Saturday, 30 April 2005
Like Gary before him, Chris Pickering goes to war with yet another PC strategy game. A sequel, no less!
If thereís one thing I canít stand, itís a school yard bully. Usually lacking in intelligence, but making up for it with brute strength, they see their goal in life to be to cause as many bloody noses as possible. Why do bullies exist? Thatís a question for modern society to answer - and perhaps a psychologist. But theyíre there, and always have been throughout history. In fact, one of history's greatest bullies (and one allegedly existing because of his lack of stature) was the Ďshort-arseí Frenchman Napoleon.
Which brings us neatly on to the topic of this review, Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars. The original Cossacks was a critically acclaimed RTS title, with its main unique selling point being the vast number of units on screen at any one point thanks to an incredibly well developed game engine. Obviously thereís little need to change this particular feature, and thereís practically no change here to report. The same isometric viewpoint remains, but the game is much more aesthetically pleasing than the first title, with the terrain in particular feeling much more 'organic' than the last titleís generic and repetitive backdrops.
Though the isometric viewpoint may seem quite outdated, especially with the Total War series showing that a 3D engine can be utilised with great precision, as well as looking absolutely astonishing, it can be argued that the lack of 3D is purely there for the gamers benefit. With the huge number of units on screen, a camera that needs constant tweakage could be a quite hefty drawback - a fact that a set isometric viewpoint completely negates. Though thatís not to say that your units donít show a high level of detail: if you zoom in youíll witness your on-screen war machine marching in uniform, firing weapons, and taking part in battles with some incredibly detailed animation.
Just like the RTS titles of old, to start with youíll be in control of a number of peasants who will under your guidance collect various resources and build various structures to help you along your way. While this particular little gameplay feature may seem a little long in the tooth, especially with various titles showing alternative routes, it does hold a touch of strategy within itself - until the point where you have so many peasants gathering resources that youíll barely need to give them a glance, as they truck in more Ďpointsí that you could ever hope to spend.
But itís the combat that Cossacks always did best, and here itís definitely no different. Just like the battles of the time, most consist of huge formations of men firing at each other until one force loses such a number that they turn and flee. Fortunately this does hold quite a depth of strategy, especially with the colour-coded range system showing you just how much damage your shots will inflict upon a particular formation. With the weapons of the time being a long, long way from the rapid firing monstrosities that weíre so used to nowadays, if you take a shot before your enemy is close enough to feel the full force, the AI will be more than capable of using it to their advantage and picking off your men while they reload. Thereís a huge sense of satisfaction to be gained when you use your tactical knowledge to shave off huge numbers of your opponents - especially in multiplayer. Unlike most RTS titles, you can't simply click at a rapid rate at the opponents you wish to charge at and hope for the best. Here itís all played out at a much steadier pace, much more in keeping with the strategic basics of the genre.
One huge drawback with Cossacks 2 was the numerous amount of crashes that the game suffered. Whether or not a patch will be available by the time you read this review remains to be seen, but I suffered quite a large number of PC crashes - not only during gameplay. I also had to put up with save games sometimes becoming totally corrupted, leaving you with no choice but to restart that tricky mission. One piece of advice which I suggest you heed is to keep multiple save games - just in case.
Thereís a lot to love about Cossacks 2. The reliance of slow, methodical tactical play rather than letting things become a case of who can click their mouse button the fastest is implemented at an incredibly solid level, with very little to complain about. This isnít a title for the Command and Conquer fans who want fast paced action - even though it does share a lot of aspects with the father of the genre. Despite some technical flaws, Cossacks 2 comes especially well recommended to those who fell in love with the charms of the orignal. Just expect your brain to get a much bigger workout than your trigger finger.