Following on from Jim's individual discussion of RUSE, the RPS high-fiving fraternity elected to spend some time getting to grips with Eugen Systems' latest RTS, and discovered they rather liked it. It was time for a verdict. But what would the collective verdict be? And were they wise to the tricks and traps the game laid out for them? And why was John on holiday? Did anyone care? There were so many unanswered questions. Read on to discover...
Jim: RUSE: A real-time strategy that seems to have surprised people. Did it surprise you guys? It surprised me.
Kieron: It certainly surprise attack-bonused me. Regularly. But I suspect we'll get to that.
Quintin: I had no faith whatsoever in it before I played it. Not entirely sure why. So yes, I was surprised. Alarmed, even.
Jim: I suspect it's a game that lots and lots of people will simply pass over because it's a strategy, because it's World War II. But it's a neat piece of design.
Quintin: That's just it. It's neat and inventive in almost every area.
Jim: It has two main categories of neatness: the presentation and the Ruse mechanic itself. And the two are interlinked.
Kieron: I kinda liked Eugen's previous game, Act Of War, but it was one of the most brainless mainstream RTS games (in single-player, anyway) I've ever played. This couldn't be further from that.
Jim: This is one of those cases where, to a degree, the graphics is the gameplay. And I mean that by the way in which Ruse presents its battlefield. You can see everything, but what you see isn't necessarily how things are.
Quintin: We should explain the graphics / presentation.
Jim: Now, as people are keen to point out, Ruse isn't the only game with decoys and such in, but the way it uses them is, I think, unique.
Kieron: It's the first game since World In Conflict to genuinely feel fresh in that aspect.
Jim: Go ahead Q, explain it up. (It made me mourn World In Conflict, actually.)
Quintin: Sir! Yes sir!
Quintin: When you're at the most zoomed out, you get a table with a strategic map on it, in some generic WW2 war-room somewhere. You can even swivel the camera and see administration types hard at work. At this point, units are represented by stacks of chips that can be slid around in an enjoyably sticky way. Zoom in, the stacks don't get bigger, they just slide apart. So, a stack of 8 tanks becomes two. Keep zooming, the chips morph into the actual units. Supersized, so you can pick them out. Keep zooming, and finally you're looking at a proper battlefield with units sitting there, actual size, and the command room and table are long gone. It's seamless, and delicious.
Kieron: It's kind of like that Snow-Crash-idea of VR, applied to WW2. Sliding from information to representation smoothly on a scale. Certainly much slicker than - say - Supreme Commander.
Quintin: It's slick, but my own personal love of it comes from how immersive it feels. In the loosest sense, you feel that much closer to being a general.
Jim: Immersive is a dangerous word. How do you feel closer to being a general?
Quintin: Sliding chips around, analysing intel, panicking like a bastard.
Kieron: Mainly, panicking like a bastard.
Quintin: With the camera at its most zoomed out, the abstraction and simplification of your battlefield information feels plausible. You know there are "some planes" over there. There is "some artillery" here. You have "a tank force" here.
Jim: Do you guys agree that because of the scale of that map, the pace is peculiar? In that it's real time, yes, and constantly evolving, but at the same time slower than RTS' teach you to expect? Of course the intel's the thing: the planes might not really be there, while others could be that and simply be hidden.
Kieron: The intel is absolutely key - and, yes, the pace is also the thing. It does play slower, in unit movement. But it's not slower. As in, it's not as if you ever get a chance to sit back, unless you're totally out of resources and down to the last few units
Quintin: My problem is actually that it's too fast. I'd argue that it's a game that lends itself to chin-stroking, but it's hopelessly frenetic. It needs a speed slider, a la StarCraft 2.
Jim: It could use a speed slider, yes. But I really, really like the pace it has by default.
Quintin: Which brings us onto the ruse stuff.
Kieron: (Another thing like World in Conflict - its relative lack of interest in the resource game. More so, it's a game which where most short games will end up with both sides with no resources)
Quintin: Kieron and I were talking about this yesterday. I'm starting to think that ruse's ruses aren't anywhere near important enough. It's not a game of bluffing. It's an RTS, with this miniature bluffing element added.
Kieron: I think they're key and important - but they're tertiary. Top level is unit positioning and control. Second level is build-queue stuff. Third level is the ruses. And you basically master each one in turn.
Jim: Not sure i agree. I played a lot of multiplayer and the Ruse's almost always played a major role in any victory, for me at least.
Kieron: That's not what I'm saying.
Jim: The game would be quite dead without them.
