Just wanted throw down my two kroner on the RUSE PS3 demo for those who’re interested. Possibly a lot more succinctly than the “lost levels” edition that didn’t make it to the Squawkbox shelf last night.

So Playstation Plus made itself useful the other day by telling me it wasn’t a complete waste of money. The RUSE demo was up for download in PAL land for subscribers, so I was on that like US marshalls welcoming home Polanski.

Now, throwing brevity to the wind, the good and the bad.

  • Controls are brilliant. Finally, after years of waiting, forgiving, working with the handicapped and constrained control setups, RUSE has ushered in a logical interface where nothing is sacrificed. I never once felt like “Y’know, a mouse would really go well right about now”, and that’s using a Dualshock of all things. Because RUSE is a slower-paced affair, there isn’t the need for triple-digit APM manoeuvres and the control implementation is a hallmark for console strategy.
  • The gameplay itself is a perfect middle-ground between a Hearts of Iron-esque grand strategy and Company of Heroes. Think of it as an arcade version of the Airborne Assault series. A sumptuous operational-level strategic romp that, I think, would be a great game for those who enjoy the notion of realtime strategy gaming, but don’t particularly like that “twelve rack jambo slide into four slot bingo rush” idea of super-fast build-boom gaming. There’s really no micro-management to speak of, which is a blessing in my opinion. Also, there seems to be a great abstraction of force with the lean but useful array of units and abilities. Sure, some temporal discrepancies, such as Pershing tanks being available at the Battle of Monte Cassino, but unlike a lot of RTS games where match-ups are kind of hard to gauge unless you’re a veteran or a micro-manager, RUSE does it a little differently. Upon selecting your units, your subsequent delegation to attack an enemy will immediately show the threat level of the encounter.

This is augmented by any number of factors, as well as the ruses themselves.

One thing I’ve had to adjust to is the sheer distance and ranges of fire. We’re talking naval bombardment firing kilometres inland from the coastal region, the gorgeous pyrotechnics of Calliope rocket artillery sitting behind a vast forest and sending barrages over the countryside towards enemies within a town many kilometres away, tanks copping AT rounds across large open fields. It’s got that Company of Heroes sense of explosions and steel, but it’s a much more graceful and ponderous beast.

If you like boardgames or tabletop wargames, such as (Advanced) Squad Leader, you might get a kick out of the zoomed unit stacks, at an interaction height that really does make it feel like you’re in a command HQ, pushing counters around a map – the intended stylistic choice by the devs. I found it the best level to play at, whereby the abstraction of force is there, but accessible at a fundamental semiotic level – as opposed to your usual clutch of confusing NATO markers in things like War Plan Pacific or Hearts of Iron.

One thing I’m super excited about are the ruses themselves. Deploying specific sector-wide actions, like a Blitz ruse to increase speed or a decryption ruse to show all enemy unit types within that sector, are great to play around with. However, it’ll be in multiplayer against a human opponent where the ruses will shine. You can’t get that dynamic sense of a gambit against an AI, let alone the ebb and flow of two opponents bouncing forces and ruses at each other. Poker meets WWII strategy.

  • The story itself and characters gives a lot more flavour to the experience than I was expecting. Playing a young up-and-coming American commander, there’s a narrative ballast here that’s just not found elsewhere. It’s essentially picking the best parts of the Patton/Montgomery vs. Rommel relationship and reworking it into a glorious and rollicking wartime tale not so much recounting the clash of ideology, but the tournament of minds between Sheridan and the german commander, Von Richter.
  • The bad, or at least lukewarm, is the slightly muddy textures, some minor pop-in and tearing that can happen at a close zoom level. RUSE won’t win any awards on PS3 for graphical fidelity, but if you’re playing it at the abstracted level – rather than a Starcraft or Company of Heroes level – you’ll be seeing a beautiful game.

So, cannot wait for when this drops in a couple of weeks. Had it pre-ordered for, what, a year?! Giant Bomb’s quick-look certainly sold the game short, by the by. Anyway, if you’re looking for a strategy game that doesn’t kick you in the nuts straight out of the gate, swaps micro for glorious macro, then keep an eye on RUSE. It’s classy. Almost…too classy.