I’m still hooked on the RUSE beta (or the R.U.S.E.™ beta to be technically correct, which may be more trademarkable but does cause problems with online retailers with pernickity search engines that don’t return any matches for just ‘RUSE’). I’ve played as all the factions bar the French (well, you have to draw the line somewhere) to a greater or lesser extent, and come to the conclusion that they’re all fairly balanced, though the British get the short end of the stick a bit; they don’t get much in the way of “super tanks”, with the Matilda II still their sole heavy tank in 1945 and a Prototype base needed even to get a Churchill (with the Germans getting the Maus and the US some strange T95 variant, throw us a freakin’ Centurion, or Black Prince or Tortoise or something). There’s no insane long range artillery (the Italians get a 210mmm unit from their standard base, the US and Germany get long range options from a Prototype bases), the infantry units are underpowered against armour, it doesn’t fit with my play style at all unfortunately. The RAF are quite splendid, but any opponent worth their salt screens units with stacked anti-air guns and/or fighters, rendering air assault futile is most cases.

With my fondness for artillery the US really come to the fore with self-propelled 155mm units, and the same base produces mobile AA units to screen them; an array of tanks up to the Pershing give them decent armour, and the air force is always an option if opponents fail to guard against it properly, the B-17 being available for heavy bombing. Germany are a close second, they don’t have a long range self-propelled unit (distinct lack of a Hummel) but can build a 21cm towed gun and Wirbelwind mobile AA unit, they get tanks up to the King Tiger and even Maus, the air force can upgrade to Me-262s and Ar-234s and generally unleash all sorts of devastation.

At least, they can in 1945. RUSE has three eras, 1939, 1942 and 1945, with units only available (more or less) according to their historical in-service dates, but every online game I’ve joined has been in the 1945 era, until last night. I’d selected Germany, and hadn’t noticed the game I joined was 1939-era until it started and I didn’t have the usual array of building options. Still, never mind, I started my usual fairly cautious approach, securing supplies and gradually expanding a well-defended base, fending off a couple of bombing runs with 88mm flak, but as artillery shells started falling on outlying units I knew I was in trouble; one of the enemy team was playing Russia, who had access to 152mm artillery in 1939 that my poor little 75mm guns couldn’t hope to reach. Time for a switch of tactics; the only available tank I had was the Panzer III, but that ought to be enough to take out the artillery, so churned out five or six and mounted a charge, which was promptly cut to pieces by the KV-1 heavy tanks sitting next to the guns. One of my team-mates had assembled a squadron of light bombers and sent them in, but massed AA guns and a few fighters knocked them out of the sky. It was brutal, there was nothing we could do; the massed attacks took out a few enemy units but at monstrous cost, leaving us only token defences. In hindsight I suppose a historically-correct Blitzkrieg would have been the only option, to sweep in and press the attack before the enemy had a chance to build up his more powerful units. The earlier era certainly puts a very different spin on the game, so I’m going to have a bit of a practise with a few factions in the earlier timeframes and perhaps specifically look out for 1939 or 1942 games for a change.

One slightly disappointing aspect of the game is the ruses themselves, which I’m not finding terribly useful; initial camouflage nets to prevent early air attack and the “blitz” ruse to increase unit speed to get bases and defences in place more quickly are handy, but as games develop and the action spreads out then things get trickier. Maps are divided into a number of sectors, ruses only affect a single sector, and by accident or deeply clever design a lot of fights happen on the border of two or three sectors, so if you’re trying to use a blitz to speed up units, or one of the psychological ruses to inspire your troops or demoralise the enemy, or a spy to uncover enemy units then you only affect a small corner of the fight. I think they’d be more useful if they could be deployed anywhere, affecting a certain radius around them, but perhaps they’ve been implemented the way they have for technical or tactical reasons. Still, it’s a splendid game, and I’ll be interested to see if many changes are made to it as a result of the beta.

There’s still the (potential) matter of DRM, though; being far more multiplayer-centric than something like Assassin’s Creed II then a strong online component of RUSE is entirely sensible, requiring a login to Ubisoft servers for matchmaking and lobby facilities wouldn’t be a problem, and obviously if you’re in a multiplayer game then you’ll need to stay online for it (it’d be nice to be able to reconnect to a game easily if your internet connection glitches, though). The full game sounds like it will include a fairly comprehensive single player campaign and battles as well, and if you need to be always online for that then I’ll have to stick to my guns and make my somewhat pitiful stand, which will make even less of an impression on industry DRM attitudes than my Panzer III rush on a bunch of KV-1s, but still.

Plus if I give it six months it’ll probably be in a Steam sale for a fiver.

Posted by Zoso at 10:54 am