Every so often all of that talk about bringing Real-Time Strategy to consoles actually results in a game, but give it a few months and everyone wanders back to their keyboards to play StarCraft. That intrinsic link between PC and RTS still hasn't been sawed through, not because of lack of innovation in the genre, but because the Real-Time formula is at its best when you've got one hand on a mouse and the other on your keyboard.
So when R.U.S.E. was marketed as a WWII RTS for consoles, it sounded like a grim combination of unnecessary revision and a been-there-done-that Nazi plotline. A quick glance at a few forums and you'll see the reservation from genre purists, calling out console-based RTS as over-simplified and dumbed-down.
R.U.S.E. is simplified, at least insofar as it caters to the controls of the console pad. Any significant action in the game can be carried out using the analogue sticks, with the right allowing you to zoom and pan, and the left controlingl movement. Point the camera in the direction of a unit and you're given the option to select it, or any of its unit-types within range. The total precision of the mouse is replaced by controls that feel intuitively simple considering the scale of the game. This is simplification in the best possible way.
The game consistently plays with scale; in fact that's its main visual conceit. Zoom out and the battle is shown as a board on a commander's table, affixed with figurines of tanks and soldiers. Zoom back in and you're dead centre of that battlefield terrain. A cutscene will take you back from the field to a close-up shot of a chess board. Despite the fact that you're thigh-deep in WWII warfare you're consistently reminded of that R.U.S.E. Warfare is less about taking out enemies and more about thoughtful strategy. It rewards the placement of your forces, not the number of units you've churned out. In a game about defending and attacking on multiple fronts, you're encouraged to direct your tanks and soldiers as a general would.
So, regardless of their numbers, soldier units will be annihilated if they're left out in the open for long enough. But move them into the woods and they can surprise-attack a passing Panzer with such force you'd think the Krauts built their tanks out of polystyrene.
And sometimes they are, sort of. You'll spend an entire battle working toward the centre of a city before you realise what you thought had been your enemy's headquarters was actually a bluff of their part. You'll move your soldier unit toward a forest, where enemy tanks will slowly roll forwards, at which point you'll realise they are actually decoys made of wood.
Deception is the most important aspect of your gameplan, and it's controlled by Ruses. These are abilities you can activate that let you fake information, hide information or steal information from the opposing player. Radio Silence, for instance, hides all your units within a particular area from your opponent. The Spy Ruse is its counter-attack, exposing your enemy's units within an area of the map so you can deploy your units accordingly. Reverted Intel disguises your light units as heavy and your heavy units as light. It's a decidedly clever variation of fog of war, which limits how much information you have about the other player and naturally affects how you strategise.
Switch over to the Operation section in the main menu and you have the opportunity to re-enact events from the war. Operation Sealion, for example, has you playing out the unrealised German plan to invade the UK in 1940. A fantasy scenario puts Italy and UK in cahoots, with both countries attempting to develop a new weapon in an effort to attack Germany directly.
The pace can feel sluggish as you slowly push your tanks forward toward sectors filled with enemies, but any true RTS experience comes down to the multiplayer battle, and that's where R.U.S.E's pace speeds up dramatically. Build your base with a simple drag-and-drop from an option window, then start worrying about your cash flow. Units cost money to make, and your primary stream of income stems from supply trucks that must slowly trundle to your base without being harassed by enemy fire. The other money-maker comes from travelling to fixed points along the supply line to collect funds. It's here that the game's longevity comes from, although success at retail will be needed if any community is going to be formed.
Like any standard RTS, R.U.S.E. is an exercise in balance. The difference here is that this game tries to simultaneously balance the interests of the console and the traditions of RTS. What's surprising is how well it actually manages to do this. The tried and true traditions of RTS haven't been limited by the console; they've been reworked, and given a new lick of paint. The PC still has a tight grip on strategy gaming, but while R.U.S.E. won't necessarily be the opening the doors to a new generation of console RTS titles, it does at least prove that other platforms can provide the odd fresh spin on the genre.