Insanity is half the battle!
If you were a boy growing up in the '80s, you probably had an action figure or two out of the G.I. Joe line of toys. The incredibly patriotic 'Real American Heroes' were just about everywhere at the time. 20 years or so later, those kids are full-grown men and are now starring games with an oh-so nostalgic tone.
Toy Soldiers was one of the best games of 2009, downloadable or not, and Signal Studios put in the extra effort of making its sequel, Toy Soldiers: Cold War, even better. Along with a different and completely bananas setting of a Cold War invasion of the capitalist world by the toy Soviet empire, there are a host of new features that make this one hell of a follow-up.
For the uninitiated, Toy Soldiers is a tower defense game with a twist. You're given the choice either to control one of your turrets, providing it with increased power and reliability, or special units that only work under your command. Each unit has its strengths and weaknesses, giving you a lot of creative space to come up with strategies on how to use them effectively.
The units themselves aren't really all that different from those in the original Toy Soldiers. You're still given control of a mortar that slowly but surely launches bombs, an artillery placement, machine guns to thin out infantry, cannons that take out tanks, anti-air defenses, and chemical weapons. Each one has three upgrade stages that give stronger defense and attack as well as special abilities. For instance, bombing turrets have a 'guidance' mode that lets you somewhat control where the shells land after you fire them. Some of the bonus abilities even help some units become more useful at taking out specific targets, like the Level III anti-tank turrets that have guided missiles which are extremely useful against Soviet helicopters.
One fortunate difference in this sequel is the special vehicles, which come in a variety of cool crafts ripped straight out of the 1985 G.I. Joe catalog, like thanks, a fighter jet armed with napalm bombs, and two different attack helicopters. Each of these has more than one weapon choice, and they become vital at later levels of the game where the enemy forces start to outnumber you at a ridiculous pace.
While fighting, you'll notice a combo meter that builds up as you rack up kills while directly controlling a unit. The more powerful the unit and the more points it gets, the bigger the combo. If you can keep the kill chain going, your ammunition becomes infinite. There are other special chains you can get for doing special kills. These will randomly unlock powerful 'area of effect' weapons—bombing runs, atomic blasts, and of course, the commando—that can be used to get you out of a pinch. This commando in particular is basically a single overpowered John Rambo unit that can take out rows of tanks and helicopters to the awesomeness of the Guile theme.
The single-player campaign is fairly long and will take you a few hours to beat, but there's plenty to come back to. Each mission has two different challenges that unlock special medals tied to Achievements, as well as unit-based level-up tasks, along with a similar commendation system from Toy Soldiers. This system tallies up how efficiently you protect your toy box against attacks, how long you take to do so, and the kill chain bonuses you amassed. Getting a platinum medal at the end of a mission is extremely difficult and will take a lot of effort to pull off. Later stages are absurdly chaotic and a lot of fun to play through.
Thankfully, Signal Studios heard my cries of annoyance with the first Toy Soldiers and added in a wave rewind function to Cold War. If you screw a wave up, you're given the option to rewind back to an earlier portion of the level. This, however, will severely lower your mission score, but it can help you reverse the tide of a particularly awful battle, giving you a chance to rethink strategies without forcing you to completely restart a mission, something that became increasingly common in later portions of the original game.
You're also able to recruit fellow commanders to join you for co-op missions, the ever so amicable combat of versus mode, and the wave-after-wave chaos of the survival missions. If you decide to go at it alone, you'll also have the choice of playing a new mini-game mode that adds a few unique levels that ultimately help you become more proficient at controlling units, like a shooting gallery and a rocket-guiding maze of spinning plates. All of these modes are ultimately linked to the online leaderboards, which gives a lot of leg to Cold War once you're done with the campaign and are looking for more.
Just like Toy Soldiers, Signal Studios turns the knob years back to the '80s, with rock music and G.I. Joe details from the decade. If you're anything like me and loved playing with these toys as a kid, you'll be taken back as well the first time you launch the commando or see a line of cheesy ATVs coming your way. Mullet haters beware, though—one of the Avatar awards in this game is the Rambo bandanna chops.
Toy Soldiers: Cold War is just a lot of fun. Even if you're not particularly a fan of tower defense games like me, simply controlling your units, getting combos, and using the special barrage weapons will win you over. You can even treat the game as a third-person shooter with an emphasis on unit placement if you'd like. It's an extremely thrilling, rip-roaring game and extremely rewarding. You won't be wise to miss this one, and thanks to this review, you'll be half ready for battle!