"To play Cossacks II you must be a real man," claims GSC Gameworld's Oleg Yavorsky as he fires up the latest version of Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars, a build which he claims is 95 per cent complete and so challenging that only a man with iron balls and a thick curly-haired chest could play. Sadly, no such person was available, which is why I'm here - two Chinese stress balls stuck down my pants and red curly hair drawn onto my chest with a biro (the black one ran out of ink) - ready to accept Oleg's challenge and get to grips with this strategically challenging RTS sequel. It's suicide surely, but someone's gotta do it.
"The game's based around Napoleon's career, but you can play as any one of six very different nations: France, Russia, Britain, Austria, Prussia and Egypt," explains Oleg as he starts up the main Battle For Europe campaign. That explained, I choose to play as self-proclaimed military genius and liquorish-obsessed short-arse Napoleon Bonaparte.
BONA TO PICK
You can play the Battle For Europe campaign from two perspectives - a turn-based strategy map and real-time strategic battles - much like Rome: Total War, only far more basic in execution and nowhere near as visually impressive. The strategic map is divided into segments, each one delineating a province of Europe with its own unique strategic and economic strengths, and it's up to you to sweep across the land like a plague and capture the whole of Europe.
Perhaps the most distinct difference between this campaign and Rome's is that you only get to command one army, which you must move around the map on a steady course of conquest. Each province that you hold is then defended by a computer-controlled army, which
can be upgraded at a cost.
Having fortified France with a couple of extra garrisons, I set off on the warpath, moving my troops into the iron-rich lands of Austria, planning then to head east into Cossack-infested Russia after stocking up on mittens and woolly hats.
BUT FIRST, AUSTRIA
"We've made these battle sections
much more tactical than they were in Cossacks," says Oleg as I end the turn and the action switches to an isometric real-time view of the battlefield. "We didn't want to make the game too hardcore though, as some players might find that frustrating. However, we were keen on preserving the realism of battle, as we want to make you feel like a real general who should care for and preserve your troops."
As this is the start of the campaign, I only have four squads of 120 men to work with, though Oleg assures me that should I show some aptitude and progress further in the campaign, I could be commanding up to 24 squads towards the latter stages of the game. If my maths is right, this means almost 150 men, give or take the odd thousand...
Forming my troops into columns in order to cover the ground quickly - you can also form them up into the combat-effective line formation and the defensively sound but static square formation - I order the men to double-time towards a nearby outpost.
Mustering the kind of snorting mirth that only a Frenchman can fully perfect, I grunt at the pitiful band of militia guarding the outpost and order their immediate execution. A few of my men fall in the ensuing scuffle, but they're easily replenished thanks to the ability to spawn new troops at any captured outpost. Oleg informs me that each province will be filled with several of these settlements, which can be captured in order to starve the enemy of resources. Right now though, all I'm interested in is picking a fight with some lederhosen-wearing nancies.