It’s rare that the second iteration of a franchise lives up to expectations. Granted, this is probably most notable with films, but the point still stands. The second version of a game should be significantly better than the first. If you consider the first game as an extended beta, it’s somewhat galling to see such minimal improvements in the technology and gameplay that we see as gamers all too often. Of course, this is most easily seen in sports titles, where last year’s version is every bit as good as this year’s, but doesn’t have updated rosters etc… It’s a rather saddening phenomenon, but one that is swept aside in moments with titles like Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
This is one of the most astonishing second titles I’ve ever played. It’s not even as if the first game was dross, but amongst other things, it claws back a little of the respect for developers I lose every time I turn on a half-arsed, by-the-numbers franchised IP.
So, it’s tower defence, but unlike most tower defence games, the larger focus is on the micro level. After having set your playing field, you zoom in on units you want to control, and take direct control of them. This combines elements of strategy and action (with a heavier emphasis on the action), that I don’t believe has been effectively done since Warzone: 2100. The combination is genuinely enjoyable, and whilst the action is seriously heavy going at times, you always feel as if there is at least an element of brain power involved in winning matches.
You play as the US forces (unlike the previous Toy Soldiers, where you could control two different armies), and are charged with the task of stopping the Russians from getting to your toy box. Destroy the oncoming waves of Red Army troops and earn money to spend on upgrades and new towers. Perform particularly well and the new combo system awards you a random barrage ability, which puts you in control of various game-changing units and abilities. This addition really takes away from what could have easily been a very pedestrian turret shooter, and gives you a freedom over the battlefield that most tower defence games don’t allow.
The additions are what really make it though. A handful of well thought out co-op and competitive modes as well as an excellent, almost pinball-esque scoring system are the real game changers here. There is also the addition of two extra play modes – Elite and General – that allow you to focus solely on one aspect of the game (either the action or the strategy). These offer a completely different slant on the game, and one which will please action fans and strategy fans alike.
The only downside to Toy Soldiers: Cold War is one that I can’t imagine could have been dealt with any better, namely the fact that you, as a controller of a turret, are either better or worse than the (albeit very clever) AI. In the heat of battle (and it does get very heated), you often forget that there is a whole battle raging around you. This means that, for good players, much of your strategy feels a little redundant. For bad players, the problem is the opposite: you’re always relying on your strategy to save you. As I said, this is a problem that couldn’t have been better dealt with. With the two additional game modes, you can enjoy the aspect of the game you feel most comfortable with.
As a tower defence game (and I’m a huge fan of them), it’s not the best out there, but it does offer a degree of complexity in line with others in the genre. There’s nothing worse than out-foxing a tower defence game halfway through, and spending the rest of the game using one technique. Fortunately, thanks to the mix up of maps, troop types and bosses, this is never really a problem, even for great minds such as mine.
Great as this title is, it probably won’t convert too many to the joys of tower defence. The emphasis is on the action for the most part, and strategy plays something of a second fiddle. Still, it’s great to see a game that is both fun and at least a little taxing on the grey matter. What’s more, it’s a great value purchase. For your 1,200 points, you get co-op and competitive modes, campaign mode, mini-games and two completely separate modes that concentrate on the different elements of the main game.
I can’t recommend this enough. The tongue-in-cheek approach is inviting, as is the general ease with which the game plays out. It’s a fun, action packed title that has longevity, and has clearly learned a lot from the previous iteration. If you’re looking for a classic tower defence title, this might not be your bag, but for anyone else, this verges on being a must-buy title.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox 360 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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