Review: Toy Soldiers: Cold War (Xbox 360)

Toy Soldiers: Cold War
Developer: Signal Studios
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Genre: Tower Defence
Released: 08/17/2011

Were you one of those kids who played with G.I. Joe toys in the 80s? Did you faithfully watch the cartoon every day after school and cringe when you saw the movie Hollywood pooped out? Me too! Have you been waiting ever since for a game that would let you play with those toys again, sorta kinda? Me too! Guess what? It’s arrived!

Story:

Toy Soldiers: Cold War is scant on details when story is concerned. It starts in the 60s, then things hit the fan and WWIII erupts. Over numerous battlefield playgrounds, you must defend NATO and US interests against the dreaded Bolshevik menace. The story is so scarce in fact, that the only source of it, the loading screens, move too quickly for anyone to completely read the briefings. Whatever, it’s a war. With toys. Who cares about story?

Graphics:

I love the level designs. Many of them are based on real Cold War hotspots, yet they have been placed into a bed room or play room setting. It’s goofy but it works. Seeing the level based on Berlin for the first time made me take a moment just to enjoy the thought process that went into designing the level. Stages include urban centers and jungles as well as desert and beach like locations. Some of the environments are destructible.

The vehicles in game all have little clues to let you see that they are toys, like wind up pieces or visible batteries. If you see the foot soldiers up close (looking to see the whites of their eyes perhaps?) you’ll notice that they have a plastic sheen to them.

I found that some weapons cause the game to drag, making the 360’s processor chug away to get the effects on screen. The gas and flame throwers both can have an effect on the experience, depending on how many enemy soldiers are getting killed on screen at the time.

Audio:

The music found in Toy Soldiers is heavily inspired by some of the more recognizable tunes to come out of the 80s. There are screaming guitar riffs and at least one track brought me back to Top Gun’s theme before veering off to avoid a nasty collision with Copyright infringement.

There isn’t a whole lot of dialogue, but there are more than a few lines uttered by soldiers on both sides of the conflict, much of it again inspired by movies in the 80s. I had to laugh at more than a few lines, as they were clever plays on the soldiers being toys instead of people. The Rambo-like character brought a smile to my face more than a few times, for instance.

The sound effects are varied but felt a little lacking. The bass has been cut right out, leaving the rest to feel a little flat.

Gameplay/Controls:

In the primary story campaign you only control the defensive side of the battle, as the game is at it’s heart a tower defence style game. You are given key spots to build emplacements on in order to defend your toy box from the invading red menace. In order to do that you have access to a few different weapons emplacements, including machine gun nests, anti air craft weapons, anti tank weapons, artillery and mortar emplacements and lastly improvised weapons. All but the improvised weapons are based on real weapons systems that would have been in use during the cold war. As you progress through the game you can unlock newer versions of those weapons, and once you complete the game you can replay with all of your unlocked weapons available to you.

In addition to the weapons emplacements you also have access to select battery operated vehicles. Depending on the map you might have an Abrahms Tank, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, an F-14, Apache Attack Helicopter or Huey Gunship. These are found at specific locations on the map and will respawn if destroyed or if they run out of batteries. You can continue to use your vehicle for a longer period of time if you can manage to get it to one of the many batteries spread out across the battlefield. Unfortunately if you are driving a tank you obviously can’t access the airborne batteries, but for some reason if you are flying you cannot access the grounded batteries either. I can’t understand why they would force this on you, but since vehicles respawn anyway it’s not too devastating.

You can also obtain special one time events called Barrage’s by personally killing Red Star soldiers as they attack. I say personally because if one of your automated turrets does the deed you’re out of luck. Anyway, these events can be anything from a Commando unit (think Rambo) to an artillery barrage to a B-52 bombing run, even up to a tactical nuclear strike. Also, if you happen to get enough kills fast enough you can over charge your weapon to have it fire and reload much quicker than normal. This can be very satisfying when you see a wave of plastic troops wiped out right before your eyes.

The controls for the different weapons nests are all fairly similar. Some provide you with the option to fire guided munitions, while others can fire four homing weapons at a time. The different vehicles also have their specialities. They all have unlimited ammunition with limited magazines. So you unload everything you are carrying and then wait for it to reload before lobbing it all again.

The online VS mode is played slightly differently from the basic single player game. You earn money by killing enemy waves that are generated every few minutes, and can use that money to build better defences or you can buy game changing items like a heavy tank, to be controlled by you. You can also order troops to be deployed by vehicles, be they airborne in a group of helicopters or riding on ATVs. You then sit back and hope your opponent has not built up his defences well enough to stop your attack. I found more than a few games that started to drag and had players drop out due to stalemate.

