Date of publish: 31/10/2020 18:50 CET
In the late 18th and early 19th Century, only men went to war. The soldiers were men that could not afford to live a life outside of the army, and their commanders were gentlemen, born superior so that they could lead their country. War was an honourable affair, where hundreds of men stood opposite each other and fired their guns until most of them were were dead, followed by the remainder walking in formation towards each other so they could stab each other until the rest of one side was also dead. Running was only allowed when running away, and that itself was only allowed when there was no-one of superior rank behind you. Away wins were rewarded with a session of the wholesale rape and pillaging of the surrounding land and its occupants. Those honourable men.
Cossacks II lets you create your own honourable war machine in the name of civilising the world. The meat of the game is a real time strategy game where you control the movements of formations of your various troops (right down to giving the command to open fire) in the name of trying to defeat the enemy on that particular map. In order to keep your troops moving and fighting, and also to recruit new troops, you will have to capture and hold various resources on the map. The size of the maps can get quite large, so the field tactics are as much about the placement of your troops on the map as they are the actual engagement of the enemy, and can make guerilla warfare a useful tactic at times. The game offers a story based campaign mode to initiate you to the game, and a longer, deeper ‘Battle for Europe’ campaign, where you must dominate Europe starting from a small area. In the latter mode the real time elements are supplement by a turn based system on a map of Europe (much like the Total War games’ campaign mode), allowing you to decide where you must conquer next to eventually achieve your stranglehold on Europe. You can also play skirmishes on your own, or against others on a LAN or the Internet (No campaign mode in multiplayer though).
The battlefield graphics are good (not exceptional though), although it’s highly debatable as to whether this is a ‘3D’ game as such – the view is largely fixed, and while your troops look well animated at a distance, there’s no way to tell what they look like up close. Still, even though we move towards photo-realism in games, I don’t care – Cossacks looks nice enough, and I can see what I’m doing enough to not have the game frustrate me. The sole exception of the clarity of the game is the mini map, on which it can be particularly hard some times to pick out enemy or your own troops. The musical score is ok, at least being unobtrusive enough to not get nauseous as it is played ad infinitum. Sound effects are good – especially during large volleys of musket fire – although I must give special mention to the voice acting – some of it is ok, some of it is poor, and the odd bits played by macho voiced Americans (playing English officers remember) are downright hilarious (Think Jez Clarkson doing his ‘septic’ impression and you’re there).
The controls are intuitive, and simple to master – everything can be accomplished reasonably quickly, and without too much clicking. There are only two frailties I can see in the controls: It’s hard to handle groups of troops – a single formation will happily march down a road, but if you select multiple formations and move them down a road they will all get in the way of each other, and nobody slows down for the slower units – it’s all too easy for a slow but expensive artillery unit to get left behind and picked off; There’s no way of setting waypoints for movement – I guess they are mostly not needed, but although the AI is reasonable troops will sometimes decide to take a shorter jaunt through heavily occupied enemy territory rather than a longer march through their own, and being able to set waypoints would solve the problem.
The game itself stands up really well – plenty of strategy is actually possible (sometimes lacking in so called real time strategy games that are just click-fests). You will need every ounce of your strategic genius to conquer the game though – I found myself using regular saves and a lot of the pause button in order to progress, and even then I was struggling – a problem made impossible by the lack of any difficulty setting easier than the default ‘normal’ setting. Another minor grumble is that the game is mostly skirmishing rather than an all-out battle – protecting your supply lines is all very well, but considering the historic period it would be nice to see a huge open battlefield stuffed with troops. Sadly there’s not enough opportunity for this sort of battle, and a lack of map editor does not help things.
Overall, I really liked Cossacks II. If you like your strategy games with plenty of proper strategy rather than just base building then this is an excellent game to spend your time on, the problems I’ve mentioned aren’t an exhaustive list, but they are all small enough to easily be ignored (save the difficulty level). On the other hand, there’s a lot of competition out there in the strategy category, and Cossacks II can be bettered in most ways by other products, even if few have a greater all round package.
– Highly tactical.
– Well thought out controls.
– Almost as hard as a refrigerated Toblerone.
– Comical voice acting.
Written by Peter Potatohead
Original date of publish: 13.05.2005