The art of deception can be pretty slick if it's played to the right extent. An espionage-based movie, for instance, will keep our attention if it has a hero who's a master of con games, or an extraordinary twist midway through that changes everything you've come to realize in the film. Ubisoft has adapted the art of deception into its latest game, the real-time strategy title R.U.S.E. And while it has some interesting concepts behind it, the general flow of the game and lack of interest in characters keep us from being just as intrigued as we would any given chapter in the Bourne trilogy.
In the game, you'll tackle two campaigns, both based out of World War II. The first has you working with Major Joe Sheridan of the United States Army, as he guides his First Armored Division across Africa, leading eventually into German territory. From there, the second half of the campaign kicks in, with you working through General Major Erich Von Richter in the Wehrmacht. He's the designer behind the Blitzkrieg strategy, but before he can demonstrate his technique on his foes, he first has to sniff out a traitor within his ranks.
This game has several traits in common with the tactics featured in Tom Clancy's EndWar, as you'll lead several divisions across a huge, Warhammer-style map using "hot button" commands and unit selections. However, where most games give you all sorts of weapons to choose from, R.U.S.E. goes with a little something different -- fooling your opponents. Throughout the game, you'll use all sorts of strategies to bluff your opponent or trick them into giving something up. They're divided into three categories: revealing tactics, "bluff" tactics (meant to hide information) and Trojan Horse-style divisionary tactics, in which you'll build fake units to make the enemy think you're up to something. All of these lead up to eventually screwing up their plans and taking them by surprise. These are played out through R.U.S.E. cards, which include everything from Radio Silence (where you have your enemies think you're hiding a strategy) to a fake blitz attack.
It's a unique approach to a real-time strategy game, and fans that pick up on its play style will no doubt appreciate what it has to offer. The campaign will take several hours to get through, and the game also supports online multiplayer, both competitive (so you can fool your friends) and cooperative (see how you fare as a cohesive unit against other opponents).
But that's a big if. The problem with R.U.S.E. is that it never has a sticking point outside of its espionage approach to keep you hooked. There's very little to identify with when it comes to the lead characters, so it's hard to be attached to their cause or discover some kind of reason to stick around. Even worse, the battles take forever to unfold. You could have all the solid tactics in the world, but is all that time for planning worth anything if they take several minutes to unfold? This is a game in need of a fast-forward button, so you can see if your tricks were successful or not -- instead of playing the waiting game.
Also, the AI is somewhat unbalanced, so half the time, your ruses don't even work. The enemy either sees right through you and forces you to retreat, or you'll find yourself fooled by their fiendish ways. That's where the game's multiplayer proves useful, as you'll be able to test out your tactics against others on a similar intelligence level. Rather than Deep Blue, anyway.
R.U.S.E.'s maps are huge, so there's a lot of territory to cover and some great spots for placement. Unfortunately, they're a little too big for their own good, lengthening the time you're on the battlefield, executing your well-made plans. The music is okay, but the voice acting is well below par. Soldiers who sound like this giving orders to their lower-ranked soldiers deserve to lose the battle.
Despite a few innovations here and there (including PlayStation Move support for PS3 owners), R.U.S.E. is only recommended to those who can really stomach the most demanding of real-time strategy games. Its creative "evil mastermind" plans are undone by dull pacing, too smart AI and enormous maps. Don't be fooled. R.U.S.E. has some good ideas under its hood, but it's overrun by smart AI and bad battle pacing.