Monday, August 22

Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review (X360) - Passive-Aggressive Tower Defense starring Sylvester Stallone

The original Toy Soldiers - released early last year - featured World War I-themed tower defense gameplay with a twist: players could take control of towers to make more effective use of their respective abilities. Not being a huge fan of the genre, I didn't indulge in anything past the trial. This different approach showed promise, however, and all it really needed was a hint of colour and familiarity to click with me. Developer Signal Studios must have been reading my mind, as Toy Soldiers: Cold War is oozing with Eighties action hero bombast.

The Good
Toybox - Cold War is like a trip down memory lane. An uncanny amalgamation of Sly Stallone across every Rambo film, a mass of plastic vehicles and G.I. Joe-inspired packaging await any Eighties child with an Xbox 360 and an internet connection. All of the game's warzones are a heart-warming mix of familiar global landmarks and domestic locales. Whether it was in the training mission where you're breaking Russian dolls with a minigun, or towards the end when you're defending a scale miniature Washington Monument, I kept thinking back to the days when all I wanted was a Turtle Van, Optimus Prime and a Dino Riders T-Rex. It's odd that this game has created such a strong sense of nostalgia given that no popular toys are explicitly represented.

Got it on tape? - Toy Soldiers: Cold War features some strong sound design that will have you in stitches on occasion. No matter how many times I heard it, the "Commando" unit always evoked a wry smile if not a full-bodied laugh. As above, he's an unashamed Rambo clone, complete with hilarious quotes and Stallone-esque wails and battle cries. The score is chock full of epic action movie riffs and more cheese than you could ever need. It definitely does justice to its multiple inspirations which include: Rambo, Top Gun, Rocky IV and G.I. Joe. 

They drew first paint, not me.

On the ground and in the air - Each of Cold War's numerous turrets and vehicles all feature intuitive and responsive controls that encourage extended play. I got through the campaign in two reasonably lengthy sessions and found that despite the repetition, the frantic action and numerous Barrage abilities - which include summoning the aforementioned commando, an AC-130-esque gunship, nukes and more - made for an entertaining experience that is easy to recommend.

Gift set - Cold War offers quite a lot of bang for the 1200 Microsoft Point price tag. While the online competitive mode is near unplayable, you have a five hour campaign that includes eleven missions and five difficulty modes, survival mode - which can be played solo or in local or online co-op - and an assortment of minigames. Survival mode may only feature three maps, but I found the hectic twist on the formula to be quite addictive.

The Bad
Cake walk - I only failed once throughout the entire campaign on Normal difficulty, and that just happened to be in the first mission. You'll very rarely be challenged on the default difficulty setting, particularly in levels which have drivable vehicles available. Seasoned defenders may want to start on hard.

Air support is perhaps a little too supportive

Out of the way, please - The default camera setting in Cold War is just a little too close to the action. If it weren't for the helpful indicator on screen that shows how many of each enemy are left in a particular wave, you'd find that an unacceptable amount of traffic would slip through to the keeper (or toy box in this instance). Even with the indicator, it is easy enough to miss an enemy unit on dark or cluttered maps. The camera also has a tendency to get stuck behind structures when you're flying or driving vehicles.

The Ugly
Catch up! - Toy Soldiers: Cold War features a promising online versus mode which is completely undone by connectivity issues and unplayable levels of lag. I joined just over a handful of matches which either came to an early end due to losing the connection or my opponent quitting on account of the stuttering mess on screen. When I say promising, I don't mean to say that it would necessarily work with a solid connection either. The one match I did play to the end featured a ten minute stalemate that was only resolved when I placed my controller on the coffee table and made some lunch. The groundwork for an enjoyable adversarial mode is there, but the developers need to think about giving some incentive for going on the attack.  

Stick to your strength - After completing each campaign level, players unlock the ability to play through again in "General" mode. General mode takes away the ability to control vehicles and turrets, meaning that it plays like every other tower defense game with one glaring difference: tower AI in Cold War is set at one notch below "completely inept." So many times I witnessed enemies walking within range of a whole field worth of turrets and not come under fire. Frustration guaranteed!

The Verdict
Toy Soldiers: Cold War offers hours of fun and little in the way of irritation. The cheesy Eighties vibe that permeates throughout every battle, menu and load screen is thoroughly relatable and likeable. While I wouldn't bother taking the game online, there's still plenty of content to play through and it's well worth the price of admission. A fitting end to the Summer/Winter of Arcade promotion.   

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