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Just when you thought the vogue of World War II RTS games was out, it pulls you back in...
In 1943, the Allies duped the Nazis into thinking its D-Day invasion forces would land in Pas de Calais. Of course, we all know that the D-Day invasion actually took place in Normandy, but what caused the Germans to concentrate their defensive forces in the wrong place entirely? Curiously enough, the answer is inflatable tanks (or at least part of the answer). Under Operation Fortitude, the Allies amassed a dummy invasion force of inflatable tanks and planes, dummy landing craft, and plywood guns in Dover, all backed-up with counter-intelligence and the usual trimmings of espionage.
Through aerial reconnaissance of the area, this made the Nazis believe that an invasion of Calais was imminent when the real invasion forces lay to the west and were bound for Normandy. This was so much the case that even after the Normandy landings took place, the Germans still thought it was a diversion and that the main invasion forces would come from Dover. These kinds of principles of warfare are central to Ruse, where the main aim is to apply Sun Tzu's Art of War by leading the enemy down paths of false information and dupe them with phantom armies.
Normandy Hold 'Em
Eugen Systems, the Parisian developer behind Ruse, is equating the title's gameplay style to a game of poker. It all comes down to how the developer is handling that old RTS stalwart, the fog of war. Rather than obscuring any unexplored territory/units from the player, Ruse instead shows players the position and number of units on the opposing side, as well as those units' orders. Or does it? Because the enemy may be using an elaborate mixture of Ruses to conceal some armies, expose other dummy units, and display false orders in some places. The analogy is the ability to see the cards on the table in a game of poker, but not the cards in each player's hand.
Other specific examples of the Ruses we saw in our first look included the ability to intercept enemy intelligence (e.g. plans and orders), or act under radio silence and make some of your units invisible to then enemy. It really is quite a novel way of introducing a real sense of deception to strategy games, encouraging a real battle of wits between players rather than testing them purely on base building and economy handling skills. Of course, the Ruse layer of gameplay is only one of three layers that sit atop the game's various battle maps (which, by the way, are nothing short of vast and stunning - more on that later).
The logistical layer is where players will build depots and form supply lines, which can then be disrupted by the enemy, while the unit layer can be used to access units across the map and employ orders as detailed as making infantry conceal themselves behind buildings. These three layers can be selected from the game's interface and act as portals for each type of main command, while the type of camera used to view action on the battlefield looks nothing short of inspired, allowing players to revolve around a fixed point in 360 degrees across three axes, or scroll freely across the map at breakneck speeds that make The Flight of the Navigator seem like a leisurely amble.
What makes this all the more impressive is the sheer scope and scale of each map, which has been made possible using some pretty innovative development techniques. With the size of each map, it would take far too long (we're talking nervous breakdown amounts of time) for a team of designers to manually fix all of the foliage, hedgerows, and buildings in place for a single map. Instead, the textures and objects on each battlefield are procedurally generated by a group of assets saved to your PC's hard drive (we're not quite sure how this will work on the consoles, but checkout our Q&A with Ubisoft Producer Mathieu Girard for a more detailed description).
This hasn't affected the detail on each map though, which boasted Total War levels of graphical fidelity with ease, pumping out destructible environments and exploding units without a second thought. The functionality of the game's zoom using its Iris engine was also nothing short of spectacular, demonstrating the sort of seamless transitions that only a Chris Taylor game (Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander) has previously been able to muster. You can very literally zoom-in from stratospheric distances (where the map appears almost like a board game) to a close-up of a tank's turret in one fell swoop.
Our demo guys treated us to some brilliant graphical vistas during the first look. You can move around dogfights aerially and then pan down to ground level and race off the shoreline towards incoming battleships, the artillery fire of which is looping overhead as you do so. It's hard to tell without any hands on experience, but the camera looked so finely implemented that the production looked almost cinematic at times. At other times the units did appear a little tiny for their respective game worlds and, while we're fairly sure the sprawling maps won't be a problem gameplay wise, they may cause some visual headaches for Eugen Systems simply because they're too realistic and vast compared to the usual visual experience of RTS games.
Bleed-Out Of Battle
This all plays out through a single-player campaign told from the Allied perspective, while additional factions (Russia, Italy, Germany, France, and the USSR) will be playable in the multiplayer. Ubisoft is revealing nothing more than the presence of a skirmish mode for the multiplayer at the moment with the promise of much more to come. With this in mind, it'll certainly be interesting to see how the damage system pans-out in the multiplayer, which utilises an FPS style bleed-out system where, as long as damaged units retreat from battle, they'll automatically replenish over a certain period of time.
Ruse is leading on PC, which is the platform we saw it demoed on during our first look (although we were encouraged by the fact that the demo guy was using an Xbox 360 pad during the demo, suggesting a console friendly interface). However, with the sort of procedurally generated environments that the game employs, it'll be interesting to see how close the next-gen console versions get to the graphical display in the leading PC game.
Now that Empire: Total War is behind us, Ruse is the most exciting RTS on our calendar for 2009. For once we're actually enthused by a game's gimmick (the Ruses), while the vast battle maps on show and the interface/camera that tours around them are encouraging to say the least.