They’re rubbish really, aren’t they? Hay Day is a much better game. Oh, we’re not questioning their strategic content or their depth or anything like that. No, we’re talking about the way that they never seem to represent proper battles; you’re normally in control of what would count as a minor skirmish in real life. Where’s the fun in that? Why can’t we have massed battles with thousands of individual soldiers, eh? Something that looks like one of those tabletop battlefields covered in lovingly hand-painted lead soldiers; the sort of thing you’d find in your scary uncle Bernard’s attic?
The answer’s obvious – it can’t be done. Or can it? Cossacks looks set to impress even those of us who couldn’t care less about war gaming by dint of filling its battlefields with thousands of little soldiers, all looking gorgeous and with no sign of scary uncle Bernard. Seeing it in motion is enough to warm the hearts of even the most dedicated war game-haters; hundreds of troops line up in formation, advance on the massed ranks of the enemy, then either rout them convincingly or scatter in a panic as the other side proves too strong. It’s fabulous to watch.
Which means that Cossacks is capable of providing all gamers with at least half an hour’s entertainment until the thrill of viewing enormous virtual battles wears off. So what’s there for the more serious player?
Thankfully, loads. GSC recruited a proper military historian to get things right, so you’d need to be better than him to spot any errors. As well as the staggering 8,000 units that can be visible on screen at once, GSC have created four campaigns of 10 battles each, covering 300 years of European history from the 16th to the 18th century. You can choose between 16 European nations, each with their own strengths, weaknesses and architecture, but all equally weighted. Battles take place on both land and water, but from our viewing of Cossacks it seemed that the land battles offered the more exciting gameplay; ordering masses of troops around is more rewarding to our eyes than steering slow-moving ships about.
On top of the campaigns you’ll find 10 historically accurate battles recreated to the last detail, and a multiplayer mode for up to seven players. Seven? Yes; GSC say that they opted for a seven-player setup to differentiate Cossacks from the eight-player Age of Empires 2. Right… And on top of the fighting there’s a little necessary empire-building and resource management, although GSC are going easy on the micro-management, which is fine by us.
Sounds daunting? Not a bit of it; GSC’s Sergiy Grygorovich tells us that they’re pitching Cossacks at the average Red Alert 2 player rather than hardcore strategists, and to lead you in gently there are three tutorial missions covering everything from the bare basics to advanced army management. And if you really want to get into it, GSC are including an enormous CD-ROM encyclopaedia of relevant military history with the game. Phew!
Cossacks is due out in March; it’s already out in Russia where it shifted 100,000 copies in its first two days on sale. We’re looking forward to it here; even those of us who don’t like strategy games are itching to give it a go. A good sign in anyone’s book, that.