The actual execution of the game, however, cannot blame it on the CD burn. And while Cossacks: European Wars
is impressive at first glance, and the battles can sure be very cool, in the end, the game has a few issues that wind up being more irritating than anything else and not enough innovation to make the game really push the envelope.
In Cossacks, you take the role of a leader in one of sixteen different groups involved in the many skirmishes and all-out wars in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Indeed, one can almost consider this the tactical, real-time companion to Strategy First's earlier Europa Universalis, with a battlefield scope instead of a world scope. Instead of the usual low unit limits in RTS's, however, Cossacks has you commanding armies of hundreds.
Unfortunately, beyond the large number of units, Cossacks fails to stray far from the standard RTS formula. You've got a number of resources -- stone, wood, food, gold, iron, and coal -- and each are obtained in different ways. Stone is quarried, wood is chopped, food is grown or caught in the ocean, and the rest are mined. This is pretty basic stuff, and if you balance it right, resources should never really be an issue.
There is also a rather nice variety in the units you can create. There are two 'centuries' worth of units -- seventeenth and eighteenth -- and, as expected, the later ones are in general much more useful than their earlier counterparts. Advancement to the eighteenth century requires building a large number of buildings, and then expending a large number of resources.
Sound familiar? Here there be Age of Empires.
The game itself plays quite intuitively. You build your peasants in the Town Hall, they collect resources and build buildings, you make battle units and you go out and fight. The actual execution of these battles is a little different than most games, though, and requires some experience to get good at it. For example, to be able to execute any sort of formation, you've got to have an officer and a drummer to be able to give out the orders. This is a nice touch, and certainly more realistic, but it feels a little arbitrary, especially with the number of units that you can control with an officer.
Perhaps the biggest change in the game, and one of the things I found rather annoying, is the method of taking over your opponent's towns and locations. Instead of using a special unit to convert them, you simply have to run your combat units near an enemy building that does not have any combat units protecting it. They are immediately converted to your side. This works with enemy peasants as well. While this sounds like a nice feature, and it can simplify taking over strongholds, it is extremely annoying when your units run off to attack an opponent and he sends a small group of units marching through your town, converting the whole thing to his side. Argh.
But perhaps the most frustrating thing -- at least until you find how to change it -- is the pace of the game. At the default setting on my computer, Cossacks is downright unplayable. Everything moves at almost warp speed, and buildings are constructed in almost no time flat. Units march across continents as if they were small city parks, and battles are absolutely impossible to coordinate. Fortunately, you can slow the game down a number of ways, all inside of the main game. [Hint: Turning it from 'Fast' to 'Slow' is a major boon.] Even with the speed set more reasonably, I felt that I was getting walked over rather more than I should have been.
This feeling isn't helped by the various campaigns that come with the game, which are both frustratingly scripted and frustratingly difficult. You'll see units before you can attack them, you'll miss important plot triggers because of the routes you take, and inevitably you're thrown into situations that you have a small chance of surviving.
The randomly generated missions are much more entertaining, mainly because they're doable with only a single opponent. The AI in this game still trounces me more often than not, and playing against more than one is an exercise in suicide. I remember the first game I played -- I had a few soldiers scattered about here and there, and less than five minutes into the game the AI came through with a huge regiment and completely decimated me. Ugh.
The game also supports multiplayer, but at the moment the rest of the world is using a higher patchlevel than those of us in the United States, so we can't really play with the rest of the folk. That will hopefully be rectified soon.