Zoom all the way out from one of Ruse's World War II battlefields and you'll see the edge of the strategy table in the commanding Allied general's war room. Desk officers work silently in the background; troops are colourful blue and red counters inching across a map of Europe, their movements delineated in bright, wide arrows.
Zoom all the way in, and you can hear the artillery fire, watch foot soldiers set up an ambush in a French village square and see a tank battalion inch along forest paths whilst a recon unit scouts ahead through the trees, on the lookout for hidden enemy soldiers. You can command the battle as if you're on the ground, or from a strategist's eagle-eyed viewpoint, and you'll need to make use of both. Pivotal moments in battle play out in letterbox cinematics, showing you a squadron of incoming bombers or the moment of defeat on another front.
Ruse is nicely, clearly presented – and equally unusually for a console-centric RTS, you're never frustrated by the limitations of your viewpoint or control. There's no cursor to guide around with an impossibly imprecise analogue stick – you select a unit by pointing the camera in is direction and pressing a button, and move a little ghost version of it to the intended position to issue a command. Just a few buttons let you select all units of one type, or group nearby troops together for a command.
Ruse's challenge comes from the nature of the missions rather than control difficulties. It's a precise, ponderous game; it demands careful thought, forward-planning and preparation for all eventualities, not quick reactions. Overpowering the enemy by sheer force of numbers or speed of action is never a possibility. The game plays out significantly differently on each of its three difficulty settings – reinforcements that back you up at crucial moments simply don't turn up on higher difficulties, and easy secondary missions turn into death-traps.
The story follows an American chap called Joe Sheridan on his journey from a Major in Tunisia to a General on the front line in the closing stages of the War, guided by a charming, moustachioed British ranking officer. Unfortunately, Joe is a tiresome dude, a big-headed twazzock who often seems more concerned about his rivalries within the American army or the attentions of his attractive assistant than with the war at hand. The plot focuses on tracking down a German intelligence source, Prometheus, but frankly it's not a gripping war epic.
The opening mission gives you a tantalising glimpse of the scale and variety that you'll be playing with later, teasing you with a German battlefield full of looping fighter planes and bombers and tanks on all fronts. After that, though, the game takes all of that away again. It flashes back to Tunisia in 1942 and takes quite some time to get going again. As the war goes on and Joe climbs the ranks, access to new units, base building and the titular Ruse techniques slowly opens up, but it's hours before you're really allowed to stretch your legs on the battlefield.
Those opening hours crawl by at the speed of one of the game's heavy tanks – though none of Ruse's units are exactly speedy. Battles are slow and steady, relying heavily on your ability to predict the next enemy movements and defuse their attacks with ambushes and strategic unit deployment rather than meet them head-on. Crucial to this approach are the RUSE intelligence techniques themselves, which allow you to decrypt enemy transmissions to determine their movements, send spies behind their lines to see exactly which units are hiding there, speed up your own deployment and movement speed and boost your chances in various other helpful ways.
Knowing which RUSE technique to use at which time is crucial to success. Ruse isn't easy on strategic mistakes. You must remember to put your bombers under radio silence to protect them from fighter planes, or hide your infantry in towns or forests, or your vital, limited units will be wiped out. Make a mistake in the earlier missions and you're almost guaranteeing yourself an instant restart – oddly enough, things get a little easier later on, when the game finally starts allowing you to build your own bases, establish your own supply lines and deploy and position your own units. Once Joe is a general, you can always manufacture some extra tanks to make up for your strategic mistakes.
The slow pacing never changes, though. Ruse isn't a fast-paced RTS, but it's not a dumbed-down one either. It has its own tension; watching masses of Axis troop counters creep slowly and inexorably towards your base whilst you deploy defences at the limited speed allowed you is just as tense as the frantic, unpredictable battles of other games in the genre, in its own way.