Capsule Reviews: R.U.S.E. and H.A.W.X. 2

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I’ve got two short reviews on two Ubisoft acronyms, one taking you back to WW2 and the other taking to the skies in hardware worth millions of dollars. Both are great alternatives to fielding your own army or air force, but whether they’re worth the money is something that I wanted to find out.

R.U.S.E.

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‘Grand strategy games’ and ‘consoles’ aren’t usually found in the same sentence, not when PCs continue to dominate this niche with series such as Civilization and Total War. Yet, efforts such as Halo Wars and Supreme Commander have shown you can also crush your enemies on the battlefield with a gamepad. It might not be as elegant as a mouse and keyboard, but it gets the job done.

Ubisoft’s R.U.S.E. takes the player back for another poke at WW2′s battles and twists them along the story as Joe Sheridan, a Major who eventually becomes the general that does it all including saving Europe from Soviet domination. Dealing with an incompetent superior, a spy in his headquarters, and fighting battles that prove pivotal to everyone else, historical accuracy isn’t as cool as what it gives you to play with instead.

But aside from taking liberties with history, R.U.S.E. sets out to change what a typical wargame is capable of. At the heart of its system are a series of ‘ruses’; tricks that you can use like superpowers on the battlefield. These can fool the AI (or another player) with a decoy invasion to finding out what kind of units they’re planning to send after you, adding a particularly nasty edge to your onscreen battles in tipping the odds into your favor with one well-played move. It’s like playing poker, except with a war chest of tanks and soldiers.

The lengthy single-player campaign, which also includes co-op, takes the player through missions on how to use ruses, manage base building, and how to seize supply depots for much needed and quickly burned cash. It isn’t as fast paced an RTS such as Red Alert 3 when units take their time to move across the map and tank rushes aren’t so much as important as having the right mix of units and ambushes in place to whittle down the AI.

Burgeoning generals can also play against the AI in skirmishes and pick from several factions apart from the United States such as the British, the Italians, the Germans, or even the Soviets. These also carry over into multiplayer and team battles with an incredible wealth of options making it feel like a career choice. There are skill tiers to play through, experience to earn and rank up with, a large number of multiplayer maps to pick from, and leaderboards to boast you skills with. You can even choose what war ‘year’ you want to start in to determine what units are available.

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Visually, the game was amazing to look at whether I wanted to see the entire front or up close to skim over the rolling hills, deep forests, frosty buildings locked in the cold grip of winter, and smoldering wreckage of what used to be one of my German-made Maus tanks. Voice acting is decent – even though the predictable story acts more like a thinly disguised vehicle for the action – and the effects aren’t bad.

But if you’re just tired of WW2 in general, it might not be enough to drag you back to fighting it all over again. The AI can put up a decent fight, especially on the higher difficulties, but the massive amount of multiplayer goodies easily make it something more focused on stuffing armchair generals around the world into the same online room. The main campaign isn’t bad, the controls aren’t too hard to get a grasp on, and finding out just what the other side is doing without a cheat code make R.U.S.E. different enough for players eager to play with an RTS that does a more than the usual base building.

R.U.S.E.
Ubisoft / Eugen Systems
Xbox 360 / PS3 / Windows PC (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Rated: T for Teen

H.A.W.X. 2

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H.A.W.X.’s claim to fame is Tom Clancy’s name and the ‘Clancyverse’ that comes with it. As arcade flight sims go, it wasn’t bad, though it had to go up against Namco’s reigning champ, Ace Combat 6, on the Xbox 360. On the PS3, it had something of an open field day. But it wasn’t perfect.

The sequel tries to fix what was broken but it doesn’t quite feel like a new game aside from a few additional mission types. Jet jockeys will also find themselves dropping shells on top of enemy roadblocks at night from an AC-130 along with a little surveillance work using a few UAVs which provide interesting but short distractions from the real meat of the game.

Dogfighting is given an even bigger role here with enemies often flying in too close for you to use missiles, though there will still be quite a bit of missile spam filling the air along with flaring countermeasures to scare them away. Higher difficulty levels increase things such as the damage your plane suffers as well as lower the amount of ammo that you can carry, but it’s still very much an arcade shoot ‘em up in the sky.

Experience is also earned like in the first game unlocking goodies such as new planes, skins, and weapon packages. All of this is tied into a story that is something of a garbled mess involving Russian hardliners and Mideast unrest culminating in a final mission that feels taken straight from Ace Combat’s own superweapon playbook. Unlike the high storytelling polish of other titles that boast the Tom Clancy name, you won’t miss much by ignoring it here.

The graphics are a bit better here than they were in the first game though the play-by-the-numbers missions weren’t as exciting with only one or two exceptions. Photorealistic satellite images were used for the detailed ground effects, though the same cannot be said for the look of the title’s planes which can sometimes resemble plastic toys until they explode.

Having to jump into a menu outside of the game for the cockpit view (and most every other type of view) only added to the rough edges. The AI doesn’t so much maneuver or joust with you in the skies as it does in flying in circles behind you, and some of the checkpoints are spaced so far apart that repeating entire missions’ worth of kills and objectives is occasionally expected. At least the “assistance” feature from the first title isn’t forced down the player’s throat anymore with the exception of one or two missions that it is used as a story goal.

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Most of the achievements for the game are geared towards its multiplayer making it the focus. Players can meet and greet each other online with missiles and guns across several game types, though single-player fans will likely feel completely left out of the experience unless they feel like repeating several of the campaign’s missions for more points.

H.A.W.X. 2′s short lived action is good for weekend pilots, but the awful story, the circle-jerk mentality of the AI, its almost exclusive focus on multiplayer achievements, and the relatively unforgiving checkpoint system do it few favors. Unless you can’t get enough arcade action in the air online, there are far better alternatives for your wallet.

H.A.W.X. 2
Ubisoft / Ubisoft Romania
Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC / Wii (reviewed on Xbox 360)
Rated: T for Teen