Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review

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Tower defense games are always a favourite, but they have certainly seen a surge in popularity as of late. It almost feels like every second release on PSN or XBLA is a tower defense game, not to mention the the sea of PC games free or otherwise. Yet despite having been done to death, there are still the titles that hook you in and keep you interested; Toy Soldiers: Cold War being one of them.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War takes place on the diorama battlefield of a childhood bedroom. In line with the standard format for this genre you defend your toybox base by laying down towers in the form of turrets, such as mini machine gunners, anti-air and spraycan flamethrowers. But in addition to this tried and tested gameplay you’re given the opportunity to jump into battle yourself; taking control of your towers, tanks, helicopters, planes and even a teeny tiny Rambo, I mean uh Commando, to decimate the invading Soviet forces. And damn it’s fun.

Developer: Signal Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Xbox LIVE Arcade (Xbox 360)
Players: 2 player co-op and versus
Genre: Tower Defense
Price: 1200 Microsoft points
Release: August 2011

Toy Soldiers: Cold War is the sequel to, surprisingly, Toy Soldiers. While the first game focused on the WWI battles of British and German toys sets, TS:CW enacts the hypothetical ‘what if’ of the Cold War that never happened between America and the USSR. The game is playable in co-op, either through Xbox Live or split-screen and while you can play the various modes by yourself, this one is worth bringing a friend in (or hopping on Xbox Live with a headset). Part of the fun of Toy Soldiers is coordinating your defense and attacks with a buddy. So if you’re a fan of co-op games then this one is definitely worth trying.

TS:CW does a great job of creating a world somewhere between a toy battlefield and the imaginary war taking place upon it. There is an abundance of little details that transport you to a childhood where hours have been spent putting the war miniatures and dioramas together; Loading screens which display the latest mechanical miniature tank which you then use on field (clockwork mechanisms and all); towers which look as lovingly crafted as any Warhammer 40,000 figure, although some more DIY than others with their pencil supports and firecracker; and even the odd rubik’s cube or smoker’s pip sitting in the middle of your battlefield.

Yet amidst this tiny world you’re part of the real battle these toys are undertaking, you see the shells flying across the battlefield, jets barrel-rolling in the sky and helicopters using night vision to shoot down enemy troops (who are busy jumping with glee as they near your toybox!) This game feels like the play-world of a child who watched a lot of Rambo movies (probably when they shouldn’t have) then grew up to be part of the Call of Duty or Battlefield development team.

 

The main campaign sees you fight across various battlefield play sets; defending your toybox from the soviet waves. As per usual you build towers to destroying the enemies, destroy the enemies to get money, then spend money to build/upgrade towers. It’s a good system. TS:CW also adds destructible environments to the mix; so if you’re ever strapped for cash or you know, like blowing things up, then lay waste to the surrouding buildings, cars and environment to earn yourself a little something on the side.

As well as destroying your enemies for money, you can earn timed barrages; unique special attacks that let you call in the artillery, bombers planes and even Rambo himself. I must say, I will never tire of seeing ‘The Commando’ jump out of his toy-packaging to yell “THIS ONE’S FOR YOU JIMMY” as I proceed to pull my enemies from the sky with a rocket launcher and machine gun. Playing fields also feature battery-operated vehicle (various tanks, helicopters and even jets) that you can take control of for a limited time. There is no cost in using the vehicles, but you either need to let them charge up when they run low, or collect the limited on-field batteries to keep them running.

The campaign is available on Casual, Normal or Hard mode first time round. As you proceed through the game the levels become more complex, you see a wider variety of enemies, and you gain access to new vehicles and barrages. For every level you complete you also unlock the Elite and General difficulty modes; I find that unlocking level difficulties as you go, rather than at the end of the entire game, is always a good  feature in tower defense as it gives you the chance to tackle the level again while it’s still fresh in your mind. Now Elite and General modes aren’t your regular ‘increase the difficulty’ kind of modes; No, these modes do not pull their punches. In Elite mode your towers do not fire automatically so grab a friend to play with, because you guys will be doing all the work. General mode takes the completely opposite stance as you cannot take control of your turrets or vehicles; instead all you can do is set them up, keep them running and hope you have a damn good strategy in place.

Not only does TS:CW have a very full campaign, but there are also versus mode, survival mode, and minigames to keep you busy. The mode titles pretty much speak for themselves; Verse mode allows you to put your skills to the test through split-screen or Xbox Live, while Survival sees you fight to the very end against the endless Soviet waves. In addition to the classic Survival mode which featured in the first Toy Soldiers Game, TS:CW adds Survival Lockdown (have to buy your build sites before towers which can get pricey in a pickle) and Hardcore Survival (no tower repairs and vehicles do not respawn; good luck soldier). Then, once you’ve finished being utterly destroyed in Survival mode, you can always take a bit of a step back and relax with some weird minigames; because when you’re a teeny tiny toy soldier, shooting practise can range from taking aim on babushka mountain ranges to fighting off waves of flies.

And as if it wasn’t enough to have the various campaign, survival, versus and minigame levels, TS:CW also throws in level-specific challenge for in-game medals and ribbons, bronze to platinum scores for each level, leaderboards to compete in and hidden ‘golden arcades’ to find in each level; so much to do, so little time.

As I’ve mentioned before, TS:CW features co-op over Xbox Live or split-screen, which is great for managing the harder levels or coordinating awesome defense strategies. Yet despite being a game that is 100% playable in co-op, there have still been some key usability issues overlooked. For example accessing co-op can be a little confusing at first; rather than having the option of ‘co-op campaign’ you must choose level select before you can add your second player. Also the tutorial is only available for a single player, so if you start up in co-op you’ll be skipped straight past the basic training. These obviously aren’t a deal breaker, but strange things to overlook.

The only other minor complaint would be that the load times are quite long and the loading screens aren’t particularly exciting. Although the screens with the toybox covers look nifty, the campaign’s story is explained in the form of a single mission debrief screen. It’s unexciting and you end up missing the ‘story’ because of a lack of desire to read the stream of text. Granted, the game doesn’t need to have a deep and meaningful story, but then why bother giving a boring explanation? Why not just stick with the playworld theme?

Overall, Toy Soldier: Cold War is an awesome co-op game. The world of battling toys is well executed, with the little details making you feel like a kid who’s fallen asleep with their head in a toybox. There is a ton of stuff to do, and a variety of modes to work through in the unlikely event that you bore of the campaign. If you like tower defense, shooters or co-op games, you should play Toy Soldiers: Cold War. Even if you don’t, you should play Toy Soldiers: Cold war anyway.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War is currently available on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 Microsoft points.

8.5 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.

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