Dated in a Good Way
Toy Soldiers: Cold War is the follow up to the original Toy Soldiers on Xbox Live, trading in the World War 1 theme for a 1970's/1980's focus on the conflict between the USA and USSR. The change in theme is embraced fully by virtually every aspect of the game, and proves to be one of the most successful enhancements Signal has made to the already-impressive precedent set by the WW1 version.
The game is fundamentally the same; waves of enemies will attack your position, charge past, and try to take your toy box by force. However, the change in setting has brought changes in weaponry, too. In addition to new turrets, tanks, and aircraft there are new "barrages" which allow you to destroy entire waves with artillery, carpet bombing, nukes, or as a commando.
The commando is just the most obvious of Toy Soldiers: Cold War's dedication to the era; synth guitars, obvious riffs from popular action movies and songs, even references to movies and lyrics during mission briefings are present here. The style is obviously targeted at those who know what the source material is, but there's a strong enough game behind it to work even for those unfamiliar with what it's paying homage to.
The level of technology in Cold War has jumped ahead considerably, meaning a lot of really cool weapons are available for use against invading hordes of Soviet troops. Rocket launchers can be guided manually, with some pretty cool effects for the level 3 TOW missile launcher. Upgraded artillery can fire cluster rounds for large areas of effect, or even fire rocket artillery in rapid-fire barrages of death. Homing missiles are everywhere, from advanced anti-air to attack helicopters, making destroying enemy aircraft or tanks an easier affair than before.
All these changes aren't revolutionary, but they are evolutionary. Cold War is definitely a sequel that doesn't try to reinvent itself to grab new players. Instead it enhances what was already there and really fleshes out what was already a great idea. This game is firmly for those who enjoyed the tower-defense-meets-3rd-person-shooter mechanics of the original. To be fair, that's a fairly broad spectrum of potential players, which I suppose speaks somewhat to this game's success.
Rounding out the traditional, mission-based single player (complete with crazy bosses, as before) there are some new modes - wave based survival, and a minigame collection based on units and concepts from the main game. These are good additions, especially since they include leaderboards for both Xbox Live and friends, but the heart of this experience for many will be the multiplayer. Co-op and versus are back, with additional refinements, but both modes end up being lots of fun and are well realized within the unique systems of the Toy Soldiers: Cold War.
There are a couple downsides, though. The graphics are intentionally stiff and toylike, which is perfectly fine, but the game sometimes bites off way more than it can chew with units on screen and there's serious slowdown as a result. There's also a lot of variance in missions; some are much better designed than others, leading to a feeling of inconsistency sometimes.
Still, despite these gripes, Cold War manages to be good, old-fashioned fun. In a live marketplace increasingly dominated by so-called "high concept" games, which eschew traditional design, it's almost refreshing to have a simple game about army guys blowing each other up with a tower-defense twist.