Reviewed: January 16, 2003
Released: November 25, 2002
Exploding onto the scene of warfare, gunpowder revolutionized the way men kill each other and made the sword obsolete. Brought to you by the GSC Game World and the German CDV Software, Cossacks: Back to War (BTW) is the real-time simulation game that explores these changes in war in the 17th and 18th Centuries in the Eastern European region. Complete with a huge variety of troop types, buildings, researches and other features, this game is the coup de grace of the Cossacks series.
Back to War is the second add-on to the Cossacks series and combines features from both the previous releases plus 100 new missions to create the ultimate stand-alone compilation strategy game in perhaps the history of the genre.
Here are the features and improvements you can find in Back to War:
In one-player mode, BTW has an impressive 100 individual scenarios that test, challenge and educate players in the nuances of the game, but there is only one campaign, and that’s the tutorial. However, Back to War is really the chance for fans of the game to really hit it up on the Internet. A huge improvement over the other Cossacks games, BTW has a server provided by GSC-Game.Net, the deathmatch (taken directly from Cossacks: European Wars), an Internet rating system (taken from Cossacks: The Art of War) and two new systems, the Automated Championship and the Vizor game viewer.
The Championship is easy enough to figure out, but I particularly like the Vizor system. It basically lets players watch and record games. If you like this game enough to get good at it, Vizor is invaluable. The really good players do things so fast and so well that it’s impossible to learn by playing against them. Instead, you can record the game, and watch what steps they take and how they take them, and improve your game that way. Also, Vizor will serve as your “scout” if you play against these folks. Determine their style, and find a way to crush them by exploiting their weaknesses. Now that’s entertainment!
Back to War has some very interesting features, all the same as the rest of the Cossacks series. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the large number of tech increases in this game. Spanning the usual set of increases, a player really needs to allocate their resources well and above all else, "plan". No more just flying through the game and hitting whatever tech increase is available; pick an area you need to work on and ignore the others or you are going to be woefully short of troops.
The second feature that I really like is the importance of formations and their components, such as leaders and drummers. Sure, you can straggle troops in and march them around, but they’ll get chopped down like droids in a Jedi training exercise. However, with a good leader or two, and a drummer, your troops’ effectiveness is significantly improved.
The game controls for BTW are a lot like Chinese take-out; sweet and sour. It has a nice mix of keyboard and mouse controls that every RTS should have, and it is easy to figure out what commands are available. On the same side, the combat commands are only mouse-driven, and combat is the area in which this game excels. Considering that you’ll need to control formations quickly and precisely, it was annoying to be forced to use the mouse. On the same note, the menus are inaccessible by the mouse — you have to know the keyboard key to bring up the menu.
The graphics for this game are mostly really good. Troop movements are fluid, and your peasants actually look like their working. The coolest thing in the game is the naval units’ reflections on the water—it’s truly outstanding. However, the graphics team fell short on two points.
Firstly, the only movie is merely average, not outstanding. Secondly, and more importantly, the troops look far too similar. For example, it was very difficult to tell the difference between my musketeers my spearmen. Having my spearmen try and shoot units over a wall proved difficult, but my musketeers did a great job of being cavalry speed bumps.
The music is a little repetitive in this game, but otherwise excellent. The sound effects are pretty good for battle, but the units don’t say anything, and there is no speech at all in the tutorial. These aren’t large issues, and the sound potential is always somewhat limited in any RTS.
Cossacks: Back to War is a nice ending to the Cossacks series, but retailing for over $30.00, I expect more from a game. It has limitless time potential for multiplayer games, and about 10-20 hours or so in single player mode. While the Internet and multiplayer gaming was the focus for this game, the complete lack of campaigns is disappointing. While a few units were added they don’t really add anything new to the game.
If you have either or both of the first games then you pretty much exhausted this series unless you are simply looking for a bunch of stand-alone missions. The 100 new missions are a substantial package but not for the cost of a new game. Dedicated Cossacks players will inevitably be picking up this game, and there is enough here to keep you busy for another 50 hours or so.
Cossacks: Back to War is a quality game that is a must for Cossacks fans that want to play online or for those who haven't got involved with the series. While its biggest faults are a lack of new material, no campaign structure, and a few play issues, it is a smooth-flowing game that really excels at formation and unit combat. It is also a free-standing game that will teach newbies to the intricacies and pleasures of Cossacks. However, for single-mode players, it is less valuable than some of the earlier Cossacks productions.