Last year's Toy Soldiers was a surprise hit for Microsoft and developer Signal Studios. Released in the spring of 2010, Toy Soldiers combined the strategy of tower defense with the action of an arcade shooter. Inspired by the battles of World War I, the original Toy Soldiers had players fighting it out between the Germans and the Brits on pint-sized model battlefields. For Toy Soldiers: Cold War, the concept remains the same, except now the timeframe is the mid-'80s, and the superpowers battling it out are the Russians and the USA.
The game's campaign mode is played out over 11 different levels, with the goal of each being simple survival. Wave after wave of enemy forces attack your base, each trying to invade your toy box. Keep them away to win the level. If a few sneak through, it's still possible to claim victory, but as soon as 20 opposing forces make it through the front door, it's game over.
Setting up your defenses is done by placing units on preselected build pads, which are strategically placed around the level. There are two sizes of pads, small and large. Any type of unit can be built on a large pad, but large units (such as antiaircraft guns) cannot be built on the small pads. In the early game, you are limited in which units you can use, though new unit types quickly unlock as you progress through the game.
Because unit placement is fixed, the strategy is in figuring out the best combination of forces for each area. Do you put your machine guns in front of your antitank guns, or do you place them behind the antitank guns? Should unit types be mixed, or matched? The answers to these questions will change from level to level, as the layout of the map and the specific terrain will determine the path that the enemy soldiers take to get to your base. Making good use of natural choke points is a smart way to swing the advantage into your favor.
All units start out at a basic level, but can be upgraded to more powerful versions. Unit upgrades span three levels, with level three units doing the most damage. The catch is in the cost, however, as upgraded units seem to die just as easily as basic units. This forces you to keep on your toes and make sure that damaged units are repaired quickly. Rebuilding a level-three unit from scratch is going to cost a lot more than just fixing it up after a battle.
One aspect of the game that's new is the addition of barrages, which are special power-ups that appear after you've successfully taken out a series of opponents in quick succession. Think of them as a basic version of the kill streaks that can be found in Call of Duty: Black Ops. Many are area of effect, such as a bombing run or nuclear strike, but one in particular stands out from the rest, and that is the commando.
The commando is basically a super-powered version of Rambo. He looks like Rambo, is voiced by a Sylvester Stallone impersonator, and he kicks much ass. For 60 seconds, you can take the commando pretty much anywhere on the map and use him to blast the enemy to smithereens while you spout catchphrases.
Sadly, not everything in Toy Soldiers: Cold War is as polished as Rambo. Specifically, the friendly AI could use a bit of work. In the original Toy Soldiers, you had the option of manually controlling any unit to increase its precision. It was a tactic that was used primarily to increase scores or improve level times, but it wasn't required to win. In Toy Soldiers: Cold War, micromanaging your units is an absolute necessity because the friendly AI is downright horrid at its job. Meanwhile, the enemy AI is quite aggressive, so trying to take a hands-off approach is a sure way to get overrun.
This style of micromanaging play wouldn't be that bad if there were an easy way to quickly switch from unit to unit, but such is not the case. You can cycle through all of the units in your army, or swap around by pulling out, moving the cursor across the map and then jumping into your new unit. It's a UI maneuver that is both clunky and slow. In the early levels, it wasn't a big deal, but in the later game, trying to micromanage an entire board becomes frustrating.
Another issue is the game's length. With only 11 campaign maps, an average player can complete it in around five hours, which is shorter than the original. In order to extend the play time, Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers up minigames, survival mode and multiplayer.
The minigames are six different points-based challenges that are based on units used in the campaign. For example, one minigame has you shooting enemy soldiers with the machine gun as quickly as possible. Another has you firing a rocket and then trying to navigate it through a tunnel of spinning barricades. Minigames have their own leaderboards. Survival mode has you facing off against endless waves of oncoming soldiers across three levels, while multiplayer provides both co-op and competitive play.
Even though Toy Soldiers: Cold War has a few new features, it doesn't seem to have quite the depth of the original. Mix in a few technical issues (the game crashed to the dashboard when loading a level for us), and it's something that can't get a universal recommendation. If you've played through the original Toy Soldiers and loved it, then Toy Solders: Cold War is sure to please. For someone new to the series, however, stick with the original. It's easily the better of the two.
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