At first glance, Cossacks: European Wars looks like a winner with its 16 nationalities to play, huge number of units and upgrades, and an era when horsemen and cannons played important roles in combat before the age of mechanized war. The game contains several campaigns, a host of single player scenarios, and a multiplayer option. Yet, somewhere between hard copy plans and software programming, the game lost its luster. Though rich with a variety of units and resources, European Wars simply doesn't have the polish needed to put it on the frontlines in the genre.
In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, Europe was the throne of civilization and rulers of every nation strove to wear the crown. Inevitably, international wars broke out. Cossacks: European Wars gives you the chance to step into the resulting frays as the commander of a European army belonging to one of many nations. Each campaign more or less follows some of the more famous conflicts of the age.
To its credit, CDV Software Entertainment picked one of the more interesting historical periods on which to base a war game. Huge armies are composed of a mixture of traditional and cheaply produced archers and swordsmen, as well as effective, but expensive, gunpowder weapons like cannons and muskets. There are literally scores of units available for building a defensive fort or an offensive spearhead. While a majority of the units are land based, ships also play a large part in battles, especially when trying to establish a beachhead.
Each unit type can be upgraded seven times for better offensive and defensive capabilities, providing generals the perfect tools to fine-tune the army. Special units, such as mercenaries and officers, add an extra facet to the army building as well. Even with the many styles of units, though, gameplay still boils down to loading up on a favorite type and marching onward. As in most other RTS games, repelling an attack relies not so much on finding the perfect counter unit or a smaller group of more technologically advanced units, but rather sheer numbers. The million men with sticks will win the day almost every time.
While having a huge selection of forces means more customization, the quantity over quality principle is evident in the animation and AI of the units. The animation appears to be missing the few extra frames that would have smoothed out walking and fighting motions. There is little in the way of charming animations seen in similar games, like the Command & Conquer units that get bored and drop to do push ups, smoke cigars, or twirl guns. Here, units stand woodenly until stiffly marching off to battle, and there is no sense of loss when these tin soldiers die. Even the drummer who urges men to battle fails to stir any pangs of guilt when he gets dropped in the first volley.
Similarly, the AI seems unfinished. Ranged units can pick off unsuspecting targets with ease, but if any melee units attack, even the most basic swordsmen, all is lost. The ranged units under attack march off a few paces and move a few more when attacked again, without returning fire. A few of the scenarios start with only a group of these vulnerable units, making it difficult to survive to the next scripted section of gaining reinforcements.
Animation aside, graphics are mostly decent. Sea battles are extra fun, especially if it involves two giant flotillas finally coming to blows. In fact, Cossacks: European Wars provides some of the best big battle visuals to date. There isn't much slowdown when hundreds of units advance on an equal number of defenders. Animation concerns give way to spectacular slaughters and tug-of-war battles that shift with the next wave of reinforcements. With that many soldiers, it is hard to quibble about missing arm motions; there is simply too much chaos.
Sound is abysmal. There's no soundtrack to speak of, and fights that should rage with fury only whimper weakly. Cossacks: European Wars offers a host of buildings missing even the most basic production sounds, like a mine with workers digging or barracks with soldiers training. Even a modest attempt at voice acting would have been a welcome oasis in this audio desert.
With so many units, upgrades, and nationalities, it's no surprise that the army and researched improvements balance is off in the Skirmish and Single Player modes. The campaigns are tightly scripted, penalizing you for exploring instead of seeking ground to build a base or finding a village with reserves. Usually, only one of many paths will end in success; others lead to fatalistic fights, even in the first few campaigns. Likewise, the computer will send an early attack that must be defended against within the first few minutes of any level. After that, however, you're allowed to raise a massive army to raze all enemies that get in the way.
The final balance issue deals with the five resources, which are too many for most players to manage effectively. Existing forces use these resources quickly and upgrades seem unbalanced as well, being either way too expensive to purchase or ludicrously cheap for what it does.
Graphics: Very nice details, but the animation seems under cooked. Sea battles and large attacks are very well done. However, you build up no attachment to soldiers due in part to lack of individuality, even in unique units.
Sound: Where are the cannon and musket shots, or the screams of dying men proclaiming the brutality of war? Even the most basic sounds are MIA.
Enjoyment: Once the correct path is established in the single player game, the depth becomes more apparent. Multiplayer games promise a better experience.
Replay Value: While the scenarios and campaigns will take quite a while to finish, the idea of being able to fight through historic battles against a human opponent will likely extend shelf life more.
How to run this game on modern Windows PC?
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Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, Cossacks II: Battle for Europe, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Age of Empires III, Command & Conquer: Generals, Corsairs: Conquest at Sea, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, American Conquest
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