|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Signal Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Microsoft||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 3, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
War, or its simpler, constituent form, violence, is prevalent in damn near every video game out there. Historical reenactments or fictionalized adventures set against the backdrop of wartime events are just as common. So making a unique game of any kind of historical period, as you might expect, isn't easy.
Toy Soldiers has two things going for it in this regard: first, it's set in the muddy, barbed wire-mired no-man's land of WWI, a topic that's seldom explored in most video games. Secondly, it has a unique aesthetic that makes it stand out against most other war-related games-it's pieces are all plastic.
The 'Army Man' angle has been explored in games before (mostly in 3DO's sub-par Army Men series), but the difference here is that Signal Studios has even taken the look of their toy models into effect. They've made them look, more or less, like military toys that children would've played with in early the 20th century, had they been playing with plastic replicas of the Kaiser's infantry and their assorted European opponents. There's also a real feeling of kids playing war out of an old-timey toy chest, rather than just creating a world where these toys are alive. The battlefields of Toy Soliders are elaborate dioramas (not a living, breathing world) right down to the encroachment of the 'real' surroundings (a child's room) that can be seen when, say, flying high above the battle below in a replica Sopwith Camel.
In terms of design, Toy Soldiers is set up more or less like a tower defense game, but thankfully, it plays more like a cross between an action game and an RTS. Essentially, at the rear of each map is your toy chest, which you have to protect from marauding German invaders. They'll send wave after wave of enemies at you: infantry, cavalry, specialized assault groups, tanks and other artillery, even bi-planes and bombers. But, instead of simply building of your defenses from an eagle's eye perspective, Toy Soldiers lets you get in the thick of things, taking control of whatever unit types you desire. There's a decent arsenal at your disposal (even if you don't see many of your own infantry in single-player mode), although there are only so many designated areas per map map-larger squares for anti-aircraft emplacements or heavy shell gunnery (Howitzers), and smaller circles for anti-infantry machine guns, chemical weapons, and mortars-that you can place units.
For example, if you place a machine gunner down just before the enemy lets loose on a company of soldiers, you can select the machine gun, swinging the camera down from a quasi-isometric perspective, and open fire, third-person shooter-style. This seamless transition is simple and gives it a pick-up-and-play accessibility that most strategy-style titles don't have. It's also a vital part of your battle strategy, since manually controlled units receive an increase in rate of fire and reloading speed. Jumping in that AA gun or manning a Howitzer when overrun by planes or tanks could be the difference between life and death.
Toy Soldiers' resource-gathering mechanic is also streamlined-the more kills you earn, the more cash you have to build and upgrade units. Unfortunately, as the game goes on, this upgrading system essentially makes your old ones obsolete, meaning you'll only have a small selection of what they could've been (albeit with variations in the German campaign). These upgrades are certainly important, however, especially during the latter half of the campaign when the heavy tanks start rolling out. It becomes essential to beef up mortars and heavy artillery as much as possible if you want to best these steel beasts.