We’re quite a way into 2005 now, and it seems that the RTS genre is still as active as ever. Last year it was in danger of becoming suffocated as innumerable WWII RTS titles were continually rolled out. This year, a far wider range of historical conflicts have been pillaged. In the case of Cossacks 2, the not insignificant Napoleonic Wars are the subject.
Cossacks 2: Napoleonic Wars is the follow up to the popular 2001 historical RTS and its set of expansions. Development duties are once again being handled by GSC Game World, which is currently better known for its work on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the recent Alexander movie RTS tie-in. Cossacks 2 has obviously been put together by the latter team because right now the engine and interface are practically identical. In fact, in the preview build we were playing, one of Alexander’s quotes from that title would amusingly, if inappropriately, pop up in the presumably unfinished voice over.
Pretty much everything you would expect from an RTS appears to be present, including a single player campaign, skirmish modes, “ Battle for Europe”, and a multiplayer mode. You’ll have the option of playing through the single player campaign as an officer representing the nationality of your choice including the two most vital sides, the French and the English (the latter replete with nattily kilted highlanders in tow). Interestingly, the Battle for Europe game is set on a 2D turn-based map of Europe, with the action switching to RTS mode when an attack takes place, rather like in Rome: Total War.
Other than that, GSC seems to be following the standard RTS template in that Cossacks 2 involves base building and resource collecting. The buildings on offer range from standard resource-collection points to vast and aesthetically pleasing barracks and officers’ academies. These enable recruitment of your main military units, which are plucked from the population of your village. Again, anyone familiar with Alexander will recognise the troop generation method, as you’ll have the option of selecting the type, then sitting back as they file out of the building until the maximum has been reached.
The reason for this speed in recruiting units seems to lie in the game’s focus on strategy. Once you have 120 or so units, the next step is to lock them into a single group. Once grouped your men can be ordered around as a single unit, and an extra layer of orders become available. The most important of these is the formation option, which essentially dictates how your men stand around. The three main formations we played with were “rank”, an offensive formation in which our men dutifully lined up in three neat rows; “square”, a defensive formation, where our men arranged themselves into a box so they could still fight, but didn’t have an exposed side or rear; and “column”, a marching formation.
This last formation will come into its own when you’re sending your men across the map. Not only does it speed things up a little, but by keeping your men on the roads in this formation their “fatigue” bar will not expend so quickly. This is crucial to the fight, as if your men become too fatigued, their morale dips. Once morale dips to a certain level, your men will start thinking “sod this” and start legging it, which is obviously less than helpful when attempting to overcome the Frenchies.
When it does come to fighting, simply rushing your enemy will not be an option. Remember, this is an age where opposing troops would line up and face-off before getting down to the nitty gritty. Here’s where the tactics will come into play, as we found out in the preview build. During several encounters, we found ourselves outnumbered. However, by leaving your troops in one spot, they receive a defence bonus through “standing their ground”. Keeping your troops still when being fired upon may seem like suicide, but by hovering the mouse pointer over the musket option, we could see that the enemy were slightly too far away to do much damage. As soon as they had expended their shots, an order to return fire once they had marched to within an optimal range led to more enemy troops eating lead than if we too had fired too soon and a consequent boost in our unit’s morale. A quick order to snap on the bayonets (as reloading takes an absolute age), and we’re ready to take out the remainder of the advancing enemy.
It seems that the name of the game will be to break the enemy rather than totally destroy them. The morale system will play a big part in which way encounters between opposing groups go and, once it drops below a particular level, will see the men beating a hasty retreat. If you should be on the receiving end of a beating, your men will retreat to the nearest base, and their numbers will gradually be replenished by the villagers. This aspect reminds us of Kohan II, but here will be less streamlined so as to maintain the tactical elements.
For a game that’s in pseudo-3D, it doesn’t look quite as dated as you might expect, but we don’t expect it to compete graphically with the likes of Rome: Total War or the recent Act of War. In a graphical touch similar to that latter title though, as you give your troops certain orders a video window appears depicting what we assume are a bunch of those peculiar historical war re-enactment enthusiasts going through the motions, which was unintentionally quite amusing. A few neat touches abound within the game engine itself too though – we particularly like the fact that groups actually position themselves properly when marching down roads, and will part to either side to allow another group to march through.
For a pretender to the Rome: Total War crown, we find ourselves wondering whether GSC have done enough to truly compete, as opposed to being an also-ran. Nevertheless, the mechanics of the game itself do seem to be shaping up into a competent strategy piece that will appeal to fans of the thinking end of the genre. We’ll find out how the war against the Frenchies is going next month, when the game is released.
INFORMATION ABOUT THIS CONTENT:
Date of publish: 25.03.2005
Author: Michael “Parallax” Filby
Language of publish: english