Tower defence games are arguably one of the most popular game genres the world over and still much loved by casual and hardcore gamers alike. Due to their ongoing popularity, they have found a real home on mobile and tablet devices to this day seeing huge business done on many titles. For whatever reason it’s never been massively popular on consoles though, last gen and this seeing only a handful of new releases per year. That said when a game of this nature is released on console it invariably does well….well enough for a sequel or two at least.
The original Toy Soldiers debuted on the PS3 and Xbox 360 many moons ago, way back in 2010, to mostly positive feedback from the media and players alike. Providing console players with a much needed strategy injection; combining the novelty of the little army men figures going toe to toe on a mock toy battlefield; affording the player the ability to swiftly move from tower defence to first person action, the series not only brought across these great mechanics but a pretty great sense of humour as well. The follow up, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, which we reviewed HERE, took the basics of the formula and improved upon them just a year later. Now quite some time has passed, consoles have changed, maybe the market has too but Signal Studios are back with their latest iteration along with arguably some of the most random franchise tie-ins to be found in modern gaming. Out goes varying types of historical armies (Soviet, Nazis and Allies) and in comes GI Joe, Cobra, Masters of the Universe and the height of randomness Assassin’s Creed (likely due to Ubisoft now publishing rather than Microsoft Studios). This is where the first core problem with Toy Soldiers: War Chest rears its ugly head - the title has a free to play shell feel to it and none of the aforementioned character sets are playable when you purchase the game, your more traditional Toy Soldiers character is, as well as some others which are unlocked through the course of the campaign. Therefore, all of these touted, random franchise tie-ins with arguably cool characters are actually hidden behind a paywall from the beginning. This leads onto the second key issue (stick with it there are only three), acquiring and using these new characters, whether paid for or unlocked through progression changes nothing in the campaign, at all. All they really change is the aesthetic of your troop placements and the heroes you have the ability to call upon during a battle. No new missions seem to unlock and it’s business as usual. The final issue is a simple enough one, the artwork is just odd in places, whereas before it was nostalgic as any thirtysomething player could remember playing Toy Soldiersin the garden during the 80s when they were really popular but now we seem to be throwing random nostalgic stuff at the wall and seeing if any of it sticks.
The campaign itself is something which will see previous players and in general tower defence game players slip into like your favourite pair of slippers. Waves of enemies come at you and you set up your weapon emplacements to take them down! The beauty of the Toy Soldiers franchise is the ability to take control of any of your defences at any time and control them using a first-person mode. Not only does this wonderfully mix the strategic with the cathartic “line em up and mow them down” gameplay, it also affords you the ability to either really manage a situation well, or even get yourself out of a tight spot quickly. As a rule your soldiers are solid enough, good at their jobs but when confronted with huge amounts of troops, right at the doorstep of your main base, you need to grab the wheel and unleash hell. It very much feels more so in this iteration than either of the previous outings and for the most part it doesn’t feel like the reason for this is a good one.
Again though, this is where it all feels a little F2P again. The levelling and mission bonus completion results in you opening bonus cards which are applied to your character (and play through) upgrading gun emplacements and baseline stats - these card packs can also be purchased using in-game currency, again which is accrued through playing the game; however should you be so inclined you can use real money too!
Overall the campaign is quite oddly paced, with extremely difficult missions interspersed with extremely simple ones. The difficulty is set so it’s a little odd finding yourself breezing through the early stages only to be confronted by a mission which requires a very specific setup to beat, and even then this setup isn’t blindingly obvious until you have failed said forty minute mission three or four times. It is because of this that Toy Soldiers: War Chest can sometimes deftly encourage the odd rage quit as you progress. As well as the peculiar pacing the game is littered with some very distracting technical issues, which oddly were nowhere near as prevalent as on the previous generation of consoles. In a game that often demands quick actions the awful framerate drops will not only hamper your visual enjoyment of the game, but to the degree that it also messes with your ability to play the game at certain high intensity moments. Alongside this the load times are long enough for you to question if such a small game has completely crashed on you, and bizarrely co-op characters do not level between missions.
This moves us nicely on to the alternate modes found within the package. Two player co-op is included along with some four-player online modes, the former providing some much loved co-op with a friend and the latter mainly simply proving the game is tough going as four-player matches are so terribly long winded, often only finishing when someone would rather do something else with their lives and quits.
Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a decent tower defence title but is severely hamstrung by poor performance, dodgy looks, a big old paywall to character content and some odd design decisions. Sporting an almost free to play vibe and an extremely random art direction, sadly it’s not the game it once was and a missed opportunity to further the franchise. It feels peculiar to say but Toy Soldiers, as a franchise, seems to have lost its way with this iteration - adding He-Man only goes so far really.