Lasting for decades, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union is well known for being a war where no casualties were incurred by either side. In fact, not even one battle took place during its entire run. Instead, it was a battle of the mind, as each side tried to outsmart the other one, always watching for a slip up or reason to attack.
Luckily for all of us, there never was a good reason to use the powerful missiles and other types of weapons that both sides stockpiled during these years. Who knows how different this world would be if one little thing had changed, sparking all out conflict with munitions placed in various worldly locations. Though, most of us would probably rather not even think about that.
The folks at Washington-based Signal Studios decided to explore the idea of all-out Cold War conflict with their latest game, Toy Soldiers: Cold War. The sequel to last year’s hit Arcade game, Toy Soldiers, it advances several decades to tell a fictional story of a real-life event. Battles are waged across the world in creative locations such as the jungle, in front of the Egyptian pyramids and even on the front stoop of the White House. Each one of course, being fictional due to its combat free inspiration. However, despite being a war without weaponry being fired, it’s still a great inspiration and an interesting backdrop that doesn’t get used often.
What Toy Soldiers: Cold War does so well is that it brings amazing large-scale battles to a small-scale world. You see; every second of the military barrages, turrets roaring and thunderous anti-aircraft projectiles flying, takes place in a diorama world. One that doesn’t feature real people – instead using some well-known kids’ toys: army men, wind up tanks and toy planes.
At least, digital likenesses of all of those. All battling it out amidst dioramas that look like their worldly inspirations but instead happen to be built on a desk, inside a pinball machine or on someone’s floor. Though, that isn’t to say that the battlefields are small. The game supports co-op and has some nice-sized environments that fit its inclusion well.
During the several hours I spent with this title, I found its style and over-the-top action similar to an eighties action flick. The idea of being stealthy or using finesse is thrown out the proverbial window, in favour of balls to the wall action. The dioramas are constantly filled with the aroma of gun powder and the rattling sound of explosions, sometimes losing some of their environmental items or buildings to the carnage. All the while, cheesy but great music plays, keeping your wartime spirits high. This game walks a fine line between being relatively realistic and keeping the solemnity of war, while never taking itself too seriously.
Upon paying the fifteen dollar admittance fee, players can expect a ton of content to shoot, bomb and completely annihilate. The campaign itself is spread over 11 separate missions of varying difficulties. Though they ramp up in challenge, the goal is always the same: protect your toy box (or two) from an onslaught of U.S.S.R. forces. As this is a tower defense game, the enemy units come in varying types through a wave dispersal system. One wave will come at a time, while another one gets ready in the background. If you’re too slow, they’ll add onto one another, or you can choose to be brave by allowing a second one to drop in before its clock has fully finished. The end point award is certainly better if you go the faster route, but it’s an added challenge as you’d expect.
Those familiar with this series know that Toy Soldiers: Cold War isn’t your average defensive game, like most other tower defense titles. Like the others, it’s important to place different types of defenses in the provided building spots. However, things are different here because you’re actually able to jump into the different turrets, anti-tank weapons, anti-air defense weapons and vehicles that you place.
The need to place your weapons strategically remains, as do a lot of the other genre conventions, though it’s also important to try to help out the cause by using your skills to accurately pick off the enemy as he approaches. Though, those who wish to play it like its competition can do so in general mode; a fourth difficulty option that prevents players from shooting their own placements.
A cool featured added in here is the ability to unlock military barrages, which act as power-ups or special moves if you will. These range from the usual artillery bombardments to the all-powerful nuclear bomb and a badass army man. The latter is arguably the best one of the bunch and happens to be my personal favourite out of the options, though a spinning wheel chooses which one you’ll get to use.
Resembling Arnold Schwarzenegger or a G.I. Joe action figure, this plastic wrecking crew packs quite a whallop with over-powered machine guns and a rocket launcher. If you’re in a bind, all of the available choices will help, but the most action-packed and interactively amazing one comes in an action figure form, complete with a set of packaging that he drops in with and proceeds to break out of.
Each unit that gets past your defenses and enters the dark and gaping tunnel entrance of your toy box hurts your health bar. Instead of having a specific limit of troops allowed to make it through, Toy Soldiers: Cold War awards different damage amounts to each type of unit that enters the battlefield. If enough break through, it’s game over, though there’s a neat option to rewind back to a previous wave if you feel the need to try something over again. Missions are graded based on your ability to keep foes out, as well as the time you took, the amount of money you saved or squandered and the unique secondary challenge goals you may have completed. There’s incentive to do your best, but you’re not punished for rewinding. Though it isn’t allowed on general difficulty.
In addition to its several hour long campaign, Toy Soldiers: Cold War features three different game modes for you to try your skills at. There’s an assortment of fun and challenging minigames which happen to be relatively addictive. Plus, a difficult survival mode where players can see how long they can hold out against an ever pressing enemy.
Though, a lot of gamers will be most excited to hear that there’s an online versus mode. One that allows two players to battle it out to see whose forces are the strongest. The last one standing wins, with some altered rules such as special waves and vehicles needing to be purchased. These three extra options provide a decent amount of extra content and some good replay value, although I must admit that the campaign was my favourite part of the package.
The development team did a good job of creating an interesting world, full of visceral and entertaining combat that has a challenge option for every type of gamer. Once you finish, it’ll be hard not to delve right back in to try to get a better score or earn the commendations (secondary objectives) you may have missed the first time around.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a very good game. In fact, it’s one of the better downloadable releases I’ve played in quite a while. However, it isn’t perfect. The frame rate occasionally slows, missiles occasionally will go through a target and it seemed like the explosive weapons didn’t pack enough punch against the on-foot soldiers. Of course, all of these issues are quite minor.
Presentation-wise, it excels. There’s an obvious homage being paid to over-the-top action movies such as the explosion-packed titles that flooded the genre in the eighties and early nineties. It melds well with a relatively realistic and nice-looking visual approach during gameplay, with all of its life-like explosions. For a game that has a bunch of little green men trying to kill each other, this one certainly feels a lot more realistic than its ilk. Of course, the cheesy soundtrack adds a bit of character, adding some colour to the grim sound effects.
Those who have been awaiting the release of Toy Soldiers: Cold War will certainly fall in love immediately after they press the start button. It’s a creative, fun and challenging tower defense game with a ton of action to boot. Each new level introduces new challenges, waves and boss fights to the mix, though it always remains accessible.
Although there are a couple issues that prevent this experience from being a five star affair, it’s obvious that a lot of love and care went into its development. To say that it’s the dream of just about every red blooded child who ever set foot in a sandbox with army men would be an understatement. For those who love the smell of burning plastic army men in the morning, Signal Studios would like to salute you. Their team deserves to be saluted on a job well-done.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War will be released on August 17, 2011.