As the loading screen to R.U.S.E. loves to say, "If a plan is stupid but works, it isn't stupid." By this logic, then, Ubisoft's last RTS game, Tom Clancy's squiffy voice-controlled EndWar, was definitely stupid. Refusing to give up on the genre, Ubisoft has rallied its troops and gone from the end war to - as far as most video game developers are concerned - the first: World War II.
Far more important than Hitler's mucky browns and panzer rushes are the controls, and the associated problems of taking the genre's necessary precision - suitably afforded to the PC by a mouse-and-keyboard - across to two analogue sticks and some face buttons. Like the Allied forces ceaselessly storming the beaches of Normandy, plenty of brave developers have charged the console market in the hopes of claiming the ripe, bounteous territory as their own.
It's never worked. Ubisoft would probably like it if I suffixed that with a bold, empowering "until now!", but truth be told playing R.U.S.E with an Xbox 360 controller is still more fiddly and challenging than playing it with a mouse and keyboard (or, I'm reliably informed, using PlayStation Move).
The nitty-gritty, then: left stick handles movement, leaving zooming and panning the resort of the trusty right stick. The A button selects a single unit, the X button selects a group of the same units and holding down the right stick allows you to pick up anything within a deep circular radius. It's functional and effective, still a bit slower than a mouse but thankfully tactile enough that you don't zoom wildly past units when try and select them.
R.U.S.E's real challenge comes from navigating the camera. Zoomed out it's a rather splendid view of unit stacks and moving icons - like watching the opening credits to Dad's Army; close-up it's a dynamic snapshot of the action. But the view you'll find yourself clamouring after is somewhere in-between, and it's there that R.U.S.E. has a habit of falling apart. You frequently resort to wildly zooming in and out, desperately trying to find a sweet spot that never shows up.
Still, it would be wrong to say the controls don't work well. The game's core ethos has evidently been designed around the conceit that it needs to work on the consoles, ensuring that the deft finger-burning micromanagement skills required of something like StarCraft II are right out. Instead, R.U.S.E focuses on the macro movements, and while an Xbox 360 controller might not make for the most immediate and responsive input device, the game compensates by being all about positioning your units into the right tactical locations with few commands: it's about what you build and where you place it, not how well you can make it dance around during combat.
That's an important distinction to make, and you're quickly forced to change your mindset to accommodate R.U.S.E.'s altogether distinctive, sweeping take on WWII strategies. You're a general not a commander, and the game goes to great pains in an effort to rigorously drum this sentiment in - zoom all the way out and you even peruse the action from a tabletop view, probably while sipping a fine brandy and smoking an expensive cigar.
Then there are the namesake Ruse abilities, the timed abilities that, other than being the game's unique selling point, let you wreck havoc on your opponent's strategies by tricking him into thinking you're doing something you're not.
There are ten in total. Well, five say they're ruses but are actually just regular perks: there are no implicit ruse-y qualities to Blitz, which increases your units' movement speed by 50%. Maybe that is the R.U.S.E. Or is it? Multiplayer is clearly the game's strong suit, and the bold expanses of territory become home to some thrilling and detailed military skirmishes.
Others, such as Reverted Intel - a stalwart favourite - make your opponent see your light units as heavy and vice versa. It can be a deliciously insidious way to sneak a bunch of cheap grenadiers up on the enemy's expensive anti-tank encampments.
There are some other standouts, too. Radio Silence hides all your troops, whereas Camouflage Net disguises all your buildings. You can deploy fake, booby-trapped structures with Decoy Armour Base and make it seem like you've got a far bigger army than you actually do with Fake Offensive. All very useful, and all are brilliant.
Needless to say, getting one over on your opponent with a cheeky Ruse skill is an absolute triumph of slightly evil game design, and a genuine thrill to boot. You can't fire them all over the place, of course - they're limited by both a recharge time and limited range - but that just makes it even more satisfying when you successfully pull one off.
It's not nearly as satisfying to deploy a Ruse on a CPU opponent, so the single-player campaign clearly suffers. I've only played through the first six levels, but the full game will take you on a whistle-stop tour of World War II across six significant theatres of war. You can probably guess most of them, to be honest.
I'm not a big fan of the single-player's po-faced FMV cutscenes and flim-flam characterisation, either, but it doesn't really seem to be the point: Ruse is about outsmarting and outgunning a human opponent, getting the best of them using your brilliant and magnificent grey matter. No campaign mode is ever going to sufficiently capture that.
The 360 version of R.U.S.E. might not control as smoothly as its counterparts, but it definitely manages to adequately capture the raw feeling of the game itself. Developer Eugen's IRISZOOM (silly name) engine holds up well, but texture quality has taken a bit of a battering compared to the overall might of the PC version - clearly the one to gun for, in my opinion. There are some funny visual quirks across all platforms - it's always quite amusing to see infantry units transform into tanks and vice versa - but, ultimately, the engine manages to scale well on 360 and handle the many explosions without suffering.
And no matter what version you pick, outsmarting your opponent with a last-minute Reverted Intel is always going to be a classic dick move. Which, let's be honest, is always going to be the best part of R.U.S.E.
R.U.S.E is due for release on 360, PS3 and PC on 10th September.