Date of publish: 01/11/2020 17:02 CET
GSC Game World’s latest lets you fill the shoes of France’s most celebrated midget warmonger.
It seems like every other week another RTS slowly raises its head above the parapet, nervously awaiting the carefully aimed barbs of PC gaming’s cynics and snipers. Yet in the heavily populated realm of real time strategy, there are a few properties that can lay claim to favourable brand association, and the Cossacks series has, up to this point, arguably been among them.
For the latest incarnation of the franchise, GSC Game World’s juggernaut moves forward in history to cover the Napoleonic era, focusing on the battles fought by the stout Gallic tyrant. Continuing in the spirit of change, the property has also returned with a 3D engine (although this graphical upgrade doesn’t extend to include the protagonists, which remain sprite-based), aiming to make as much of a splash as its predecessor did back in 2001.
From the outset, it seems as if the game has everything that made European Wars so appealing: Large scale battles and a plethora of unit types? Check. An economic model that is simple enough not to get in the way of the fighting? Check. Even the trademark sprawling maps with strategic chokepoints have been shoehorned in, but in some ways, the game seems to lack a little of the sparkle of previous outings.
Bullet time blues
The chief offender, and admittedly this is a question of personal taste, is that the battles aren’t really fought out in real time – or at least, not if you want to have any hope of winning them. Thanks to the inclusion of an aiming system that lets you know the relative chance (or otherwise) of your troops scoring a hit on the enemy, the precise moment at which you let loose with an opening volley becomes crucial in any confrontation. Shoot your load too early, so to speak, and you face a relatively lengthy reload time in the face of an advancing and fully loaded army. Now imagine that you have several thousand men on the battlefield, all at various distances from the enemy, and you begin to see the size and scope of the problem.
The easy workaround, of course, is to use the game’s pause function while micro-managing your troops, something which, admittedly, the game itself makes use of in the comprehensive tutorial section that you can take before proceeding onto the meatier aspects of the game. In single player, you can opt to play through a fairly linear, scripted campaign, or undertake the more dynamic Battle for Europe mode, which, like the Total War series, combines RISK-style game mechanics with localized tactical battles in real-time. Take the reins of France, Britain or any of the other six nations on offer and you can vie for control of the various provinces that make up a compartmentalised map of Europe, taking them either through diplomatic or militaristic means.
Vive la difference
Aside from the pause-inducing targeting aid, however, the core gameplay elements of Napoleonic Wars remain pretty much the same to those of European Wars. Though some construction is involved, base building isn’t really the focus here, nor is the economic model, which removes a lot of peon management from the equation, instead revolving around the capture of villages that automatically produce specific resources needed to keep your army fed and well stocked in munitions. Despite its simplicity though, the resource model plays an integral part in your ability to wage war; Fail to capture enough villages that produce coal, and your army of thousands can be left without an adequate supply of ammunition on the front lines, making them defenceless cannon fodder for the opposition.
Perhaps taking another cue from the Total War series, the notions of morale and fatigue have also been introduced, and they play a key part in the effectiveness of your charges. Any formation that suffers heavy losses will quickly lose the will to fight and begin to rout, but to some degree this can be countered by commissioning an officer at the head of the formation. Similarly, while you can manipulate units on an individual basis, there are bonuses to be had from grouping them together into squads, not the least of which is that you can then take advantage of the formation commands. One of these orders your men to fan out to provide a wide firing base, while another is defensive, and a third forms your squad into a tight column formation, most effective for minimising fatigue on those long marches across the sprawling maps.
How do you like them onions?
Using the same engine that powered GSC Game World’s Alexander, the game just about passes muster in a graphical sense. There’s a lot of detail invested in each of the maps and the buildings atop them, while your units enter the fray in brightly coloured uniforms that throw camouflage to the wind and scream ‘Here I am, shoot me first.’ A little unfortunately, the upgrade to the graphics engine doesn’t include much in the way of camera functionality, as you are limited to viewing the action from the genre-traditional isometric perspective. And while a zoom-out function has been included to give you a strategic overview of the fighting, it doesn’t permit close-in views of limb dismemberment and explosive death.
Aside from some slightly dodgy and even misplaced accents (British officers who speak, in turn, with American then plummy English tones) the remainder of the audio aspect is solid enough. A rousing, militaristic score accompanies the action, while the sounds of war, on the whole, don’t disappoint either, with musket and cannon fire presumably drowning out the strangely absent screams of broken and shattered men.
C`est la guerre
In the end, whether you’ll enjoy Napoleonic Wars comes down to how you like your strategy games; twitch players in favour of the ‘rush and crush’ tactic will be deeply frustrated here, but those who like to take their time and mull over the tactical options available should find much to keep them occupied.
Written by Derek Forrester
Original date of publish: 30.06.2005