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Hands-on: RUSE (and its steep learning curve)

Kevin Kelly

RUSE is shaping up to become a nice addition to PC gaming, and also to the vacant market of real-time strategy games on consoles. Halo Wars and Red Alert have pretty much been the only standouts, but where's the real depth and longevity of a title like StarCraft? Ubisoft's RUSE is hoping to fill that gap, and based on the time we spent with it recently, it may be just the thing. That is if it'd stop with the gimmicks like showing it at E3 on a Microsoft Surface table and just give us the console goods. Not all of us have a spare $15,000 sitting around.

Head beyond the break to see a (very, very) long demo from the Tunisia setting in RUSE, and to read our thoughts about it. It's not something you can pick up and learn in a scant few seconds, but it offers you enough to keep coming back to it. Find out why inside.

Gallery: R.U.S.E. | 9 Photos

We've seen RUSE before, but we only got our hands on it for the first time very recently. We were playing it on a PC with a Windows 360 Controller. Since we didn't use the keyboard at all it was easy enough to just pretend it was just an Xbox. And wow, we hope it looks this good on a console. The developers assured us it would be the same experience, and then slotted up a battle near the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia, which took place at the beginning of 1943 (and is historically accurate, to boot).

Right away you'll get a feeling for the scope of the game as you use the IrisZoom engine to zoom down to a single unit, or pull back until you leave the battle altogether and are looking down at a model map in a war room. The left stick moves you around the map, and the right stick rotates and zooms in and out. It's a smooth push in and out on the zoom, and you'll probably play with it for a good five minutes the first time you enter the game. It's really incredible to see flak bursting around a tiny plane when you're pulled way back and then zoom all the way in to the AA gun that's firing at it. Very impressive.

Once you dive into the game proper, you'll see how hard it can be to scroll over numerous units, set orders, and maintain control over everything. Granted, the dev was dropping us well inside the game, and promised that it has a very robust tutorial that will explain everything from issuing orders, to combat, to handling the ruses in the game. The developer had to help us through most of the demo, but after about 30 minutes we pretty much had it down. Although don't think this is saying that the game has difficult controls -- there's just a lot going on in here. It's refreshing to be presented with a game that can't be played with only a few simple button mashes.

As you select units (multiple combinations of triggers and buttons select units in different ways), you'll notice info popping up on the screen describing them, and the game will point out their strengths and weaknesses. You might have selected 20mm mobile gun and thought you'd use it against some armor, but the game will note "Weak Against Tanks" in the information, telling you that you need something with a bit more oomph. Luckily you're able to "mine gold" as you defend your base, and this happens transparently, so you don't have to click on a unit and have him gather anything. Once you've accrued enough gold, you can build different types of units: planes, tanks, infantry, etc.
That's basically the entire game. Like most RTS games, you're presented with a scenario and have to manage your resources and come out on top in each mission. RUSE has the WWII setting, and of course the ruses which we ironically didn't utilize much during our battle. You'll place them at the start of each scenario, and they remain active throughout the particular encounter. It's a big gamble, because you might squander a ruse entirely on the wrong sector, and the enemy might eavesdrop on your commands for the entire battle. Or vice-versa. Ubisoft hasn't revealed all of the ruses yet, and we're hoping to find out more.

If you've ever played tabletop games like Axis & Allies or Tide of Iron, RUSE will be right up your alley and you won't have 3.148 little plastic pieces to lose in the carpet. It'll also appeal to WWII aficionados who don't mind learning RTS strategy, and to people who like a little more think in their games. Hopefully we'll actually play the console version of this next to see if there is any graphical difference.

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