Kieron: But it's not the primary part. If you don't know how recon work, for example, all the ruses in the world won't help you. You can win without the ruses, but you can't win without those 2 higher level skills. Someone with mastery of all three will take you apart, of course.
Quintin: Couple of things people should know about the ruses before we continue. One, they take the form of 'cards' that you can play once every few minutes. Some of these cards hide your units, or launch fake attacks. But, and this is the real reason I think they bottled their core concept, lots of the Ruse cards just apply combat bonuses.
Jim: I kind of lumped recon in with the ruses, mentally. I mean the ruse cards aren't used in isolation. They are tied into the fog of war mechanism, the recon, everything else.
Kieron: Yeah - that's the thing. The Ruses aren't ruses. They're special abilities
Quintin: Right. If the ruse cards were nothing but subterfuge, fakery and spying, this would be a much purer game. But half of them cause penalties to your opponent's morale and speed up your units. At which point you're playing an RTS. A really great RTS, with a pleasing, watery flow to its combat, but a straight RTS all the same.
Kieron: They're basically strategic-level special-ability cards. Even down to the fact the map is divided into specific areas which the abilities effect - that's frankly boardgame.
Jim: Yes, that was my first response to it. It's a real-time boardgame.
Kieron: Okay - while we've kicked around it for its lack of purity. I think it's also worth noting that it does put the whole deceptive stuff much nearer the top of the priorties than any RTS I can remember. In most RTS games, the one where you one via stealth is the one you occasionally bring up. In this one, fundamentally, it's won or lost by stealth.
Jim: Yes, it really claims deception, ambush and sleight of tactics for itself.
Kieron: I mean, the battle Quinns and I had yesterday was hilarious - infantry can capture your bases if they get behind lines, and both of us managed to subvert the others bases, pretty much simultaneously
Quintin: I've lost at least one match because I saw a huge stack of tanks coming at me, knew they were fake, spit-and-cardboard contraptions, and then they turned out to be very real indeed.
Kieron: Even the defensive ones are useful - the camoflage netting which hides your manufacturing stuff means that the enemy has no idea what you can build
Jim: Faking the faking is a smart move.
Quintin: That match we had yesterday-
Kieron: Quinns and I were also talking about this - in the way they moved, fake-offensives have a certain look to them
Quintin: Oh yeah I need to take that back.
Kieron: The higher level skill has to be moving tanks to make it look like fake-tanks
Quintin: Turns out you can manoeuvre fake offensives around like regular units.
Kieron: Heh. Man! We suck.
Kieron: Actually, this sort of segues to my main problem with the game.
Quintin: That match we had yesterday, Kieron- I think the highest praise I think I can currently give Ruse is that I lost that match because I didn't have a plan. I built units, I moved quickly, I threw up a defense, but then what? Then I had nothing. You can't just build units and push. Ruse doesn't let you. So your artillery shredded me while I sat staring at the game like it was TV.
Kieron: Oh, those mischievous french
Quintin: Ruse is a strategy game. It's weird.
Kieron: Okay - that problem with it.
Quintin: "What's your strategy for this game?" "Oh, I don't have one." *panned*
Kieron: Actually - the thing which they do that with is by you being able to build any of the core unit-makers from scratch. As in, you don't go infantry then tanks then planes then experimental. If you want to, you could go experimental from the off. In other words, there's got to be a plan there when you go in. ANYWAY! THAT PROBLEM! Despite all this, for a game that's a co-developed PC/console game, it's impressively bad at explaining its fine details. Playing it is easy enough. But details are just hidden. The key thing are the sides. As in, you've got the Americans, English, French, Italian, Soviets and the Hun. Each one's buildings build slightly different units. Like, the English get the recon plane for free without having to research it. Problem is, you have to build each building to see what you're able to build with it. So in a game where each player's recon units can come from different bases, not knowing which one is which is a real killer. And on a higher level, on the nation selection screen, there's no notes even in the vaguest ways. Which country is good at turtling? Which one has killer planes? A pop up would solve all that.
Quintin: It's true that even if they told you what your bases did, you wouldn't know what your opponent was capable of. This is a very English Verdict, isn't it? We're just grumbling. I love this goddamn game.
Kieron: That's why you need to have the pop-ups on the nation select, so you can get the vague sense of them. Yeah, I love it to death.
Kieron: It's got the best artillery since World In Conflict.
Quintin: Jim! You were playing the single player too. What do you make of it? Cutscenes aside, I was really impressed. It's totally worth buying the game for the singleplayer alone.
