Last week I saw one of my TMZ gaming buddies, Majiviper, playing the demo for a game called R.U.S.E. I hadn’t seen or heard anything about this game. Intrigued by the possibility of a new strategy game to get excited about/obsessed with, I went onto Steam to see if I could learn more about it. I decided to watch the two minute R.U.S.E. trailer.
If you don’t want to watch the teaser, then here’s what you missed: two generals sit across from one another. One commands a naval force, the other holds a defensive position on the beach with concealed forces. The naval commander sends for a small portion of his forces. The defending commander reveals artillery in bunkers, which shatter the ships immediately. The naval commander hesitates for a moment, then sends in a second attack wave. The defender confidently reveals a line of tanks along the beach and rains down hellfire upon the attackers. The naval commander is scared and frustrated, and in desperation sends in all of the rest of his forces. The defenses reveal a second line of tanks, and most of the ships are crushed, with only a scattered few troop carriers reaching the beach. When the troop carriers’ doors open, a troop of dummy soldiers fall limp onto the beach. The naval commander then reveals his true navy and air force, which then crush the exposed defenders. The feigned fear of the attacker turned to a smug confidence while the defender’s face falls to despair. Cool!
I decided to try the game out. Or at least the demo. After a relatively quick download, I fired up the game and selected the demo mission.
I was greeted with about one minute of cinematics which I didn’t quite understand, though it did allow me to figure out that the setting of the game is World War II, with the main character playing an Allied general during the invasion of Italy. The quality of the cinematics themselves was good, but nothing spectacular; though I may just be spoiled having recently played through Starcraft 2, Dragon Age: Origins, and Mass Effect 2, and all three of those games have absolutely stellar cut-scenes. After a quick explanation of the attack plan (attack them in the “soft underbelly”), I was in game… and underwhelmed.
R.U.S.E. uses a very minimalist game interface: there is no minimap, there are no command buttons, everything is left open to let the player see as much of the action as possible. While this approach could work, it made me feel as though there wasn’t much of a point for me being there. I had really two commands: move and attack, both of which were the same mouse button. When I lassoed multiple units, I would also be presented with silhouettes of the units in a line, allowing me to move in to a set formation. However, it wasn’t intuitive exactly how I could manipulate the formation: is it possible to spread the units out to avoid area-of-effect attacks? Or to bring them into close proximity? I couldn’t figure it out.
One thing that I very much liked about the interface was how the view zoomed. You can go smoothly from a fairly close view of your troops all the way to a commander’s view of the battlefield, where troops are conglomerated into “tokens.” This effect is similar to how Supreme Commander worked, and here I felt like it worked well. Maybe I just like that freedom, who knows? In any case, I liked how this made me feel like I was a part of something larger. I controlled only a handful of tanks, but still was helping a larger battlefield, and a larger war effort.
The gameplay just felt lacking. All I could do was select my units, and move/attack with them. While the bit that I was playing was clearly a tutorial/training mission, it just didn’t have any bite. “Go here and blow up the enemies” was the only thing I had to do.
Also, I wasn’t given any real reason for blowing up the enemies. I knew that it was some kind of invasion, but there was no character. Why did I need to blow up these particular enemies? Is it because they are guarding a munitions plant? There were multiple voices talking at me throughout the mission, but I was so focused on the task at hand that I couldn’t tell them apart from one another.
The graphics were fair, but nothing to write home about (just a blog). One thing that I found peculiar is the angle at which units were displayed when the player zooms in: one sees a fair amount of sky. I assume that this is so that one can watch and direct a battle from the zoomed-in position, but then it detracts from the detail of the units themselves. One cool in-game cinematic effect that was used was split-screen close-up shots of stuff exploding. Stuff exploding is always cool (unless of course, it is your stuff, in which case it is only okay). However, the amount of screen real-estate allotted to this was relatively small, and I feel like the emotion and excitement of the action was diminished because of this. Also, when I was focusing on my own troops, I ignored the split-screen altogether, since it showed other allied units.
One other thing which I should mention was the voice-acting: it was unusually bad. The lines from units were plain and un-inspired, while the orders from High Command were downright laughable. The delivery was so forced it was painful. Traditionally games have had poor voice acting (in the same way that they tend to have very contrived plots), but for whatever reason R.U.S.E.’s voice actors made my ears bleed in less than five minutes.
Final verdict: I put the game down after 10 minutes. While it looks like it has a few interesting elements, overall it felt too plain to hold my interest. I didn’t feel empowered as a general, and that my actions made a difference. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, just that it failed to grab me.
On the horizon: Mass Effect 2 review & adventures, Dragon Age: Origins review. And of course, more Starcraft 2 action and site updates. Stay tuned!