Category Archives: RUSE

A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled

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.

Lies, damned lies, and ballistics

(Title shamelessly stolen from RPS). After a couple of open beta events that focused on the multiplayer skirmish side of things, there’s now a single player demo of R.U.S.E. available on Steam. It’s a rather different prospect to the earlier betas which basically chucked you onto a map with a base and said “bad guys over there, go get ’em!”; the single player demo is highly scripted, leading you through a series of tasks like eliminating enemy air defences and capturing a base while a bunch of NPC units storm around the rest of the map. It’s a much more structured introduction to the game, more or less a tutorial, well worth a look if you weren’t thrilled at the idea of jumping straight in against other human players in the betas.

The demo also includes cutscenes, which I wasn’t entirely convinced by. RTS games seldom have the most engaging and convincing storylines at the best of times, tending towards “Oh no, (aliens/foreigners/creatures from another dimension)! We must fight! Oh wait a minute, it was all a terrible misunderstanding, they’re on our side really and we should fight together against that lot over there who are *really* bad (and have different unit types and thus present a new challenge). Oh, and at some point we’ll have bit of a civil war or mutiny or rebellion ‘cos it’s quite interesting battling your own unit types. And then in a sequel or expansion pack we can find out there’s a more powerful demon/undead/alien force still that we’ll all have to band together against.” As a World War II game RUSE doesn’t exactly have much flexibility in the story, though it’s not slavishly faithful to history if the presence of nuclear artillery is anything to go by (I suspect that might just be an “I Win” button to finish the demo battle). It seems to be trying to work in a narrative about tension within the allied ranks judging by the demo cutscenes involving some attempt at a femme fatale and rather cross army types spouting hackneyed dialogue (in rendered graphics rather than live action, so you don’t even get to enjoy the acting talent and/or breasts of an A-list cast). Still, the story and cutscenes very much secondary compared to the actual battles, which played just as well as the previous betas, so I’ll be grabbing it on release next week.

RUSE preview weekend

After the public beta of WWII RTS RUSE, developers Eugen pushed back the release from June to give them time to work on feedback from the beta (Melmoth would approve). Steam popped up news of a free preview weekend, ending Sunday July 18th, so I got the client downloaded on Saturday evening, at which point there was apparently 35 minutes of the preview left. Something had got a bit confused somewhere between the developers and Steam, perhaps that’s a problem when your game involves the Art of Deception; the game had vanished from my Steam library on Sunday morning, but reappeared later on, claiming 3 days left on the preview.

I only managed one online game; things didn’t seem to have changed very much since beta, but there might be more going on under the surface, I’d need to find some patch notes to be sure. It was rather splendid fun unleashing artillery barrages once more, a timely reminder to put the game back on my radar again. Worth a quick look before Wednesday (unless the extension to the preview is another ruse…)

Nature hides her secrets because of her essential loftiness, but not by means of ruse

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.

RUSE Public Beta

I first found out about R.U.S.E. when looking at what games might be affected by Ubisoft’s new DRM scheme, and a couple of weeks ago Steam popped up a window announcing the availability of a public beta so I thought I might as well take a look.

Starting with the always-online DRMephant in the room, I flipped Steam into offline mode, went to start the beta up and it seemed fine. In the middle of a single player game I yanked out the network cable just to be sure and everything continued quite happily, so I guess the beta is DRM free, which isn’t terribly surprising. Though other Ubisoft games have disappeared from Steam in the UK for unknown reasons that might or might not involve DRM, the RUSE beta is going strong and it’s still available for pre-order, but I’ll be holding off to see what the DRM situation is at launch before committing.

The game itself, though; RUSE is a World War II RTS that allows you to take control of UK, US, French, Italian, German or Russian forces and trundle your infantry, tanks, artillery and aircraft around the place for great justice. Though you produce individually named units (e.g. Matilda, Panzer IV, T-34 or Sherman tanks) RUSE works on a more abstracted strategic level, so a grognard level of knowledge of the armour penetration characteristics of the 75mm M3/L40 gun isn’t needed to work out who’s going to win in a fight. This is reflected really nicely in your view of the battlefield; you can zoom right in to see half-tracks backing up, hooking on your anti-tank guns and driving off to take up position, but as you zoom right out for the widest possible view the map is revealed as a table in a war room, with oversize counters and tokens representing your troops and the best knowledge available of enemy deployments. All it’s missing is a few WAAFs with long sticks shunting the units around.

