Genre : Real Time Strategy
Publisher : CDV
Developer : GSC
Release Date : 25-Nov-2002
Historical strategy games are a type of game that's often bothered gamers. We begin to wonder how accurate the game is, and more importantly, how much fun it is. Then we begin to wonder if they've sacrificed fun for realism. Unfortunately, there are a lot of games that will bore the player to death while trying to advance through a timeline of events. Thankfully, the folks behind Cossacks seemed to realize this. They've certainly taken the Fun-Over-Realism approach, which is a great idea in my book.
Cossacks takes place in the time of the Renaissance, with troops on horses, men with guns, cannons, stone walls, creaky old boats, and dozens of peasants tending the crops, among other things. Actually, Cossacks: Back to War is a compilation of the original Cossacks and it's two expansions: Cossacks: European Wars, and Cossacks: The Art of War. So, basically, you get all the Cossacks titles available in a nice little standalone package. It's certainly better than paying for each title separately, and since they're all compiled into one disc, it's quite convenient to install and play.
The game offers a variety of play modes, including a range of campaigns, some nifty tutorials, over a hundred single missions, a random map feature, and a multiplayer mode for use on the internet. There's even a program included that allows you to create your own missions. Any way you look at it, there's a lot to do, and if you dig Cossacks, you're gonna be busy for a very long time. The question is, how well does it play?
I took a huge sigh of relief when I found Cossacks to be, in fact, a rather fun game. It plays out like your standard real-time-strategy game, with the need to build structures, mine resources, produce infantry and peasants, and of course, battle. There's a lot of depth to be found here. There are tons of buildings, each rather useful: stables, storehouses, churches, mills, markets, towers, barracks, shipyards, and more. Also here is a more than sufficient variety of units: peasants, pikemen, officers, grenadiers, dragoons, and swordsmen, to name a few. There's even a large selection of boats, ranging from yachts, to ferries, to frigates.
Resource management is pretty neat in Cossacks. Wood, stone, iron, gold, and coal can all be collected and used for different things. You'll have to set up a mine for each of the resources - except, of course, for wood, which is cut from the forests. Then you'll need peasants to collect the material - it's a good thing peasants are inexpensive, because they're very important. And once you have a way to collect the stuff, you'll need some storehouses to keep it all in stock. There's nothing more frustrating than using up all your resources, and then only being able to store a small amount that you could spend quickly. Planning is essential in Cossacks.
And then there will be times when you can't get to a certain area to mine a certain resource, but you're bringing in excessive amounts of another. Or maybe the enemy came and destroyed your mine, and there's no way to get it back without a massacre occurring there. A handy little building called the market allows you to trade items you have for items you need. You can trade as much as you want, whenever you want, as long as you have a market available. It's handy and innovative, and keeps things flowing nicely.
Battles will be ferocious and difficult, for a number of reasons. Your troops are generally pretty weak, unless in numbers, or have some kind of advantage over your foe. You can align your men into different formations to give them some order and strategy, and selecting the right formation can be the winning or losing decision in a battle. You can also use boats, if you want to try that out, but sea battles can often be a one-way route to frustration; apparently the captains of my ships are a little dim, because they have to turn around to move, and turn back around to fire their cannons. Since the enemy usually starts to run away when you turn to shoot, it means you have to turn back around, stop, turn to shoot, turn back around, and continue the process...it's a bit silly, really.
The computer AI is also rather unfair, adding to the difficulty. If you turn off the Fog of War, you can see the computer working very quickly, making decisions and commanding things much faster than it's even possible for you to do. It can be a real pain when the enemy is so far ahead of you, or keeps attacking while you can hardly do anything about it.
Aside from the AI, though, the game keeps you in control nicely. The interface is pretty decent, with a box in the lower left corner that will list options and unit abilities. There's an on-screen map across from that, on the other side of the screen. Statistics, like the amount of resources you have, are kept at the top of the screen. This leaves you a large area of the screen to see all that's going on, which is nice. Buildings even turn transparent so you can find that pesky little runaway unit hiding behind one. All in all, pretty nice.
The graphics are pretty nice to look at. The environments, although a little repetitive, are pretty good-looking. Water looks nice, trees are good, grass is fine, and high fields of wheat are cool, especially when you can see people walking around in them. The character animation is certainly nice, with scurrying little peasants and galloping horses and whatnot. They look like little men on a battlefield, frankly, and it's pretty darn cool to watch.
Sound is good enough, with good sound effects that never become too tedious or annoying. The background music is a nice work of orchestra music, and it keeps things lively while waiting for resources to rack up, or whatnot. It's pretty long, but it eventually loops - with a fairly scary pause when that happens. I always ask myself if my computer froze and I just lost all my work, but a second later everything is fine. Actually, the game offers an auto-save function, which is certainly nice if your computer is prone to crashing.
Cossacks: Back to War is a solid title with a hell of a lot to do. If you dig the gameplay - and chances are, if you like RTS games, you'll enjoy Cossacks - then you can expect to spend hours upon hours with this title. Sure, it doesn't add a lot to the genre in particular, but if you're looking for a title to keep you busy, and you like strategy games, Cossacks is certainly worth looking into.