When I got the call to “come take a look at Cossacks: European Wars” I was expecting to see a good Age of Empires clone. What I found was totally beyond my expectations… before I froth like a madman and start spilling superlatives all over the floor, I`ll just dish you the full skinny on Cossacks.
What is it?
Any first look at the gameplay of Cossacks will tell you straight away that it`s aimed at the Age of Empires crowd. In fact, at first site, you could be mistaken for thinking that you`re looking at Age of Kings but it doesn`t take too long before you realise that this game is way prettier and you`ll not believe how many frames of animation the units have – I could tell you (at least 64 on the games battleships at sea) but you won`t believe it until you see it. A prime example of this is the effect you get when looking at a galleon turn in the water. In most other games of this type you can usually expect a unit (especially a large one) to have about 8 different angles that it can be viewed from to give the impression that the unit is turning. These 8 frames achieve the desired effect but the units tend to appear to jump round rather that smoothly turn. Smooth turns are what you get in Cossacks…. real smooth turns, so smooth you`d swear each pixel was coated in Castrol.
Another prime example of the games graphic splendour is also aquatic based – the sea has waves. When I say waves I don`t mean a rippling texture effect, I mean it`s rendered real-time, it has depth and substance …it HAS waves in it and they break and lap on shorelines. Also for more “ooooh” factor take a look at the corn in the fields being worked on by your villagers… it`s waist deep and waves in the wind, now I know graphics maketh not the game but they sure as hell add a whole bunch to it when used correctly.
The game is based in the post-Renaissance period approx 400 years ago when (to quote the press release) “mainland Europe resounded to the sounds of bloody battles”. This basically equates to a nice mix of pointy sticks, muskets and cannons. The titles include 16 distinct nations each with it`s own strengths and weaknesses and the maps feature true 3D terrain (halleluiah!!) meaning that capturing the high ground actually makes a difference. The gameplay consists of skirmishes on specific or random maps and campaigns (which capture real historic battles).
The thing that really hits you though, the one thing that not only stands to set Cossacks head and shoulders above the rest but possibly even set a new bench mark by which all RTS games will be judged, is the number of units in any one game. AoE2 lets you make 200 units in total (a frustrating low number for a decent battle), Total Annihilation (after being patched) would give you 500, Shogun Total War claimed “thousands” but these weren`t true individual units but blocks of units acting as one. Cossacks is claiming “Up to 8000 units in a battle with no loss of speed”.. I`ve definitely seen one game of Cossacks with more units just engaged in fighting (so not including villagers) that had easily more than any game of AoE2 I`ve ever played, and I know of one person who has had 2900 units in total in a game just using the demo version (see TedTheDog`s column). Obviously this number of units is going to need some serious acreage to contain it all and fortunately Cossacks doesn`t disappoint there either with a maximum game arena size of 36×36 screens (at 1280×1024 resolution).
So it`s a bigger AoE2?
No… not really. You see a lot of the game elements are obviously similar but where a long game of AoE2 is something like 4-7 hours, Sergiy Grygorovych, the games lead developer, recounted to us a battle over the internet that he had that lasted 3 days!! (Needless to say you can save a multiplayer game). You see, not only is Cossacks a bigger game but it is far, far deeper than anything that has come before. Not only do you need resources to build and develop your armies in Cossacks but you must also maintain the level of resources in order to keep the army fed and supplied, no mean feat with a few thousand troops. Cossacks also utilises formations and a huge tech tree consisting of 300 inventions and their related upgrades.
On our visit to see Cossacks I was honestly expecting to see an AoE2 clone with just a few tweaks here and there, when we (Squaly and myself) left there we were jumping up and down and frothing at the mouth. Cossacks has the potential to be a huge quantum leap forward from virtually every real time strategy title that has come before it. If you`re a fan of it`s nearest rival, AoE2, but you`re looking for more depth, then Cossacks is undoubtedly the title you should be keeping your eyes on. It`s scheduled for international release around March 2001 we hope to have an in-depth review for you before then.