Toy Soldiers: Cold War Review (Xbox360)

Toy Soldiers might not have been the critical darling of Xbox Live Arcade’s 2010 line-up (largely thanks to the release of Limbo) but it still sold gangbusters for development house Signal Studios. Not only did it rack up almost half a million sales but (if third party financial reports are to be believed) it was also the highest grossing title on XBLA last year, netting the tiny Seattle-based developer a whopping $4.6 million in revenue.

Over one year on and the series returns in the form of Toy Soldiers: Cold War which sticks close to the original’s refreshing blend of tower defence and third person action set on a miniature scale. Once again you take control of one of two armies of sentient toy soldiers battling it out for supremacy across many diminutive battlefields. Your primary objective is to prevent a certain amount of enemy units from breaking through your lines and entering your toy box headquarters by kitting out your weapon emplacements appropriately for the invading hordes. In the competitive versus mode both sides will also have to send out their own forces to conquer the opponent’s HQ.

Personally manning a gun emplacement is always more effective than leaving it to your computer controlled troopers

However, as the game’s name suggests the World War I theme of the original has been replaced with a Cold War aesthetic - though it’s really more like the Cold War as viewed through the lens of 1980s’ pop culture. The two countries going at it are of course the USA and the USSR (that’s Russia to you kids out there) and the game is filled to the brim with references to famous music, movies and even other video games of the time. If you’re a fan of 80s nostalgia and/or grew up in this period surrounded by G.I. Joes and Military Micro Machines you’re going to adore the kitschy stylings of Cold War.

Though the core game play remains the same as the original’s Signal has added several notable additions such as the Barrage perks. In the campaign and survival modes earning a Barrage is very similar to Call of Duty’s kill streak system, rewarding you one for racking up 50 kills in quick succession. In versus mode you can pay a hefty sum to buy a Barrage though which one you’ll receive is randomly decided across all modes.

The first you’re introduced to during the campaign is the Commando which temporarily drops you into the shoes of an insanely powerful temporary unit clearly modelled on Rambo. He wields both an infinitely firing rocket launching and machine gun and constantly spouts Stallone one-liners. The Soviet equivalent named Ivan functions in exactly the same way though he’s obviously based on Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. Sadly, there’s no option for both units to slug it out in boxing gloves.

Even the rooms surrounding the miniature battlefields have been given the 1980s treatment

The other Barrages randomly dished out include a flyby in a devastating AC-130 gunship, tactical artillery and bombing runs and a nuclear strike. All in all, these perks add a nice wrinkle to the game both strategically and fun-wise.

Other returning elements include the campaign and survival modes now bolstered by probably the only feature lacking from the original game: online and local co-operatively play for two players. Joining these are several new mini-games, most of which are played from the perspective of a specific weapon emplacement. Though most of these are pretty simple the allure of achievements, medals and beating your friends’ high scores might just seduce you into sinking a good few hours into them.

I have only two small gripes with Cold War. Unless I missed a way of unlocking more, there are only three maps in survival mode. I suspect this is something that Signal Studios intends to rectify through downloadable content though since the original game also supported paid DLC.

Vehicles remain a large part of the game and are still fantastic fun to pilot/drive

Also, the versus mode where each side has to both defend as normal as well as sending out invading forces can’t be played against a computer controlled bot. Essentially this puts perhaps the game’s best mode out of reach of folks without friends to play with and limits replayability once the ultimately transient XBLA community moves on.

But there’s no getting around the fact that Toy Soliders: Cold War is an excellently crafted game that goes above and beyond all expectations for an indie downloadable title. The action feels tight, it’s bursting with content, the graphics and sound are impressive. Aside from the original there’s nothing else quite like it and given the meaningful improvements over its predecessor it’s fair to say that it’s technically a better product in every way. Will it become the best selling Xbox Live Arcade game of 2011? Let’s just say I wouldn’t bet against it.

Top Game Moment: Teaming up with a friend to battle the commie forces. The sheer amount of potential for enjoyment and replayability due to the inclusion of co-op can’t be understated.

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By louy (SI Newbie) on Sep 02, 2011
Wow, looks really fun.