By Matt Carey
Men never really grow up. Sure, they may get married, have children, grow beards, acquire mortgages, invest, or spend copious amounts of time propping up bars, ogling barmaids and complaining about politicians and football teams, but deep down, we’re all still big kids. It doesn’t matter the generation. Stick a Transformer in my hand, and I will be quite happy for a while. For some, model trains would be the order of the day. And there would be a good chunk of people that spent their youth furnishing a large piece of plywood with miniature trees, buildings, tanks and soldiers and re-enacting the battle of Ypres.
Toy Soldiers is a tower defense style game based on the age-old small tin militia. For those that don’t know the concept of a tower defence game, the idea is simple; you have a base / tower. Defend it. OK, so that was the simple explanation. The slightly elongated explanation is…..During the course of the battle, wave upon wave of enemies advance upon you and it is your job to eliminate them before they breech your defences and assault the toy box your little metal soldiers call home.
It all looks nice and pretty I suppose. The soldiers, horses and tanks themselves are quite nicely realized, and the environments are, considering that they are all set on a table-top, varied and quite pretty. The extra bells and whistles, the presentation if you will, harks back to days gone by, with loading screens looking like the boxes that the toys may have come in. Accompanying this is a soundtrack featuring old music hall favourites. I found this all to be a bit weird to be honest. Whilst I guess that it is all keeping in theme with the early 20th Century war imagery, they are all about nostalgia (that old chestnut). Unfortunately, the people more likely to get that warm fuzzy feeling I have mentioned before is more likely to be my Grandparents. I don’t really see them rushing out to buy an Xbox. So, it’s a game aimed at kids and adults, for whom the theme goes as far over our heads as a Boeing.
There are only really a couple options for the budding player; campaign and multiplayer, although a survival mode opens up on completion of the game. The single player career mode is pretty lengthy and a definite challenge. You are tasked with a small number of troops, a base, and an expanse of land in front where you can build your defences and prevent the oncoming hordes from penetrating your toy box. How you defend is up to you, and you have a starting budget to kick things off. Early levels see few items available. A few rows of barbed wire will help hinder the invading troops, but won’t kill them, and certainly won’t do much against cavalry and tanks. This is where you big guns come in. In this instance, some sentry guns and mortars may help more.
As enemies die, they release cash. This is where the strategy comes in. As the level progresses, the number of enemies’ increases, culminating in something more powerful heading your way to try and beat you into submission. So, you have a choice. Do you upgrade the defences you already have, or do you wait for a bit more cash and build something new, and if so what, and where are you going to put it? Over the course of the scrap, you can take a closer view at any of your defences, and even take personal control over them. This means, at any given time, you can take control of a bi-plane and drop bombs on the enemy, or be a sniper and pick off any troops that have broken through the barricades and are making a bee-line for your toy box. The further you progress, the more hectic things get, with bigger, badder enemies coming your way. This is certainly not a campaign that will take you a couple of hours to polish off and, with varying difficulty levels, there is further challenges there for when you do. In fact, the hardest difficulty has you having to take control of every single one of your units. You can leave nothing to the AI at all. Ouch.
Multiplayer games, online or off, offer more fun and a different challenge altogether. Yes, you still have to defend your base from onslaught, but you must also manage your resources to allow you to build offensive units too. This is tricky and offers up plenty of conundrums over the course of a battle. I actually prefer this mode. I understand that the genre here is “Tower Defence”, but actually, the AI is based entirely on just sending wave after wave towards you as nothing more than cannon fodder. There are few units that actually attack your defences, and the few that do can be easily and quickly dispatched, and your fortifications repaired or replaced with no significant bother. Sending tons of troops out of their trenches to their inevitable deaths in the hope a handful get through seems rather stupid to me. It sounds familiar too. However, why the online experience cannot be replicated in single player, I don’t know. I though attack was the best form of defence.
Expectations at Microsoft have been high for Toy Soldiers, with them hoping that this would bring in the RTS crowd, whilst being simple enough to newcomers of the genre. To a point, it is simple. The tutorial does a more than adequate job of conveying the concept and controls, and within 5 minutes I was plonking mortars and barbed wire down with relative ease. However, there is no real variety to it. Build defence, survive. Repair defence, survive. Build more defence, survive. Etc. All this is hampered in a big way by a very annoying camera system that seems hell bent on being as awkward as possible. For example, I lost count of the amount of times when trying to snipe my scope zoomed in at ten million mph, yet the simple task of moving from left to right dawdles along as slow as a tortoise with walking difficulties. Niggles aside though, the game is fun, and certainly well worth a punt. I’m told it is not the best example of a tower defence game, and even the Live Arcade has better, but as far as I’m concerned, this is a very capable and entertaining little game.