or even send out a dummy battalion to distract your foe while your real army sneaks up unannounced. Ruses can be effectively used in combination to devastating effect, which will be all the more satisfying if you can actually hear the other players shriek in disgust as you successfully round their defences and blow their bases to smithereens.
We’re promised that the full game will come with a deep and lengthy single player campaign in addition to the 1v1 and 2v2 online multiplayer matches, and the ruse abilities as well as the huge maps might just be enough to tempt strategy fans to take a look when the game’s released next year. Until then, it’s time to strap on the boots and order the cat to attack next door’s patio. One victory at a time, my friend…