Way back in April of last year, we reviewed the original Toy Soldiers. When we got the review code for Toy Soldiers: Cold War. I was fully prepared for the same game over again. Equivalent units, an updated visual style, but otherwise a second edition of the original Toy Soldiers. Within the first 30 seconds of gameplay, I realized I had thoroughly underestimated Signal, because TS:CW is much, much more than that.
Like its predecessor, the visuals of Toy Soldiers: Cold War are both detailed and clever. Since the playing field is intended to be an elaborate military diorama, it has two distinct layers of realism. Up close, it seems like a reasonably detailed, if perhaps slightly stylized depiction of an actual environment. These settings range from rural, to coastal, to urban, and eventually begin to encompass famous landmarks. Stray bullets have the capacity to at least partially destroy practically everything on the map, and considering the lack of regard for historical sites that the computer’s aiming AI has, you’ll be fighting the last few waves in a devastated wasteland regardless. All told, it is really rather fitting. Certain weapons shift you into a technological targeting view style that conjures to mind certain Modern Warfare games, with the distinctive gray scale heat vision and targeting reticules.
On top of the semi-realism, however, is purposeful dose of artificiality. Glimpses of the sky let you see past the edge of the backdrop, showing the walls and ceilings of a rec room or office. Here and there scattered across the battle arena are artifacts of the era, like a massive floppy diskette or an empty soda can the size of a water tower. Vehicles have obvious RC antennas and rotating cranks. My favorite aspect is the “Makeshift” class of weapon, which was clearly rigged up by the kids playing with the figures. They consist of the hairspray flamethrower, bug spray chemical weapon, and the deadly roman candle.
As a final note of garnish for the visuals, there are neat little nods to the heavily 80’s influences. Deploying a commando drops down an action figure package that bears a suspicious similarity to the GI Joe figures of the time. The same similarity can be seen in the title logo.
The principle gameplay of TS:CW is very similar to its predecessor. Imagine tower defense, but with the ability to directly control one tower at a time, and even toss in some time/health limited vehicles. Directly controlling a tower, aside from allowing you to pick your own targets and potentially extend the distance and accuracy of the weapons with your fancy human brain, also increases the potency of the tower. You can fire and reload faster, and in some cases you can even target multiple enemies simultaneously. Directly controlled weapons also usually give you supernatural guidance capabilities, like slowing down and redirecting artillery and wire-guiding anti-tank rounds. There are even towers that, if upgraded to their final level, will give you secondary attacks, so it pays to spruce up your equipment. Different towers are differently effective on different troop types, so placement and selection is key, and if 20 troops total slip past you into the toy box, game over. Considering the fact that infantry attacks by the dozen, it is just as important to watch for those little guys as for the massive tanks and jets.
The first major enhancement and adjustment to the game I want to talk about is tweak made to the “battery operated vehicles.” I relied heavily on their windup brethren in the first game, to the point that I used them exclusively to wipe out the first four waves on the final level so that I could save up for some souped up anti-tank equipment early on. This time around, they have been tweaked. Aside from health, there is also a battery meter. This puts the kibosh on anyone who was looking to turn this into a game of “kill everybody with the helicopter” because even if you employ ninja-like piloting skills to avoid getting even a scratch on your paint job, you’ll eventually run out of fuel. Visibly scattered about the map are batteries to extend your outing, and settling back on the charging pad will top you off, but once you get out, you can’t get back in until it is full up. It adds a layer of additional strategy to even the most straightforward action aspects of the game.
Another enhancement made was to add to the rewards for personally utilizing a turret. Getting score and money multipliers to go along with the performance improvements of a tower has been there from the start, but now there is a combo meter that begins to fill as you start taking out targets. Kill enough enemies quickly enough and you’ll get a turbo-charge going on your weapon, which eliminates the need for reload. Crank it up just a bit more and you’ll earn the final (and in many ways, best) improvement to the single player campaign: The barrage. These uber-weapons, which can also be earned by killing certain targets quickly, are devastating to the enemy and varied to the player. They can be as simple as a screen-wide artillery barrage, or as complex as the “close air support”, which puts the heat camera and guns of a C-130 at your disposal as it slowly sweeps the area, or the ever-popular “Commando.” Picture unleashing onto the battlefield a personally controlled, machine gun and bazooka toting Rambo, complete with Stallone dialog. Satisfying? Yes.
The campaign isn’t very long, but hidden items, per-level challenges, and high scores will keep you coming back. There are also mini-games to test your skill with certain turrets, and a multiplayer that I lamentably was unable to try out. That’s a REAL shame, because you can co-op for the whole campaign! There is survival mode, too… There’s bunches of fun stuff, we’ll leave it at that.
Aside from the obligatory explosions, TS:CW took the already strong 80’s war film inflection present throughout the game and cranked it up to ll. The commando, while not a terribly accurate representation of Rambo’s voice, is virtually encyclopedic in his catch phrases. The chatter between the toy soldiers operating the towers is authentic military talk with a “we’re made out of plastic” spin. And then there is the music… Oh, the music. Soaring, heroic hair metal, all the way. I swear I spotted a near-faithful representation of “The Final Countdown” lurking in the background. Epic.
I’d initially wondered how exactly one makes a combat game about a cold war, seeing as how a cold war is characterized by a LACK of direct combat, but the story takes care of that. It is a Red Dawn style alternate history in which the Cold War gets decidedly toasty, escalating to a full scale soviet invasion of the United States. Evidently Nicola Tesla must have been a little more productive, too, since the soviets have some pretty nifty super-science up their sleeves. I don’t remember the Communists flaunting any multi-stage hover tank mechs when I was a kid.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War is precisely what a sequel should be. The core gameplay that made the original so enjoyable is intact, and scads of new and clever elements have been heaped on top. A truly entertaining game.
8.9 / 10: A fun and varied evolution of tower defense that rewards skill as well as strategy.