RUSE is a great game, a solid RTS with enough of a twist to keep things interesting. Getting a multiplayer game going can be slightly frustrating; I prefer larger team games to the pressure of a one-on-one match, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 4 vs 4 match launch successfully, and 3 vs 3 can take a little while to assemble six people in one lobby with half decent connections and a vague pretence at team balance (joining a game to see one side comprising three level 50+ players with the same clan tag: thanks, but no thanks). Once a game gets going, though, I’ve had plenty of interesting fights, from instant paratroop rushes to grinding artillery duels.
Working through the single player campaign offers different challenges. Missions typically start with you in control of two blokes with one rifle between them facing several divisions of German infantry and a couple of Panzer battalions who are frightfully sporting about not rushing your starting point, allowing a more measured pace of control and expansion for those not keen on the freneticism of online play. It starts off very slowly, with the first few battles especially a bit of a slog if you’re used to the basics of unit movement and camera controls from the beta or demo, but once you actually get a base to start building units things pick up. Different battles focus on different unit types so you don’t just keep re-using the same tactics; in the Arnhem campaign for example you only have paratroops and reconnaissance planes to start with, only later getting access to the tanks of XXX Corps.
(Reminiscing digression: Close Combat II: A Bridge Too Far from the late 90s was an absolutely fantastic game of Operation Market Garden. The same way Deus Ex needed a new approach to the FPS after you found out you couldn’t just run around and shoot everything, Close Combat was a rude awakening after Dune II, Warcraft and similar RTS games where attacks mostly consisted of piling on with as many units as you could click. A frontal assault in Close Combat got your infantry shredded by emplaced machine guns and your tanks ambushed by concealed bazookas; you had to use cover, advance slowly, put down suppressing fire to get anywhere. A spot of Googling reveals it’s just been given a lick of new paint and re-released as Close Combat – Last Stand Arnhem, I could well be tempted to pick that up sometime. After finishing a bunch of other games including the Peninsular campaign for Napoleon: Total War I grabbed when it was half price the other day. Anyway.)
If RUSE does have a weakness, a shot trap in its otherwise impressive armour, it’s the cut-scenes. They’re every bit as terrible as the demo promised, casting you as Major (soon to be General) Sheridan (not that one) in a “Who Can Be The Biggest Git” competition with an equally fictional General Weatherby, crowbarred in to significant battles from Kasserine through Italy to Normandy, Arnhem and Bastogne, all the while hunting down a German spy. Well, I say “hunting down”, a typical cut-scene goes “The Germans knew exactly what we were doing! I am convinced there is a spy. Anyway, on to France, here’s a perfunctory yet dull overview of the next campaign. Don’t tell the Germans, especially you, person who is quite obviously a German spy. Let’s have a drink.” Still, they’re over quickly enough, letting you get back to the action.