The 1980’s; the decade that gave us the Compact Disc, Ferris Bueller, and Eddie Murphy was still funny (hard as that may be to believe). Now Signal Studios aims to bring a slice of that 80’s flavor back into our lives in the form of Toy Soldiers: Cold War for Xbox Live Arcade.
Set across eleven maps, Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a wave based take on the Real Time Strategy genre, a formula which won many fans with the original outing and was packed with considerable charm by being set amongst a child’s toy box. Having established the First World War setting in the original game, this sequel is set firmly in the 80’s, replete with cultural references from the time laid on thicker than the Leroy from Fame’s leg warmer (ask your mum and dad kids).
From the title screen with its clear homage to the Top Gun theme, doing a passable impression of the Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens classic (sans the profusely backcombed hair, tight silver jump suits and dry ice), through to the layout of the levels littered with icons of the time (video tapes, C90 audio cassettes, viewfinders, etc.), the game leaves you in no doubt as to the era it attempts to evoke. It also provides the backdrop for the opposing forces, with America locked in the titular Cold War against the Communist forces of Russia and, to a latter extent, China.
Starting out the player is limited to how many units can be deployed until all the enemy soldiers, tanks, aircraft etc that are contained within a wave are successfully dispatched. This in turn earns cash which is placed into the players fighting fund to use on upgrades. As well as various turrets the player has access to combat modifiers in the form of Barrages, earned after taking control of a turret/vehicle and accruing a 40x multiplier. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Kill Streaks earned in the Multiplayer portion of online shooters like Call of Duty, these can be anything from Air Strikes that seem to be lifted straight from Modern Warfare’s C-130 flight deck (complete with night vision and dialogue), right up to a Tactical Nuclear strike, which predictably offers up the most devastating solution to dealing with the invading Communist forces. While that might be the most powerful at the players disposal, this reviewer won’t spoil what is undeniably the best Barrage, leaving it a secret for those who want to come to the game fresh. Especially as it provides yet another lovely nod towards the era.
The sheer quality and charm of the characterisation evident in Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a definate highlight. From the way that enemy troops pirouette when struck down, mimicking the OTT death throes seen in a million action movies, through to watching a Soldier balance a shell in the palm of their hand as they wait for the next wave to hove into view, it can be a real treat to zoom in and watch events unfold.
The volume of data that Toy Soldiers: Cold War tracks of can be bewildering at times, with every last shell, every second spent in a particular vehicles and lots more accounted for in stats that crop up in loading screens. To add to this list of features, Decorations can be earned across each level, requiring a specific set of actions to be instigated to meet the requirements. While sounding superfluous, these actually help to point out the finer aspects of combat scenarios and how to efficiently handle resources throughout the various waves.
Even the biggest apologist for the original would have to admit that the way aircraft controlled was a tad hit or miss. This time round, aeronautical adventures are much more polished and refined. The Attack Helicopters almost bring to mind the seminal Desert Strike whilst laying waste to opposing forces, and it’s almost impossible when soaring high above the ground in a fighter Jet not to start humming Kenny Loggin’s Danger Zone, reminiscing about the film Top Gun and the days before Tom Cruise turned into a Xenu-spouting couch-botherer. The devastating force of these aerial attacks is cut short by the need to find batteries which are in sparse supply throughout the level, so tactically choosing where and when to hop into a passing aircraft comes into play.
The original Toy Soldiers could be a tad unforgiving on times, so with this in mind Signal Studios has made a few concessions with the overall aim of making it far more approachable for newcomers. Even the most cack-handed player will finish the game in a couple of sittings on the default (normal) difficulty and, even if people do run into trouble, the inclusion of Wave Rewind will come to their aid as it allows mistakes to be corrected without the need to restart the entire map, freeing players up to experiment with relative impunity. For those looking for a challenge, there is the ability to replay on harder difficulty settings or, for a deeper experience, the General difficulty removes the ability to control units directly meaning that each unit must be placed with due care and attention.
In addition to the campaign there are assorted mini games to contend with, but most won’t hold the attention of many outside of competing with friends via the leaderboards. Thankfully it retains the Multiplayer aspects of the original, with the ability to play couch-General with a friend or via Xbox Live. There’s no excuse not to rope at least one friend, whether in the real or virtual sense, for some fiercely contested battles for domination or to team up co-operatively.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War might be over quicker than Jason Donovan’s musical career, but there are a slew of features that provide additional entertainment once the main event has finished, making it an experience that might just… *ahem*… take your breath away.