As we grow older, most of us tend to reminisce about our childhoods, including our favourite toys from those formulative years. While kids today have a lot of options at their fingertips (provided that their parents are willing to spend the required dough), children from previous generations grew up with much simpler inventions, like toy cars and little green army men. It’s the latter we’ll focus on here, because the iconic plastic soldiers are back in digital action, thanks to Signal Studios’ Toy Soldiers: War Chest.
The third game in the popular and critically acclaimed series, War Chest is the first in its lineage to be multiplatform. While its peers were only available on the Xbox 360, through Xbox Live Arcade, this scatterbrained follow-up is available digitally and at retail, for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.
As someone who loved Toy Soldiers: Cold War, I was eagerly anticipating getting my hands on Toy Soldiers: War Chest. After all, Signal Studios seemed incapable of doing any wrong. Alas, I now regret getting so excited over this game, because — although its marketing made it look awesome, what with cool armies and tons of 1980s fan service — the end result is a disappointing affair. Not a bad one, per se, but an incohesive shadow of its predecessors.
While the series’ familiar action-defence gameplay returns, it’s lost its edge and isn’t nearly as fun as it used to be. Blame it on flawed turret AI that prevents computer controlled guns from reloading properly or defending as well as they used to, an everything but the kitchen sink approach to development, or potential free-to-play origins, there’s definitely something amiss here.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest is also frustratingly difficult and uneven throughout its campaign. Because of this, you’ll never really know what to expect and will likely want to pull your hair out from time to time like I did. However, when it wasn’t frustrating me, I had some fun with it and was reminded of why I liked this series so much.
The marketing push behind this game exuberantly highlights its eight different armies, four of which are only available in its more expensive version, or as pricey paid DLC. The list includes the returning Kaiser Army, which we’ve become quite familiar with over the years, and is lengthened by the cutesy, rainbow and bubble-loving Starbright faction, as well as the devilish Dark Side and futuristic Phantom militia. Those four are all included in the base version of the game, whereas armies based on Cobra, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe and Assassin’s Creed are all available to those who are willing to pay more.
Only the standard version of War Chest was made available for review purposes, so I can’t comment on the DLC from a hands-on perspective. However, I did play against its licensed factions in different survival challenges, and they didn’t look to be all that special. What I’ve heard also correlates my opinion, because it’s been said that those armies are basically just themed skins, as opposed to anything unique.
Because of the above, I spent my time playing through the game’s one (yes, there’s just one for all factions) campaign as the four included groups. Only the Kaiser Army was unlocked from the beginning, though, so it was my first choice and the one I stuck with from the tutorial through to the second mission, during which I was able to try out Phantom.
The third mission was the first problematic one that I encountered, and since it was technically their first mission, I chose to use the Dark Side. It took several tries to beat the thing, too, because its boss was a cheap pain in the ass. Over that time, I managed to level up the Dark Lord and his pals — which include monstrous catapults and needle shooters, as well as an arrow-based air defence turret — so I continued to use them going forward. It made sense, because they were much further ahead of the others and I’d unlocked more of their upgrades by levelling up and spending in-game currency.
What a mistake that was.
As I progressed, I started to get more and more frustrated. Why? Because of the awful arrow-shooting air defence turrets I made mention of above. Enemies would send wave upon wave of powerful jets, helicopters and other such creations at me, and I couldn’t hurt them much at all. That led to lots of lost health, because almost all of the aerial opponents would find their way into my toy box. It also didn’t help that it was noticeably more difficult to unlock my heroes in this game than it was in the last.
I was close to giving up on the game, because I thought that all of the armies would be the same and that things were just too difficult, but I stuck with it and switched to my lower-levelled Phantoms. It was a good decision on my part, because even though I did find some rather cheap engagements between then and the end of the campaign, Phantom’s power was a great asset that allowed me to remain competitive.
War Chest‘s level design is a bit wonky and all over the place, too, so you won’t really know what you’re in for with each mission until you try them. Some will allow you to place turrets on an open field, while others will have enemy placements blocking your way. Others will open things up crazily, block you in or have multiple pathways for enemies to go down, which can get really frenetic. Then, there’s the aforementioned survival challenges, which pit you against an onslaught from each DLC army and task you with seeing how long you can survive for.
The uneven campaign isn’t Toy Soldiers: War Chest‘s only gameplay mode, as there’s also mediocre online multiplayer, co-op play and a weekday skirmish mode that presents daily challenges. Nothing about this game is well explained, though, and it really feels as if you’re just thrown to the wolves once you start the thing. The menu is especially convoluted, and it quickly became apparent that Ubisoft wants you to spend real world money to unlock not only new armies, but also new toys and upgrades for them. When I went into the store, I noticed that there was an option to buy more in-game currency for upwards of $19.99, which is ridiculous. Please don’t do that.
It honestly seems as if Toy Soldiers: War Chest started as a free-to-play game and then changed its focus part-way through development. Either way, it needed more time in the oven, because what’s presented here isn’t technically great. It’s not only convoluted and scatterbrained, but also has a frame rate that struggles to keep up with the action. Add in the flawed turret AI, an unchangeable aspect ratio that stretches past the limits of my TV and the publisher grabbing at your wallet, and you have a game that’s tough to recommend.
That said, assigning such a game is admittedly tough, because there are definitely good aspects in play here. It’s just that, throughout the majority of Toy Soldiers: War Chest, the negatives overshadow the positives. I’m disappointed and a bit mad, because this should’ve been a much better experience given Signal Studios’ pedigree.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a very disappointing follow-up to two of the best downloadable Xbox 360 games out there. Not only does it run poorly, but it's cheap, convoluted and out for your wallet with unnecessary microtransactions. It's a shame, too, because good things are overshadowed by all of the bad.