The current, surprising industry-wide obsession with real-time strategising continues. This time it's Ubisoft having a crack at both a new IP and a new take on this oft-static genre, with the fascinating, board game-esque and absolutely gi-frigging-normous Ruse.
I took a first-hand gander at Eugen Systems' (you'll know them from oddball action-RTS Act of War) new baby last week, but sadly the terrifying EmbargoBot has been stood menacingly by my PC since then, wagging an electro-death-finger at me whenever I think about mentioning the game here. Now I can. And I will. Watch me. Yeah. Yeah!
Before I get into exactly why Ruse could be monumental, let's let those who are so inclined jerk their knees at its theme. It's a World War II strategy game. Go on then, moan away, blissfully ignorant that if there's one thing more over-familiar to PC gamers than World War II games, it's people moaning about World War II games.
(The developers' reasoning for using World War II is interesting, incidentally. It's a bona fide modern and massive conflict between multiple factions, but one that uses technology close enough to today's to be suitably familiar and explosive. Or, in other words, it's fields and tanks and machine guns, and it's hard to think of much that's more suitable for an RTS.)
(Clicky yon pic for gigantovision)
With that out the way, let's get to it - I've never seen anything quite like Ruse. In terms of scale, at least. Much was made of Supreme Commander's mega-zoom, but while that offered immense scope it didn't really elicit awe-struck gasps. At a certain point, the terrain turned near-featureless and two-dimensional, while the units compressed into bland, flat icons. There was never, really, a true sense of celestial omniscience, but simply shuffling shapes around a grid: a magnet dragged underneath a tray of iron filings. Supcom was the maths of war, and rarely its spectacle.
This, on the hand, offers a true 3D space of land, sea and oh-so-much air. There is talk of there being other theatres of war, but what I've seen so far was mile upon miles of European fields and towns, free from loading pauses or zone transitions - Google Maps with a z-axis and explosions. There's no cheating via fog of war, either - the lie of the land is yours to see whenever you like. There's a neat twist on fog of war for the enemy units too - you can always see where your foes' guys are, but unless you've got someone in sight range of them, you won't know what they are. So scouting, stealth and poker-like guesstimation of what he could/should have in his hand all become vital elements in gauging whether it's safe to head over to a given area. It's very much a game about strategy and counter-strategy, not unit rushes or 400 clicks per minutes, so taking risks is not on the cards.
As part of that is the second major leg propping up the game, the titular ruses. Deception has long been an essential part of warfare, but bar a few token magic stealth units it's an element that most RTSes tend to overlook. Here, the idea is you go into battle with a few pre-selected tricks up your sleeve, and the when and where of their deployment can win the day. This is where the boardgame sensibilities really make themselves known, as the Ruses are halfway between cards and the general/meta-abilities so common in other RTSes. They couldn't be called entirely realistic, but they are at least grounded in the technology of the time. The best example is perhaps Radio Silence, which both neatly fits into a layman's grasp of military skullduggery and, in practice, grants invisibility to your units while they're in a certain area of the map.
A ruse, yesterday. Well, 1944ish.
All in, it's looking incredibly promising - an RTS that might truly realise the promise of becoming the general grimly pushing pieces across a planning table even as the battle itself rages beneath him. On the maxi-zoom mode, you'll even see the edge of said table, and blinking, chattering 40s machinery in the background. It is due for console too, always a cause for concern with RTSes, but apparently PC is very much the lead. Done right, it's got the potential to be the sort of kick up the arse for the genre that Company of Heroes was, but this time even more free from the rusty chains of Command & Conquer.
I'll doubtless be writing more about Ruse (the name is, I suspect, as much a reference to Risk as it is to deception) in the not too distant, but in the meantime you can watch the dramatic but fairly unhelpful CGI trailer below. Beneath that you'll also find some canned blurb and Q&A gumpf (i.e. glorified press release rather than a bespoke interview) to paint a broader picture of these immense killings fields. With this cut and paste we are really spoiling you.
Developer Q&A -Alexis Le Dressay – Eugen Systems Creative Director
• What sort of game is R.U.S.E.?
R.U.S.E. is the game that will take the player into the heart of strategy: You’ll have to manipulate huge armies to defeat your opponent, and rely on your ability to analyze moves and tactics in order to beat your opponent’s strategy and fool them.
• What was your source of inspiration?
Deception is present everywhere in our daily lives: in media, politics, even relationships, but we also realized how important it was during wartime. There are so many stories around this hidden side of war, including the famous “Fortitude” operation. None of the other RTS games give the player the opportunity to control this major aspect of strategy.