I think if there was an option to win with just defence it might be more palatable for some players, but when you can see how much money your opponent has it takes a little of the guess work out of it.

Replayability:

The game comes with a number of features to enhance the desire to replay the game. There is of course an online multiplayer component that lets you face off against another person playing as one of the two sides in the war. If you have a friend you can play co-op with them or have them sit on the couch to play it with you. There are also a selection of different mini-games that make use of the toy aspect of the environment. Lastly there is also a mode, akin to Horde mode in Gears of War 2, that offers endless waves of enemy soldiers and tanks etc for you to fight. Unlike Horde mode, there is no break between waves unless you happen to kill the last wave before the next one is ready to begin.

Balance:

On the standard difficulty level, I was cruising through the game right until the very last level, where I got overwhelmed. There are five difficulty levels, of which Normal was oh, DEFCON 4 of a possible DEFCON 1. Was that too nerdy? Ok fine. Here’s an explanation. DEFCON 5 is peacetime. DEFCON 1 is full blown Nuclear War. There, now you too can be annoyed when Hollywood gets it backwards. Anyway, I’d say if you’re finding it too easy it won’t be impossible to find a level of difficulty that suits you.

Each level has its own preferred weapons placements. In other words, you may kick butt with Artillery (and really who doesn’t?) but the level may require you to choose an alternate means of defending your Toy Box. Like say, using Anti-Aircraft batteries instead, as the attack might be airborne heavy instead of ground heavy.

Some things are a bit out of whack here. Armoured Personnel Carriers are very difficult to destroy, often taking far more damage than Heavy Battle Tanks. This means weapons which should be opening them like tin can’s require five or more hits before they are destroyed. Craziness.

Originality:

Well first, this is the sequel to Toy Soldiers, which pit British and German toys against each other in a WW1 setting. There have been a few other games which have pitted toy soldiers against one another. Army Men spawned a whole franchise of games before running out of steam. There was also Toy Commander on the Dreamcast, which took a more realistic approach to the theme that this game has going on. By that I mean both games have levels taking place inside a house, for example. Toy Commander had the toys interacting with the house while this game merely uses the house setting to establish that these are toys fighting instead of humans.

So the setting has certainly been done before but I don’t believe anyone has ever combined the Cold War and the toys children played with during that period of time to make a video game, though in all honesty they really should have by now. I mean really. Talk about a no brainer. I mean even Hollywood figured it out back in the 1990s with Small Soldiers.

Addictiveness:

How addictive the game is depends on which portion of the game you are playing. The single player game (and it’s couch buddy co-op colleague) and all of the mini games can be quite entertaining. Figuring out which guns to place and what to upgrade, as well as when to upgrade and when to use your special character/vehicle to fend off an attack that is about to overwhelm your previously impenetrable defences can be quite kung-fu gripping. The online VS mode however, which should be awesome, manages to become more of a stalemate that goes on and on, and is played more like an RTS that gives you limited control over where your legions of soldiers are going.

Appeal Factor:

For a child of the 80s the appeal factor should be pretty huge, especially if they never grew up. If you still own a small collection of action figures, even if they are just for decoration now, then this game is probably going to be in your wheelhouse.

If you’re hoping for an all out action game starring those toys of your past though you may want to take pause, as the game is clearly a tower defence game that happens to give you access to the cool toys for limited amounts of time.

Miscellaneous:

The American Commando unit, and his Russian counterpart Ivan are both fantastic and should at the very least be given DLC mini-game levels so that everyone can enjoy them at a moments notice.

Toy Soldiers: Cold War has far more value for the money compared to the last Summer of Arcade title Fruit Ninja, and as both cost the same amount of money it’s pretty sad that this game will be compared to that, as this one deserves much more money.

Lastly there is online co-op to be had in this game but it’s tricky to find and you must be friends with the person in order to play with them. Instead of creating a sub menu for players to access co-op like they did with everything else in the game they force you to start the single player menu and then invite a friend into a level. I don’t know what compelled the developers to go that route but it’s annoying.

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Great
Balance: Good
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Good
FINAL SCORE:
GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:

After the initial rush of excitement that came from playing the game it starts to look more like something that could have been even better than it already is. Certain vehicles, like the F-14 could have used more polishing, as could the menus. The VS mode also takes more away from the experience than it adds, but with the right opponent can be entertaining. I hope this is not the last game in this series.

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