Cossacks is a very cool game designed by Europeans with European strategy tastes in mind. In other words it isn’t simple and not everyone will love it.
If you have enjoyed strategy games like Age of Empires, but now want something with even more meat to it, saunter up to the buffet as Cossacks is a seriously chunky meal.
The game lets you manage a 17th to 18th century empire organising your economy, building a good power base for your military and waging wars with quite large and diverse armies. There are multiplayer as well as quite comprehensively scripted single player modes and your ability to manage several processes at once.
The game gives you six resources you must gather and these have to be managed intelligently. Wood and stone are invaluable when you are constructing your settlement buildings. Iron and coal are pretty important when it comes to getting an army together and keeping it stocked with ammunition. Finally gold is useful for all sorts of expensive enterprises and food, well that is useful for obvious reasons.
Visually Cossacks is detailed. The explosions are great and there are many nice touches like the way the flags flutter in the wind. The game also runs quite well on less powerful machines with one of the test machines being a humble P2 300, which ran the game acceptably at 600 x 800 resolution.
There is a lot of depth to the resource management too as the six resources at your disposal make the game quite challenging. Indeed some resources are vital for combat. If you want to have plenty of ammunition make sure you have large reserves of coal, for example.
However you can make up for a shortfall in a particular resource type by trading in the market.
This is helpful although it also makes it less important that you control isolated resources scattered about the game map, as any resource can be traded for a resource that you find hard to get to.
Combat is a big part of the game and the battles can be quite massive with huge armies meeting each other with a lot of action, noise and much bloodshed. There are some great effects and because of the time period the gameplay is set in the action is refreshingly colourful. Different unit types and even troop types are very easy to distinguish as the notion of camoflauge is something which the soldiers during these times would have considered to be cowardly. Been seen, be unsafe, that is how you fight the 17th Century way!
You have to be sure you use the right units for the right purposes and that they are in the most advantageous formation. Leaving artillery at the front of your forces unprotected by men at arms is not very wise.
Similarly attacking fortifications without heavy siege weapons and only a force composed of skirmishing troops and cavalry is a dumb move too, so you have to make sure you balance your forces so that they are suited to the task at hand.
There are some problems with the artificial intelligence programming in that sometimes your units don’t move as intelligently as you’d like, unless you are prepared to nursemaid them while they wander the map.
This gets to be quite bothersome when you start controlling the massive armies you need for some of the bigger battles. Naval combat can be particularly annoying as ships have to be watched very closely, especially once you have broken up and enemy formation. Your stupid ships have the insanely stupid habit of not getting close enough to the enemy before they turn and present their broadsides to fire. Having changed course to present broadsides your ships then fall out of range, cannot fire a shot and have to return to the chase to get the enemy back within firing range. This is something Nelson would have never tolerated!
The formation system does help a bit when managing your armies well in land battles, but there are still some problems.
Certainly it is frustrating to see your troops stupidly blunder into the enemy field of fire when you have asked them to retreat, but despite these few flaws Cossacks is engaging and full of depth.
Luckily at times the enemy seems similarly afflicted by dementia as some hostile troops are happy to stand still presenting a good target while you joyously mow them down with the main body of your army. Artillery also sometimes has the silly habit of firing into obstacles, rather than over them. Obviously the gunnery commander has had a good night on the schnapps and isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The action can also get terribly busy and it seems odd to be complaining about this, but it might have been a good option if there was some way of issuing orders before a battle, or switching to a turn based mode for a part of the proceedings. That said as a real time strategy combat offering this game is a real treat. It looks good, you get some challenging fighting and best of all it feels different to the many similar games out there.
The few problems with the game do make playing Cossacks a bit less satisfying than perhaps it should have been, but all in all this is a mighty solid effort. The game will appeal to Command and Conquer fans with a desire for something more involving, as well as hard core wargamers who’d like to play a more complex real time strategy game.
Total Score: 8/10