The definition of a strategy game has evolved over many years since the term’s inception. For the Atari ST/Amiga 500 generation, strategy games would have fallen under the blanket of RPGs, such as Loom, The Secret of Money Island and Maniac Mansion.
These were pioneering games that strayed away from conventional platforms and innovated an entirely new genre of interactive and non-conventional game play. Step back a generation before that and the term strategy belonged to board games like Monopoly and Risk – both classics to this day.
Which is the reason R.U.S.E. is something of an enigma. Those expecting it to fall into the former category must be aware that it is very much a faithful interpretation with classic boardgame sensibilities – which can’t help but feel like a regressive step. From the outset, the player is reminded that this is a strategic war game and should expect little else. The action takes place at a skewed angle, much in the vein of the Sega MegaDrive classic Desert Strike, and the player is in total command of all the armies before them, just like the more recent Age of Empires/Command and Conquer. R.U.S.E. allows you to decimate enemy armies and destroy villages but from a position of total detachment.
Such ultimate control might seem like a positive, but from the outset it is intolerably difficult to keep track of the action while it takes place and it is not uncommon to incur a flustered, disinterest in the player. There is no real action to speak of. When the player enforces an attack on the computer opponent – in the first level this means launching an assault on a German stronghold to liberate a prisoner – their armies snail along the terrain and when contact is finally achieved with the enemy it falls rather flatly and fails to impact. Tanks and battalions exchange fire like children hurling stones in a playground and, despite the neat function that enables the player to zoom in and out of the game play (which reveals that the action is actually taking place on a strategy table in a war room where your armies are represented by piles of chips) and pan around the landscape in order to keep track of your armies’ movements, it all feels too sterile.
Testing your cunning on the battlefield is a mainstay of R.U.S.E. and players who invest time in the missions will benefit from intelligent use of their maps and resources, as they aim to outwit their opponent. The game play is inter-spliced with story which gives reason to the attacks that take place on the battlefield. While these cut scenes are fun and generally accomplished graphic wise, they lack a certain relevance – even with their link to the game play – and one cannot help but feel somewhat cheated that there is no interaction in these scenes. Instead, the player is shipped back to the drawing board (literally) for more slow moving stratagem.
There are online features that allow you to conduct battle over the PlayStation Network (PSN), where you can focus your ability to "ruse" among friends, or sworn online enemies, and use tricks and decoys to change battle outcomes, but do little to add to the excitement.
It is difficult to know who the target market is for R.U.S.E. With so many freeware online games – offering essentially the same game play – the chances of R.U.S.E. finding a popular following remains doubtful. For those among you keen on the classic boardgame Risk, this could be a godsend. However, if you expect more from your next-generation console gaming than rigid control and uninventive game play redolent of the Commodore 64 era, R.U.S.E. is more than likely not for you.