Toy Soldiers

Sandbox games are very ‘in’ at the moment. Many would argue that their open nature makes for the best value in gaming, offering so much to do.  However, not for one minute did I ever think that I would be playing a game that was actually set IN a sandbox!  Toy Soldiers is just that, a game using miniature toy soldiers, fighting battles in a large tabletop sandbox diorama, all set during the First World War.  The only downside to it at this very moment is that the game does not have the sandbox nature of the bigger games and I am finding it really hard to pigeon hole it in to any one category, so I shall tell you all about it and try to make up my mind.

As with any newish concept in gaming you can start the game with a tutorial on how to play but I just skipped straight in to the action to have a blast! Quite literally! The first thing that you’ll notice is that the visuals are all rather lovely, (albeit slightly suffering from a Vaseline type lens effect) the battlefields are fitting with the subject and the movement and draw distance is spot on.  At first you are faced with the enemy pushing troops towards you in an attempt to overrun your toy box that you are defending. A few button presses and you can place a machine gun nest in a certain area ready to wipe out the advancing troops.  At first your arsenal is very limited but as the game progresses you unlock bigger and better weaponry, ranging from Howitzer cannons to flamethrower nests and anti aircraft guns.  You can only place your units in designated spots on the map, shown by a square area for your larger guns and a circle area for your smaller guns. Spaces are limited so you have to decide which weapons would be best suited to the battle.  As the battle progresses, your weapons, either controlled by you or the computer if you are busy, accumulate money based on kills of the enemy which you can then use to purchase upgrades for your weapons or indeed more weapons for the map.  Luckily the enemy are shown at the top of the game screen so you can see in advance which units you will need to defend against. In later levels it becomes vital to keep an eye on this as planes and tanks come in to the game and can only be effectively dealt with by certain guns.  As you may have guessed at this point the game is playing out in a tower defence manner but with some R.T.S. elements thrown in and you would be right to think that, it manages to balance both aspects wonderfully without ever feeling tedious.

Very soon in to the game you are given access to planes which you can pilot and do some real precision damage with; unfortunately so are the enemy and in greater numbers but it is a pleasure to do some dogfighting above the battlefield.  Controls of the planes are tight, using both thumbsticks to control speed and direction and both triggers to shoot guns or drop bombs. Nothing quite beats the sensation of swooping down low over the battlefield and dropping some bombs on to the advancing enemy.  One thing that really pleased me in the flying sections is that the clipping of scenery and the like is not brutal so you can pull off some daring bombing raids without wiping out due to an overhanging branch, it does still exist and if you hit some big things you lose your plane.  Later in the game you also get access to a tank which is brutally efficient and great for long range attacks, alas once again the enemy have more, but it never feels unbalanced, just fun.  There’s more though, at the end of certain levels you are faced with a ‘boss’ battle, ranging from a huge Tsar Tank to an imposing Zeppelin, all of which have to be dealt with before they reach your toy box.  The bosses have more health than the small units and you have to choose your weapons and placing of them very carefully, the trick it would seem is to set up big upgraded guns to deal with the boss attacks while you deal with the ground troops.  Each level has bonus objectives to complete if you want, but are not vital to the flow of the game. If you do complete them you unlock items in a view only section in the menus, not brilliant but good for completists.

Of course it wouldn’t be a good old war game without some multi-player and it has to be said that Toy Soldiers delivers a great game.  You can play on or offline over five different maps, pitting your skills against whomever you choose and it plays just like the main game but with pride at stake.  Unfortunately during my greatest battle online where my army was at full strength pounding my opponent’s defences the person quit and I didn’t even get the recognition of a technical win but other than that the online play is just as good as the offline.  There are far worse games you could spend 1,200 MS points on, this game has got to rank in the top ten of XBLA titles ever released.







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