• What is the overall goal of the game? Is it a Macro or Micro management Strategy game?
R.U.S.E. can be played using a macro vision, a micro one, or both. The player can decide whether to manage the whole army or just certain troops. The IRISZOOM EngineTM is the best technology to do that. You can switch from high-level strategy, where your goal is to understand and adapt to the enemy’s plans in order to fool him, to the role of a general who organizes reinforcements, the defense of strategic points, or research into new weapons. Ultimately, you are the commander who has to ensure that the battle will be won using the right units, in the right place, at the right time.
• Do you have a solo campaign?
Obviously, we have a deep solo campaign taking place in the World War II background. Famous combat scenes, such as the bloody battle of Monte Cassino, or the very well known Operation Overlord, can be reenacted by the players. But we wanted to give a brand new approach of this major event of our century, which is why the solo campaign will give the player the opportunity to experience this story through the eyes of the master strategists who pulled the strings of this world conflict. You’ll discover an adventure where it’s all about manipulation and illusions…
• Any multiplayer modes?
A multiplayer mode is of course available in R.U.S.E. Indeed, the use of manipulation, bluffs, and other tricks to win a confrontation is even funnier when it comes to playing against a real human opponent via the online features. Basically, it’s very rewarding to know that your strategy worked and that you managed to fool the person you’re playing with. It’s truly more exciting than just being able to click a button faster than your opponent to create more units than him, if you know what I’m talking about? (joke). Be sure that we will provide you with more information about the multiplayer modes available in R.U.S.E. soon.
• Why is it the game of deception?
In R.U.S.E., we wanted the player to focus on the core of strategy game. A strategist must observe, analyze, and understand every little step on the battlefield. R.U.S.E. is the game where each player uses their intelligence service to anticipate the moves of their opponent; this makes some information available about the enemy. Deception is also a matter of avoiding being spied on: lying, fainting, hiding, and faking…you’re the only one who decided when it’s time to reveal your real forces! That’s like poker!
• Is R.U.S.E hard to handle?
Absolutely not. R.U.S.E. is easy to pick up and play. In order to create a deep and pure strategy experience, we made a special effort to determine a fine game rhythm that allows the player to analyze, decide, and manipulate without being bothered with the usual tons of displayed information inherent to RTS games. We managed to do it without losing the game depth that is expected by the players. Just as an example, note that there are more than 200 units and buildings with their own details to manage in the game.
• What about the IRISZOOMTM engine? What does it bring to the genre?
First of all, we developed a brand new technology that recreates entire warzones for gamers to play in. Regular RTS games illustrate Operation Overlord by recreating the map of Omaha beach; In R.U.S.E., thanks to the IRISZOOM™ Engine, you will be allowed to operate in the entire area of Normandy…hundreds of kilometers will be available in real time! Three levels of zoom on the battlefield will help you seeing everything in a few seconds with an interface, very simply and clearly.
In conclusion, we can say that you will be given the chance to experience a much larger and true-to-life version of the mythic scenes of WWII than in any other RTS, which really makes R.U.S.E. the ultimate strategy game.
And a press release:
Developed by Eugen Systems, creators of the critically acclaimed strategy title Act of War: Direct Action™, R.U.S.E™ is a one-of-a-kind RTS game that allows players to bluff their enemies to lead their nation to victory, controlling the action from the heart of the battlefield to the full theatre of war.
Become the master of deception
o Fight a war of perception using recon units & your spying network to gather intelligence on your enemy and then strike at his Achilles heel!
o Use overturning deception skills to mislead your enemy: decoys, camouflage, radio silence, deciphering, intoxication…
o Combine military manoeuvres & cunning stratagems for victory: your brains are the ultimate weapon!
o From captain to the chief in command, live an epic campaign full of manipulation, jealousy & betrayal!
Experience War as a Strategist
o Command a huge spectrum of units : dozens of infantry, vehicles & aircraft units with specific abilities
o Wield executive power : secure revenues, plan units production & launch advanced research programs
o Undermine the enemy strategy by cutting its supply lines & weakening its logistics
o Use the exclusive IRISZOOM® engine as the most intuitive interface to easily identify the balance of power and run into action
o Fight on immense & incredibly detailed maps, the biggest in a RTS: a perfect playground for strategy!
Fool real people is the ultimate thrill
o Test your strategic skills with fast-paced, addictive cooperative & adversarial skirmishes, up to 8 players
o Face unpredictable battle situations & reverse the balance of power by using bluff and deception against your opponents
o Choose your nation between 6 Axis or Allied powers with specific units & abilities