Loathe as we are to make crass generalisations, there was an immediate overwhelming feeling of “another week, another tower defence game” that overcame us upon beginning our review of Signal Studios’ new title. The genre’s resurgence and the boom in popularity of digital content distribution in recent years are walking hand in hand, and it’s easy to see why. Tower defence titles usually consist of relatively simple design, which often unfurls to reveal a deeper strategy where precise timing, efficiency and shrewd resource management become critical factors to victory. Software designed with the aim of digital distribution in mind also tends to adhere to similar factors – from wannabe indie darlings to established success stories such as Q-Games and The Behemoth, studios running with fewer restraints (and lower budgets) need to plan and execute their wares perhaps more carefully than a Ubisoft Montreal, for instance.
Of course, that’s not a slant against the independent scene at all, as working in such an environment has many bonuses. Chief of these would undoubtedly be the space and manoeuvrability afforded to the developer with respect to the more artistic potential of the medium, and it could be argued that the vast majority of truly original experiences seen so far in this generation of consoles have been crafted by the hands of the indies. It’s not completely about re-writing the rulebook every time somebody wants to make a game, though the idea of evolution is important – taking existing genres, play styles and conventions and mutating these into a much more flexible, enlightening experience can prove just as mesmerising. This huge rise of electronic distribution of content in the game industry has undoubtedly had a huge impact, whose aftershocks may ripple through the metaphorical landscape for some time. Competition is fierce, and game designers everywhere are working harder than ever for the attention of the consumer.
Toy Soldiers undoubtedly will appeal to fans of the genre, but it has an uncanny ability to ensnare the more casual of players. The reasons are two-fold – firstly, it has a gentle learning curve, so that new entrants to the genre are placed at ease with their overriding objective, which is one of defence. There are little in the way of mind boggling statistics, with unit purchases and upgrades become a case of raising its level. There are no warnings of “+3 anti-personnel gun inflicting 44 damage” to complicate matters – in fact, in many instances you can control the gun yourself, the top down view switching to behind the barrel of your choosing. It’s a great way of providing the player with empowerment, and eliminates the feeling of detachment that RTS games sometimes suffer from.
Ultimately though, the player belongs in the sky playing the more traditional ‘grand overseer’ role, but when all seems lost it’s such a thrill to launch one last volley of fire from your own hands. Initially, units can only be placed on specific parts of the map, usually indicated by raised areas of golden-coloured stone, but this quickly opens up so that different types of gun emplacement can be arranged in many different ways to suit your preferences. The farming for resources seen in titles like Command and Conquer do not feature, instead rewarding the player with cold hard cash for cold, hard kills. There’s little need to be concerned with the matter of launching an offensive either, although this is left to the multiplayer mode.
The second reason why Toy Soldiers can be deemed above-average is its mightily impressive front end. The “World War II from a toy box” aesthetic is original and visually very impressive. One can swoop through the fully 3-D battlefields with ease – be it using the camera or a Red Baron fighter plane – making the game feel more like a war simulator than any Call of Duty ever could. Being able to survey the terrain like this – and interacting with it on such an almost intimate level – is something that future RTS games may consider implementing in future titles. Indeed, the game often encourages you to utilise the gamer’s more ‘on the job’ skills, frequently asking you to fly planes with the intent to drop bombshells onto the baying horde below. The sound design is of a premium, with explosions, gunfire, and the war cry of advancing forces being eerily accurate and packing punch.
With the game sporting high production values and an encouraging learning curve, it’s easy to recommend Toy Soldiers. It has the ability to entrap the more uninitiated of players into becoming immersed in the game, and in this respect it would be an excellent starting point for those wanting to pursue the RTS genre further. The question of it being hardcore enough for the more experienced tower defender is certainly open to debate – Toy Soldiers enjoys giving the players a seemingly more hands-on approach with regards to settling the conflicts the player is tasked with. At times it lacks depth in comparison to its contemporaries, and one may not actually want to roll up their proverbial sleeves and get involved with the more pro-active tools on offer, but despite the unspectacular colour palette Toy Soldiers is buffed up to a glistening shine – it’s a supremely polished title which is yet more proof of download-only content becoming more and more significant in today’s market. The length and breadth of quality continues to swell, and if games like Toy Soldiers are mere hints at what is to come, then we’re in for some exciting times.
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