I started off with a couple of single player battles to get to grips with the controls and interface as there doesn’t seem to be much of an in-game tutorial (there is a link to an online video that promises to explain how to play, but that sounds dangerously like reading an instruction manual and thus clearly out of the question). The single player option of the beta is limited to playing 1v1 on a small map against an Easy AI opponent controlling US forces, who doesn’t offer the greatest of challenges; I hit upon an ingenious strategy of building several armoured units called “tanks” and moving them quite rapidly towards my opponent, in something of a “rush” you might say, and he didn’t have much of an answer to that (such an innovative technique surely deserves a catchy name; I think I might call it the “rapid movement of many armoured vehicles towards the enemy”). With such a direct approach paying dividends, the AI battles aren’t really the best showcase for the titular ruses that distinguish the game from other RTSs; options include disguising your own units, spying on the enemy to reveal his units or orders and deploying decoy bases, none of which are a massive amount of use as you’re bearing down on the enemy base with five Matildas, three A13s and a couple of scout cars, destroying anything in your path with a hail of two pound shells. I used the “decryption” ruse to find out what orders the enemy was giving his troops, and it turned out “explode and burn” was somewhere near the top.

Suitably emboldened by a few glorious triumphs, and to see if ruses played more of a part on a larger map, I thought I’d have a crack at an online battle. It’s been a while since I’ve thrown down a gauntlet to random internet strangers, longer still if discounting MMOG PvP of various levels of seriousness (from “not very” to “slightly”). I’ve certainly never tried an RTS online, for everyone knows cybernetic ninja pirates lie in wait for hapless n00bs, poised to spring into action with a cry of “KEKEKEKEKEKE” and a volley of millimetre-perfect clicks so fast their mouse sounds like a Geiger counter in the presence of H. R. Giger (or radiation, I always forget which one of those they actually detect). Still, with RUSE being in public beta, I figure there can’t be too many lurking 7th Dan Black Belts, and plenty of casually curious blunderers out there.

After a few false starts that jammed up at the “Connecting” phase (it seems pretty sensitive to anything else using your bandwidth, so I shut down iTunes and its podcast downloads for the duration), I wound up in a lobby, hit the “Set Ready” button, and waited… and waited a bit more… and backed out to the main menu and joined another lobby with five players waiting for a 3v3 game, a sixth joined… and quit, someone else joined… and quit, someone else joined… and quit. Eventually I wound up in a four player Free For All match that actually started off, and I did pretty well; possibly because one player dropped early on and the other two were fairly preoccupied with each other, giving me time to build up a mighty air force, establish air superiority with Spitfires, knock out enemy vehicles with Typhoons and finish off the enemy base with Lancaster bombing raids. Future attempts at an air-heavy strategy often foundered on strong anti-air defences, though, so I’ve been broadening my range and trying various nations and strategies. One of my current favourites is to play as Italy, who right off the bat get access to 210mm artillery with a ludicrously long range and 90mm dual AT/AA emplacements; in a 2v2 game my team-mate dropped almost as the game started and I thought I was in for a right tonking, but it turned out that I got control of his base, and more importantly his starting money, enabling me to rush out a bunch of artillery units screened by AA bunkers. The bunkers took care of an attempted paratroop rush, and as the artillery units sat in the middle of my base and bombarded an enemy airfield one opponent surrendered in disgust, rapidly followed by the other.

That battle was a better demonstration of the use of ruses (or lack thereof); if my opponent had used the “camouflage net” option to disguise his base I don’t think my artillery could have targeted it, or a decoy base could have drawn fire. It’s quite hard to really gauge their effect, and I’m not sure they’re a massive genre-defining feature, but at least it gives a bit of a twist to the formula. All in all, I’m rather enjoying it at the moment, though I suspect I won’t buy the full game for two reasons; firstly, on principle, if it’s got the full Ubisoft DRM, and secondly, I suspect that within a few months of launch the supply of casual blunderers will have dried up, replaced by the cybernetic ninja pirates. Until they get distracted by Starcraft II.