Toy Soldiers: Cold War: review

 

America’s cheesy action figures of the 1980s are raising their plastic weapons amid shouts of battle, no doubt tired of posing in manly stances on forgotten shelves and raring to recreate the Cold War. This tower (or, rather, toy box) defence game is as dependant on action as it is strategy, and stands as one of the most feature-complete games to hit the XBLA marketplace in some time.

Set in diaramas scattered with VHS cassettes and keytars, waves of communist soldiers will march at your toy box, and it is your sole duty to keep their freedom-hating feet from entering it. They’ll stop at nothing to blow your forces into chunks of smouldering plastic as they send in ATVs, air-drop men from helicopters, and even employ laser-equipped tanks. You have a pre-set number of areas to build stationary units, but the lack of mobility is handily made up for with sheer firepower.

"We can't get a clear line of fire! They're toying with us, sir!"

You can hop a unit’s turret whenever you like, ranging from the infantry-feared machine gun to the far-reaching artillery, and blast away at the frenetic battlefield. These machines can also be modified with game-changing upgrades, which can turn the tides of a battle altogether. It’s a ton of explosive fun to man the weapons yourself, but nothing will get fixed or built while you’re punching holes in APCs, so careful management between the overhead camera and hands-on experience is the quickest way to victory.

Mowing down the Soviet Union without missing a beat will raise your combo meter, earning you cash and eventually special support units (most notably the ridiculous Rambo knock-off complete with an electric action movie soundtrack). Balancing cash flow between new units, upgrades, and repairs is a vital process, but as the battle heats up and the money streams in, weapon placement takes precedence. You have a limited amount of space, and knowing where and when to bring in the mortars could very well save the western world as we know it.

"It was funny the first six times you screamed 'YOU WANT A WAR? I GIVE YOU A WAR!' Now it's just... okay, it's still pretty funny."

Separate from this capitalist system are the battery-operated vehicles that can be directly controlled but lose energy at an alarming rate, forcing you to either collect batteries or let them recharge for a bit. Although wildly enjoyable to use, the war can sometimes rely too heavily on these powerhouses, especially during the final mission’s hectic carnage.

Ten levels is a sturdy amount for the campaign, made better with dozens of goals to pursue. You’ll earn medals for three different categories per missions (defence, aggression, and profit), which factor into a total score at the end. Clever shifts in strategy will do wonders for a shinier medal, and you can warp back to any previous wave if you think you’ve made some terrible mistake. With no penalty at all, this option can be abused, but starting from scratch would be a harsh alternative. There are bunches of specific tasks to complete per level, all of which are well worth fighting for, along with some challenging achievements to round it out.

"'Get to the choppa! ...'80s movie, helicopter, action hero. It fits. Sorry."

Of course, that’s just the campaign. A versus mode pits two players against one another, allowing them to build both defensive and offensive units, which changes the dynamics entirely. Survival mode throws endless waves of enemies your way in a test of endurance, and a handful of mini-games lets you compare scores against your friends’. Everything mentioned above, including the campaign, can be played in both online and offline multiplayer. If there’s one thing you’ll get out of this game, it’ll be your money’s worth.

Swapping seamlessly between turrets and hastily upgrading anti-tank encampments is pulled together with class, deftly avoiding a confusing mash of warring gameplay conventions. Some of the finer details could have been explained better and there are times when the shooting side of the game overrides the tactics, but these minor issues are crushed beneath the tank treads of greatness. Toy Soldiers: Cold War takes a neat concept, wraps it in an rad ’80s vibe, and runs with it, concluding with an excellent value that shouldn’t be missed.


 

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Written by Stephen K

A lover of video games in general, Stephen will happily play just about any sort of game on just about any sort of system, especially if it's a platformer or an RPG. Except sports games. Sports games are boring.

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