Reviews

Toy Soldiers: Cold War – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 1200 MSP
Release Date: August 17th, 2011
Developer: Signal Studios
Publisher: Microsoft
Singleplayer: Yes
Co-op: Yes
Splitscreen: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

(Toy Soldiers: Cold War was provided by Signal Studios for review) 

Like the original game, Cold War is still a tower defense game at it heart, demanding you create impenetrable defenses to stop the stampeding waves of enemies from reaching your toybox, resulting in game over.  It’s the ultimate incarnation of all those childhood fantasy battles between your little plastic soldiers; waves of infantry charge across the hill, tanks trundle along the road and jets fly over head, but like your childhood daydreams, it all takes place inside a kid’s bedroom. In the background you can spy writing desks, basketballs and more, but inside the battlefield it’s all mayhem and fun.

Key to changes for this sequel is the change in setting; we’ve gone from World War 1 and jumped a massive 40 years or so to the Cold War, and that means some pretty big tech changes and several new gameplay elements to keep things feeling fun and fresh. But for those unfamiliar with the original game, let’s go back over the basic concepts; each level sees you floating around the battlefield in a God like perspective,  picking and choosing which turret to construct on which expansion slot. Behind you sits your Toybox, and your goal is to defend it against waves of enemies who will charge across the battlefield and try to get into it. Let too many in and it’s game over for you. In between waves you’ll get the chance to catch your breath, check out whats coming in the next wave and adjust your defenses accordingly, as well as upgrade and repair your existing gear.

But after the first wave you’ll most likely be wondering why any army would allow such bumbling and incompetent soldiers onto the battlefield; your machine gunners will wait an absurd amount of time before opening fire on enemy infantry and anti-tank teams won’t fire until the tanks are getting frighteningly close. I often found myself fighting the urge to turn my guns on my own troops and save myself the bother. But this stupidity isn’t due to poor AI design; it’s deliberate. It’s done to encourage you to take direct control of the weaponry yourself; a few simple button taps sees you take control of whatever weapon you’ve selected, and then you can open fire on the enemy. You won’t wait until the infantry are almost on top of you; hell no, you’ll open fire the moment you see them. In the early stages of the game, this direct control is simply helpful, but in later stages it becomes a necessity, and should you ramp up the difficulty you’ll find that your turrets won’t fire at all unless you’re controlling them. There are other benefits to being in direct control, though, as many of the turrets also have a secondary ability, ranging from the simple scope on machine guns to full guidance TOW missiles.

It’s quite the selection you’ve got to take control of too. Around the battlefield you can place machine guns, anti-tank weapons, artillery, AA guns and more. Each one has a very specific job, but in a pinch they can be used against other enemy types. Different sized expansion slots allow for different turrets to be placed, and correctly choosing what must go where is key to the game, but don’t expect a strategically deep game here; once you’ve got the basic layout design sorted in the first level, you’ll rarely have a need to change it, bar some minor mid-wave adjustments that must be made.

To construct these defenses you’re going to need some cold, hard cash, and to get it you’re going to have to mow down those enemy waves. Every enemy unit destroyed grants you more cash to spend on your defenses, from basic repairs to upgrades to make them that much more deadly. There’s a slight flaw that rears its ugly head during this base management; the controls. While the menus themselves are simple, the actual navigation of them can get clunky in the heat of battle. Selecting a unit and quickly trying to upgrade it can be cumbersome as the menus don’t react quickly enough, meaning a speedily needed repair or upgrade command will often actually find you directly controlling the turret instead. It’s not a game breaking flaw, but it’s a frustrating one when your inches away from beating a boss and need that vital turret repaired for battle.

During missions you’ll often get a helping hand from a range on controllable vehicles stationed on pads around the board. Helicopters, jets and tanks will be at your disposal and they’re all quite deadly, but each one of them runs off of a battery pack so their lifespan is short. You can return them to their starting positions to recharge their batteries, but it takes time so saving these contraptions for tough waves or boss battles is a wise choice. At times they can feel a little clunky to control, but for the most part they’re easy to get to grips with. Though getting the buggers back on the recharge pads correctly can be a little finicky.

