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by: Peffy
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Cossacks, a new empire-building game from the Ukraine, lets players control armies of the 16th Century – so we sent Martin Croft, the oldest person in the PCSG offices, to see if the game matches up with his childhood memories
German publisher CDV isn’t sitting on the laurels it earned with its extremely successful WW2 RTS title, Sudden Strike, developed by Fireglow. CDV has another RTS, also developed in the former Soviet Union, in the wings, ready to exploit the gap Sudden Strike has created – Cossacks: European Wars. But there are some differences between the two games: for one thing, development studio GSC Game World, cretor of the game, isn’t Russian but Ukrainian; for another, while Sudden Strike did away with the resource management aspect of the traditional RTS, Cossacks has, if anything, made it even more complex.
Indeed, complexity – or perhaps, more correctly, historical accuracy – is the watchword for the developers at GSC. To begin with, the resources players have to collect are gold, iron, coal, stone, wood and food. But gold — money — isn’t just used in the creation of various units or buildings: you will have to pay for the upkeep of your army all the time, as well as feed them.
So the purpose of the game isn’t just to build a solid production base, churn out a couple of hundred units and then rush the enemy; no, you actually have to build a solid, working economy which will bring in regular tax revenue, if you are to support the sort of army you’ll need to achieve your objectives. Indeed, if your treasury runs dry, you risk mutiny in the army and civil unrest.
Early on, you’ll have relatively unsophisticated units (sword and buckler men, pikemen, perhaps some arquebusiers); but you won’t have that rich a state, so you’ll probably find it a bit of a struggle to maintain your forces. Later (a couple of hundred years later, that is), you’ll have grenadiers, hussars, and even Ships of the Line (the sort of oak-hearted battleships that Hornblower went to sea in the 1790s). Your infrastructure will be significantly more advanced, but so will your costs…
When you hit walls with cannonballs, the impact will cause debris to fly off in all directions, potentially killing troops sheltering behind; when explosive shells land on rocky ground, splinters of stone may cause havoc to nearby units
The game engine is supposed to be able to handle up to 8,000 units on screen at once, and there are more than 300 technology upgrades available to players. The landscape plays a major part in the combat system – units uphill of their enemy will get bonuses to range and combat strength, for example. Furthermore, when you hit walls with cannonballs, the impact will cause debris to fly off in all directions, potentially killing troops sheltering behind. Similarly, when explosive shells land on rocky ground, splinters of stone may cause havoc to nearby units.
Historical accuracy also features in the different scenarios and campaigns. You won’t be able to take on Ancient Romans with your Koreans here, as in the Age of Empires series; no, you’ll be limited to fighting wars between European states or their immediate neighbours, nations which actually did go to war against each other many times during the 300 or so years the game covers.
The Age of Empires comparison is an important one, because the game developers acknowledge that the original Age of Empires was their major source of inspiration – Sergey Grigoryvych, the game’s producer, says that the company played AoE for a year solid when it came out, so they could understand how it worked and what made it so playable. Then the company went away to develop a sequel to it – at which point, Microsoft and Ensemble announced Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, so it was back to the drawing board again. Cossacks, GSC says, has been deliberately designed to follow on from Age of Kings, which takes players through to the Renaissance and the end of the 15th Century.

Basically, in Cossacks, players particiapte in campaigns or battles that took place any time from the end of the 16th Century through to the end of the 18th Century – so the early stages of what was to become the Thirty Years War, through the War of the Spanish Succession, the Silesian Wars, the Seven Years War and the early stages of what became the Napoleonic Wars.

It’s particular gratifying to see the efforts which have gone into making the different nations armies historically accurate – so you won’t find the English using Polish Winged Hussars, for example. Granted, many of the unit types are the same across national boundaries – but then they were in real life: nations frequently based uniform designs on those of famous units belonging to larger states, with only trimmings and detailings being different.

There are 16 nations to choose from, ranging from some obvious ones (the English, the French, the Swedes, the Russians) to one or two rather less obvious ones, such as the Algerians. If you know your history, though, you’ll know that North African corsairs were a significant threat to trade in the Western Mediterranean and even in the Atlantic for much of the period the game covers, and that there were numerous battles between various Western powers and the pirates.

 The fact that the game developers are based in Kiev in the Ukraine means that we get a slightly different viewpoint on European history. In Britain, you’d have to be a military history buff to know anything about the campaigns between the Swedes, the Danes, the Russians, the Prussians and the Poles in the 18th Century; but for the Ukrainians, they’re as immediate as the English Civil War or the Napoleonic Wars are to us.

Cossacks has already been launched in Germany and Russia, and you’ll find that there are already heavily-used forums in German, Russian and English showing the high levels of interest which the game has already generated, even before its English release. It looks like GSC is already working on an expansion pack, and suggestions for new states to add to the game have been pouring in – although some aren’t particularly sensible. Let’s face it, it might be politically correct to suggest adding in Native American tribes, but in historical terms it would be completely ludicrous (as the game developers themselves point out). Native Americans would be fine as auxiliary troops so you could recreate some of the North American campaigns between the French and the English during the Seven Years War, but there’s no way – in a game such as this, with its concentration on historical accuracy – they should appear as playable states.

 Take a look at any ships as they move across water – the graphic artists have mirrored them, so as they glide across lakes, seas and rivers, they are reflected beautifully

The graphics are excellent – just take a look at the edge of any body of water in the game, and you’ll see how the waves lap against the shoreline. Then there is the huge variety of different trees in the game (what is it with Eastern Bloc developers, German publishers and trees? We had endless press releases about how many different trees you’d find in Sudden Strike…). But the real demonstration of the graphics is the units themselves. Take a look at any ships as they move across water – the graphic artists have mirrored them, so as they glide across lakes, seas and rivers, they are reflected beautifully…

We’re hoping for great things from Cossacks, but the real test of a game like this is twofold — the AI and the multiplayer. It sounds from the discussion on the German version as if there have been some relatively minor problems with these, which the developer has been addressing; so, by the time the English version appears, we Anglophone wargame nuts should have had the benefits of a thorough playtesting by our German and Russian counterparts…


Originally posted: (LINK) (ARCHIVED-1) (ARCHIVED-2)

Date of publish: 03.01.2001

Author: unknown

Language of publish: english

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