If I ever get a chance to go back in time and peek into my toy box, I am sure I would find a literal army of little green soldiers scattered all around. A lot of my childhood memories consist of many a summer spent being the imaginary Supreme Commander General of my own little green toy army, conquering inanimate living room objects. The toy box is long gone and I am pushing thirty, but does that mean I don’t get to indulge in a childhood pastime once again? Relive the glory days of commanding my army to a decisive victory over the entrenched enemy holding out in that castle made of matchboxes? Thanks to Signal Studios, I get to have one last hurrah as an armchair General before my tottering-on-twenties self is pushed over to the thirties.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War (TSCW) is the sequel to last year’s hot selling XBL Arcade title, Toy Soldiers. TSCW moves the game from the WW1 theater to the Cold War. With the threat of nuclear annihilation looming large, you get to play through a campaign consisting of ‘what If’ scenarios set in a tower-defense and third-person shooter hybrid. What TSCW brings to the table is the ability to jump into the action by taking control of one of your defence systems. By giving you the option to actually wield one of the AA guns or a TOW launcher or even a helicopter or tank, the game pulls you in deeper rather than having you at a distance from the action going on below. It is as easy as clicking on one unit to take control, shooting down a few enemy units and then going back to tooling around with your defences, healing the damaged ones, or upgrading them to maximise their lethality.
At the core, TSCW is your typical tower-defence game. You have to defend your toy box against waves of enemies by setting up AA guns, anti-tank weapons, machine-gun nests, mortar teams, etc. at pre-determined but limited positions on the map. An element of strategy comes into play when you have to choose what weapon system to place and which ones to upgrade, for concentrating just on anti-tank weapons might backfire if you have no AA guns to take care of the enemy jets and helicopters. A neat rewind feature allows you to go back and fix your mistakes rather than having you play through the level again. Taking down the enemy gives you cash to upgrade your weapons, the trade-off being that you lose certain abilities while getting the new ones, like getting a controllable AA rocket while losing the ability to rapid-fire, keeping it all well-balanced.
Thrown into the mix are player-controlled vehicles in the form of helicopters, tanks and jets. Hop into one of these and you can lay waste to a dozen enemy units in no time. The firepower afforded by these vehicles saved my neck numerous times when I was almost at the verge of being run over. Thankfully, the game balances their lethality by making them dependent on a battery-charge that needs to be topped from time to time by placing them on a charging unit or flying/driving through the limited number of charge boosters on the level. Running out of charge will destroy your vehicle, which then entails a re-spawn waiting period. The smart gamer would use the vehicles to turn the tide of war in your own favour and then return the vehicle to its charging point to be used again when needed.
Manually controlling a defence unit comes with a few extra perks aside from the accuracy that it provides. Taking down enemy units in large numbers builds up a combo meter; max it out and you get unlimited ammo and with reloads as long as you can keep the combo going. At certain points, specially marked enemy soldiers or vehicles will show up. Take them down to unlock a random special weapon for a limited time, such as a bombing run or a gunner position on an AC-130. My personal favourite is the Commando. The game literally drops a shrink-wrapped Rambo-esque action figure in the middle of the battlefield. Once out of its packaging, you can control the machine-gun and RPG wielding action figure as he shoots helicopters out of the sky while mowing down waves of soldiers, spouting cheesy ‘80s action movie dialogue along the way.
It is hard to believe that all of this action is taking place on your virtual tabletop, which also happens to be littered with knick-knacks from our times. A VHS tape here, a floppy-drive there. The levels themselves beautifully represent places such as Mount Rushmore, an aircraft carrier, a village in Vietnam, all of which allow quiet a lot in terms of destructibility. Buildings can be demolished and trees blown off to give you a better view of the next wave of enemies. Certain levels throw in a boss fight as well against impossibly fantastic bosses like a mega flying tank. Graphically, the game looks beautiful for an XBL Arcade title. There is not much in terms of music, except for a music track that will be instantly familiar to any one who has ever watched Top Gun or any of the war movies from the ‘80s.
If you want more bang for your buck, you have the survival-based mini-games and a very well done multiplayer and online/off-line co-op experience. Playing through the campaign with a friend can be really fun, especially when one gets to mind the weapon emplacements while the other mans the weapons or the vehicles. There is also a competitive multiplayer option that you can take online, where, besides creating defensive emplacements, you can also send out waves of attacking units. Both defence and attack cost money, which throws up interesting strategies when going against an online opponent sending waves upon waves of enemies at you. Signal Studios have managed to add a surprisingly well made multiplayer experience to what was already a great single player game.
There are some bumps along the way in form of a camera that can get frustrating at times and AI that could have used some more intelligence, but these are minor issues. Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers a beautiful blend of the strategic thinking of a tower defence game and the immersive action of a fast-paced shooter, capped off with excellent multiplayer and co-op capabilities. The sheer pleasure of re-living your childhood days is an added bonus and well worth the admission price.