Like most video game genres, the RTS is a bit of divisive one. Personally, we've felt that they could never truly work the way they're supposed to on a console controller given their innate complexities, and until Halo Wars came along and went some way to proving that when done properly, a console RTS can actually be tailored to be both accessible and challenging, we'd have said that the genre could never measure up to its mouse and keyboard counterparts.
RUSE is another RTS that is heading to both the consoles and the PC, so naturally our initial thoughts turned to whether developer Eugen Systems could successfully make the console iterations a match for the PC version. Having played the preview code extensively, the signs were incredibly encouraging, and now that we've got our hands on the full product, we can confidently report that RUSE does a fine job of making it a breeze to issue commands via just a few face buttons on a controller.
However, RUSE is a bit of a slow-burner that may test the patience of the more hardened veteran RTS gamer, as it slowly drip feeds new features and gameplay mechanics to you throughout the campaign. You'll only really start getting stuck into building bases and managing resources by the time you reach the Italian segment of the campaign, but then this does create a perfectly pitched learning curve and keeps you engaged with the action as fresh elements are gradually brought onto the battlefield with each passing skirmish, from Africa to Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
At first, it can be quite a lot to take in with so much going on over such a vast warzone, but everything is so well-laid out on RUSE's strategical tabletop with bright, primary coloured counters denoting where your units and the units of your allies and enemies are positioned. Each map is also vividly well-realised in incredibly striking colour and detail, creating a somewhat less gritty portrayal of World War II than is usual. All in all, RUSE is quite possibly one of the prettiest RTS titles we've seen on a console yet.
RUSE is remarkably simple to pick up and play on a controller too - as aforementioned - with simple controls that manage to cover everything from producing units, resources and buildings via a single menu, to selecting your entire army or single units with precision using the analogue sticks to rotate the camera, zoom in and out seamlessly and move at speed across the sprawling distance of the map's terrain. It all works impeccably well.
Units are displayed as coloured markers that hide your opponents units until you encounter them in battle or employ the Spy Plan Ruse to reveal what they are. Zoom out and you can get a complete overview of exactly what's going on as the units stack up like poker chips so that you can easily pick out how many reinforcements you have in what areas and gauge how many enemies you're up against too. Your own units are marked out in blue, your allies are green and enemies appear on the map as red markers.
RUSE's traditional RTS gameplay is interspersed with a few innovations of its own, including the titular tricks and deceptions you can employ to keep the opposing forces on their toes. Early on, you're given the Decryption Ruse, which enables you to tap into your enemy's communications so that you can know their moves - displayed as boldly coloured arrows on the map - as they're being executed.
Later on, you gradually unlock more and more Ruses, such as Blitz, which doubles the speed of any units in that sector, Radio Silence, which effectively renders you invisible to the enemy, allowing you to launch a surprise attack, and Decoys that grant you the ability to make your assembled forces look far more formidable than they actually are. Meanwhile, as you launch a huge scale Decoy attack, you could be putting together a sneak attack behind the enemy using Radio Silence, for instance. It's not difficult to see what kind of an impact the game's Ruses can have upon the ebb and flow of a game, especially in multiplayer.
Ruses are of course limited to a certain number of Ruse cards and their effects only last for a certain amount of time, although you can stack them in a single map sector to make them last longer if you so wish. By the game's 'Grand Finale' in the generously lengthy single-player campaign, you'll have access to a long list of Ruses and you'll wish you had more Ruse cards to play with. Still, it's all part of the strategy how you choose to best use what few Ruse cards you have, so whether you decide to disguise your buildings with a Camouflage Net or instil Fanaticism into your troops to make them fight harder, or cause enemies to flee faster with the Terror Ruse, the choices are all down to you and the potential tactical combinations are endless.
You can engage in one-off battles against the AI or a friend, complete specific scenarios or head online to get involved in a full-scale battle against real human beings. Each mission presents a variety of objectives to complete, keeping things interesting for the majority of RUSE's single-player campaign, which also has superbly rendered cut-scenes that sometimes pop-in mid-mission to advance the story as you're playing. And that's before you factor in the game's other single-player, multiplayer and co-op modes of which there are many.
While the World War II setting has been done to death in countless games, RUSE's version is a strangely fresh take, although perhaps the game's biggest success is in crafting an RTS for the console that hasn't been diluted in any apparent way, elegantly transferring all of the PC's complicated commands to just a few buttons. RUSE really does offer the complete package then, although it might not do quite enough to satisfy the real RTS hardcore. However, RUSE has a much broader appeal with an accessible interface, fantastic art-style with superlative visual flourishes and a decent story that keeps things moving along at a steady pace. RUSE is not only an excellent strategy title then, but it's one of the best you'll find on a home console. And there's nothing deceitful about that... Honest.