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Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes lads
  • Pentium 200 or greater
  • 32MB RAM
  • DirectX compatible video card
  • 400MB harddisk space
  • Windows 95/98/2000/NT4 with Service Pack 4

I think it's safe to say Cossacks is the most historically accurate RTS I have ever laid eyes on. The featured battles in the game have all been researched and the maps you battle on, plus the units provided to both sides, are as they were during the period. The single player campaigns menu present you with five choices: an English campaign featuring large portion of naval warfare, a Ukrainian War of Independance, a French campaign during the 30 years war and a Russian campaign during it's battles with Europe in the 18th Century. The fifth choice is a tutorial, which teaches you everything you need to know about handling, managing, ordering and creating your troops on the battlefield. Without this tutorial, I doubt many would get into the game, considering the size of the manual!

After reading about the huge amount of units present in the game I wondered how many nations were actually featured in Cossacks. The answer? Sixteen entire nations, all with their own technology trees, all with their own units and buildings, and every one of them playable. Age of Empires, eat your heart out (with a spoon!)

Once into the game itself, my somewhat meagre amount of starting forces looked just like toy soldiers! Bear in mind these soldiers were quite willing to shoot down the light cavalry now approaching at speed, which they promptly did without any intervention on my part. The detail I observed here was amazing - each puff of gunsmoke was detailed when they opened fire, and when the cavalry eventually reached them, they promptly ran away and got cut to pieces. All of this was happening on a shoreline, which I have to say, possesses the most realistic looking water i've seen in a strategy game. It looks real!
The graphics are second to none, and even the presence of 300 units on the screen will not create any slowdown. They are still sprites but so minute is the detail and so well animated are the sequences that you won't even care. I suppose you could compare it to Microsofts effort in terms of the graphical detail but Cossacks really is a step up from the jerky units we've seen in previous games of this caliber. Everything is smooth and fluid, just like it should be.

The most important part of a strategy game, as I have previous emphasised on no doubt many occasions, is the control interface. Cossacks has a left-mouse select, right-mouse order arrangement. Space centres the battlefield view over the currently selected unit, and that's pretty much all you need to know. However in big battles, it can get a bit tricky to keep track of your army, but thankfully a menu system has been implemented to save the hassle of click and drag selection. CTRL-A brings up a menu containing icons of every single unit currently alive in your army, plus a number indicating how many are sill available. Simply clicking the icon selects them all, ready for ordering. Very, very handy. It certainly makes formations a lot easier to handle, as you need a specific number of troops in order to create one of the three formations available: rank, column and square. I could go on all day (and about 10 pages) talking about the units, but i'll refrain from doing so and just say that any 16-18th Century war fan will be in absolute heaven. I particularly like the multi-barrelled artillery!

While playing the game through the various missions available, I did notice the AI wasn't what you would call superb. It provides a good opposition about 95% of the time, but that other 5% sometimes leads to silly moves by the computer or just a complete lack of tactics overall. I didn't see much of this thankfully, but it remains a small point to be mentioned.

If you haven't guessed already, this is a resource based RTS. It takes a leaf from the book of Age of Empires and demands that you tend to the needs of the soldiers and their equipment. Thus, six rescources are available and must be collected if your war machine is to function properly. Wood, food, stone, gold, iron and coal are all needed at one time or another. The more troops you have, the more food you need, for example. Gold is used to purchase artillery and hire mercenaries, incase your forces have taken a beating and need quick reinforcement. All the others are used for constructing or upgrading. Yes, if you feel your death dealing masses are not doing enough damage, you can upgrade their weapons, rifles and artillery, or even train them to fight better. If you can build it, you can probably upgrade it.

The general feel of Cossacks is one of a polished, functional and addictive strategy game that will keep you coming back for more. The graphics, sound and historical background all combine to simulate a real battlefield, complete with authentic units and weapons from the period. Good tactics will lead you to victory, and underestimating your enemy will lead to a crushing defeat. Campaigns, single missions, skirmishes, multiplayer and the ability for up to 8000 units in game at once just leaves other RTSs standing in awe of Cossacks. I can't really convey how good this game is in words, you have to play it yourself to really appreciate it. The demo has been available for some time now, so what are you waiting for? Go play it!

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