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PC Preview - 'Cossacks 2: Napoleonic Wars'

by Thomas Leaf on Feb. 23, 2005 @ 1:01 a.m. PST

Cossacks - Napoleonic Wars returns one of the most successful strategy games of the past years to the real-time battlefield - with reinforcements: Meet Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and probably the most ingenious strategist in European history! Enter the battle on the side of one of 10 great European nations and rewrite European history in six exciting campaigns.

Genre: Strategy
Publisher: CDV Software
Developer: GSC Game World
Release Date: April 2005

I have recently discovered a newfound interest in the Napoleonic Era of warfare and to my surprise, it seems I am not the only one. CDV, the kind people who have brought you Sudden Strike and the critically acclaimed Cossacks: The Art of War, are now hard at work on finishing the sequel to Cossacks. This time around, you get to march into the era of muskets and sabers between the turbulent years of 1802 to 1820. Based on what I have experienced, CDV is on its way to yet another technically marvelous wargame that will enthrall click-addicted-twitch-gamers and grognards alike (grognard, the gaming term for an old fashioned strategy/wargamer actually comes from the Napoleonic Era when younger French soldiers called the grizzled veterans "grognard," which equates loosely to "grumpy").

Cossacks II boasts gameplay at several levels. You have your campaign map that will encompass all of Western Europe including England and you can also set sail for Egypt. Each sector scales down to a game map which is rather large, and for your soldiers to march from one end to another would take several minutes. Even if they were marching in column, they would be totally ill-prepared to fight at the end of such a march. Within the game maps, there are certain strategic areas, which create a battlefield essential of key terrain. To get to a city, you may have to take and hold a few bridges or occupy a few villages on the way.

Gone is the gameplay where you are provided with a map that is actually a linear maze and your objectives are predetermined and contrived. Simply put, you show up to the battlefield, and just like your historical counterparts, you are to seek out the enemy army and force a decisive battle where you send the enemy forces fleeing for the hills or you wrest control of the major city center of this particular sector which grants you economic, political and practical control of the region. The maps are large enough for you to execute true maneuver warfare, such as it is for this time period, which blends strategy with sound tactics.

One of the major hang-ups modern gamers had with Cossacks was its two-dimensional, sprite-based graphics. We game in an age where 3D is the expected norm and 2D is for kitschy throwback style games. Cossacks II remains a 2D game, but by no means is this engine ugly. Building upon Cossacks, Napoleonic Wars offers a rich palette with maps that are heavily populated and animated. Your soldiers are well animated, and their uniforms, as far as I can tell, are historically accurate for their respective units. Indeed, this impressionistic style of presentation falls very much in line with paintings you will find recreating this era. Your troops look stylish in their bearskin hats or their feather plumed shakos while your Hussars look as dashing as they must have in real life. Fusillades leave a lingering plume of smoke as does your cannon, and the sound of men crying out just after a volley has been loosed will either elicit a gasp of triumph or despair, depending on how well you timed your volleys.

Morale will play a crucial role in Cossacks II. Each unit is measured in how many men are actively in the unit in addition to their morale and experience. More experienced units will not lose morale as quickly as lesser units, and the more enemy soldiers that fall before your men, the higher their morale will rise. Morale is actually more important in determining if a unit will break and run than it is in the number of casualties. Some units simply will not break and run and will fight to the death, while other more suspect units will flinch at the first whiff of burnt powder and head for the hills. Of course, as in a real battle, proximity to a commanding officer and supporting units will bolster your forces, making it crucial that you maneuver your army so that units may offer mutual support.

Cossacks II will offer your many factions to play. Of course, we have the French Grande Armée led by Too Tall Bonaparte, but you also have the British under Duke Wellington, the Russians under Alexander Romanov, and in addition, you have the Austrians and Prussians too. My only concern over the campaign aspect of Cossacks II is that the map of Europe is small. Yes, to conquer the whole continent would be a feat, but how long would a campaign last? I would hope that there will be specific campaigns for specific generals, such as Wellington's Peninsular War in Spain or Napoleon's March to Moscow. There also does not seem to be any naval component to the campaigns, which would've added a very interesting strategic twist. If there are any shortcomings, one can be assured that an expansion disc will follow shortly that will add and enhance to the original product.

In the end, Cossacks II looks to deliver an evolutionary yet strong step from where Cossacks began. Managing a campaign both strategically and tactically will prove to be challenging and rewarding for gamers of any levels. I even dare say that many will learn a thing or two about this particular age of warfare. The Napoleonic Era provides some peculiar situations where rifles occupy the same field as heavy cavalry, as well as massed artillery, and yet each of these components are neither too advanced for their applications nor too obsolete to be of any utility. I'm surprised that this era of warfare hasn't been broached more often by game designers, but Cossacks II certainly has the right stuff to make sure that this age of warfare gets its due.

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