Jim: The single player isn't bad, actually, but it's not great. But that's partly the fault of me having played the beta multiplayer extensively first. I found the opening levels slow and irritating, and it was about level 10 before it really picked up for me. That said, some of the huge maps with ongoing battles, that stuff is really impressive. When you are a part of a much bigger engagement, that's great. A shame about the story it tells, of course, the cutscenes really were rather clonky. And unskippable in places.
Kieron: I admit, I only got onto the second level. I just didn't have much interest in playing a campaign game with it. That said, I'm also enjoying it as an against-the-AI skirmish game.
Quintin: You should give it time. Or play it on the hardest setting. The scenarios it pits you against are good and varied. After a few missions, it starts testing you.
Kieron: Yeah, but why bother when the MP is so good? That's the thing. I'm quite pure on this one, oddly.
Jim: Yeah, solo or co-op vs AI, or multiplayer, that stuff is all so well engineered, so hefty and solid. There's no reason to worry about a campaign that doesn't quite deliver.
Quintin: Have you guys been feeling really stressed during battles? Or is that just me?
Jim: No, icy calm, as always.
Quintin: But there's so much to think about and counter! It's not just rock / paper / scissors.
Kieron: I've been... well, often aware I'm playing sub-optimally. You know - I have 7 ruses and a load of money because I've been spending all my time worrying abuot my individual men.
Quintin: I mean, you have infantry, recon, armour, anti-air, artillery, anti-tank, and then a whole seperate pecking order of aircraft. And everything reacts like oil and water with everything else. I can't keep up!
Kieron: The games often do reach a moment when it's just all gone full-war crazy. And you can't actually engineer individual battles as much as you'd like. Which is a lot of fun. Which... well, I dunno about the speed thing. There's generally plenty of time for you to see your line is crumbling.
Quintin: Which, to go back to my original point, is one of the things that makes me feel more like a general making hard decisions.
Kieron: Yeah - "Oh god. I'm going to lose in 30 seconds. What now?" I should quickly mention the morale system, which is another thing which makes it generally.
Quintin: You look at the tactical map and you immediately see- "Right, he's lost. That recon unit is toast. That tank detachment will be dead in 20 seconds."
Kieron: As in, if people get hammered, they rout.
Jim: The morale is really well done, actually. I found myself screaming at my retreating units. They just sort get hurt and back off. And you want to urge them on
Quintin: Hence the Fanaticism ruse. GET BACK IN THERE. See, if this game actually stuck with the ruse idea, the Fanaticism ruse would make your units appear to be static for 20 seconds, allowing you to pull them back. Or something.
Jim: Perhaps we will see more Ruse cards. I mean a DLC type thing would make sense, assuming the game sellss.
Jim: Also, it's interesting to note how long the beta was on this one, months and months, and I think that shows in how well engineered the game feels.
Kieron: Your suggestion Quinns... well, that'd be doing something quite different. It never disappears units from LOS.
Quintin: I know, I know, it's a rubbish suggestion. I'm just trying to convey a point.
Kieron: The heart of the game for me is how it deals with the fog of war. You know - how it walks a line between various "levels" of knowledge. As in, you *can* see all the map. So you can plan. And you know when there's a big army coming - just not what the army is. When you're close up, you get perfect knowledge - meaning scouting is still important. However that opens up this whole delicious space for the ruses to operate in.
Kieron: That's how it differs from a standard RTS, and is why it works so well.
Jim: I think that's an interesting lesson for games as a whole. Games seldom actually trick or deceive you in any interesting way. Ruse is all about that, and I think it could inspire a few other fun mechanisms. At the very least, RTS games should use recon in a more interesting fashion. (Which the original ground control did, actually.)
Quintin: It's an interesting enough game to make me happy that I've abandoned StarCraft 2 for it.
Kieron: It's certainly much more my sort of RTS game than SC2. It's much more my sort of toy soldier.
Jim: I'm still playing Men of War. So, gentlemen. Your recommendations to the reading public?
Kieron: Thumbs up!
Quintin: Buy! Buy!
Alec: in a flash of thunder and steel, Meer is here! And I say "Ruse is pretty good, y'all should play it"
Jim: I also say get it. It's a game that men should play.
Our verdict: SALE!
Kieron: I think it's my fave RTS of the year so far.
Quintin: I like it more than any RTS I've played this year.
Kieron: Even when I beat you?
Quintin: Rematch tonight? MAN.
Kieron: Bring it.