Going Commando: ‘Toy Soldiers: Cold War’ Review

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The main message delivered by the current generation of mainstream war video games can be summed up with the words “War Is Not Fun.”

It’s not all that surprising, given the fact that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games, Medal of Honor and Battlefield 3 all mimic ongoing conflicts with repercussions that hit close to home. But for better or worse, war (and what happens before and after it) has been used as an entertainment setting for centuries, and the results don’t always have to be gritty and dour.

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Cold War follows up on last year’s Toy Soldiers, a relatively unheralded title by Seattle-based Signal Studios that became a hit on Xbox Live. Whereas the previous game took on World War I, the new one is all about the 1980s.

TS:CW keys in on the over-the-top pop culture absurdity created by the escalating tensions between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. As an indirect result of the saber-rattling between Washington and Moscow, we got Rambo, Rocky IV and G.I Joe on our movie and TV screens. The heroes were entertaining in a muscular and uncomplicated way, and their legacy finds fertile soil in this new game.

You get a fusion of two different genres, namely tower defense and third-person action, in Cold War. Tower defense games task you with placing turrets, barriers and weapons to destroy enemy troops trying to move across a territory. In TS:CW, those troops are 1980s-era Soviets, and you’ll command a set of U.S. military toys to stop their plastic Communist threat. Those toys are where the third-person element comes in: You can take over the turrets and anti-aircraft cannons to shift the outcome of a battle yourself.

Most tower-defense games place the conflict at a cool remove, letting the player manage the battlefield from above, but Toy Soldiers enables the player to change the tide of a skirmish by getting up close and personal.

You can manage individual units, use special power-ups and steer powerful vehicles into the conflict. Racking up combos generates a Barrage power-up, for instance, where you can take control of special units like the Commando soldier and the Attack Helo. The former seems a lot like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character and the latter will make ’80s babies remember the old Airwolf TV show.

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Controlling a jacked-up, indestructible warrior wielding a machine gun in one hand and a rocket launcher in the other will make you smile, especially when he sends plastic enemy limbs flying in every direction. One nice touch is how the vehicles you drive are all battery-operated: You’ll need to get them back to charging stations before they run out of juice. It’s a nice bit of balancing that ensures you don’t run wild with these powerful toys.

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