Of all the changes in the game, Barrages make the biggest impact. Literally. Build your multiplier high enough by mowing down enough enemy units or take down Starred enemies and you’ll be rewarded by a randomly selected Barrage which provides some serious firepower for you to bring down on the field of battle. Barrages include artillery strikes that cover the map, bombing runs, controllable A-120 Gunships and more.  The star of the show is the Commando, who gets dropped onto the field in packaging you see in the toyshops and comes with a machine gun and deadly rocket launcher. He’s player controller and can lay waste to the battlefield, all the while spouting random nonsense and bearing a startling resemblance to a certain John Rambo.

From the main campaign you’ll get a total of eleven missions which will last the average player around 5 or 6 hours of play, but there’s incentive to replay each mission to get a higher score and oust your friends off the top spot. But if you’re someone who likes to play with friends then you’ll be pleased to know that the entire campaign can be played in co-op, and the difficulty doesn’t scale, so getting those harder difficulty medals will be made oh-so-much easier. Along the way through the campaign you’ll encounter a few entertaining boss fights to break up the pacing. However, there’s no second campaign available like there was in the first game.

Cold War also comes with a Survival mode, which is pretty much exactly as it sounds; you face off against endless waves of enemies and attempt to survive for as long as you can. Again, this can be played in co-op which adds some good replay value to the game.

Mini-games are also present, and while pretty simplistic they are worth a quick blast. Challenges include mowing down waves of infantry, guiding rockets through obstacles, and having a blast on a shooting range. They’re not going to amaze you, but leaderboards save the the day again by providing a nice reason to replay the challenges.

But multiplayer is where you’ll spend the majority of your time when you’re not playing the campaign. The basic game mechanics remain largely the same; defend your toybox using your array of weaponry. The difference here is that you can spend your blood money on launching waves of enemies against your hated foe on the other end of the map. It’s damn good fun, and the ability to launch waves adds a layer of depth to the overall game.

I should also mention that Cold War is quite the looker. Unlike many other war games it doesn’t go in for a dark and miserable look, instead maps tend to have a brighter color design, but still manages to have a feeling of real war. If I was feeling poetic I could even speak of how this, in many ways, reflects real war; scenes of violence taking place in beautiful locations. Bit I’m not, so instead I’ll just say that it looks damn good. The soldiers move with fluid animations powering them, making watching an anti-tank weapon firing and reloading a joy to behold.

So what do I have to complain about? Simply put, I never found the game strategically deep nor very challenging. Sure, the higher difficulty levels are actually quite tough to complete, but the fact they take away the friendly AI feels like a rather strange way increase the difficulty. Every level simply game down to making some mild adjustments and then taking control of a turret or two and holding down the trigger until everything was dead. But despite this, I had plenty of fun doing it.

What Cold War succeeds in doing is making each and every level feel like an epic, frantic last stand against the enemy hordes. Mowing down infantry with machine guns, blowing up tanks with missiles and destroying flying tanks with whatever the hell I could lay my hands on felt fun and satisfying. But most of all it does what any good sequel does; keeps the fun and charm of the original, adds in new stuff and then polishes it all up.

The Good:
+ Commando!
+ Feels like an epic last stand all the time!
+ Nailing a perfect mortar strike and watching it wipe out an entire squad.

The Bad:
– Not strategically deep.
– Loading times are a tad long.
– Sticky controls.

The Scores:

Graphics: 9
The animations are nice and fluid and the environments all look bright and interesting to look at.

Sound: 7.5
The sound effects and music all do what you’d expect, but never really amaze.

Story: 4
There’s little to say; it’s the story of the Cold War, except the Russians get a lot further than they did in real life.

Gameplay: 8.5
Not as deep as I’d like, but there’s something hugely entertaining about destroying waves of toys soldiers.

Lifespan: 8
The campaign will last around five or six hours, but throw in co-op, a few other modes and the online aspects and it has a decent amount of playtime to it.

Overall: 8.5
Summary: A worth sequel to the original game. It keeps what made the first game fun, adds in new elements to entertain and polishes up the old stuff. The result is a fun take on the tower defense games. Die toys, DIE!

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