A quick glance at the video above should be enough to explain why I was so incredibly, mind numbingly excited about the new game from Signal Studios, published by Microsoft and out now on Xbox Live.
So when the guys at Signal Studios got in touch with us (and confessed to be Osprey fans) a sense of mutual admiration was immediately formed. We were awestruck with the quality of the game they had created, and they had used vast piles of our books to help research the game.
It wasn't long before Richard, Kate and I were in the car heading across to the Microsoft offices in Reading to test out the game.
Toy Soldiers is, at it's most basic, a tower defense game. Each player has a base that they need to protect, and a set amount of cash to spend on units to defend the base, and attack the enemies defenses. But I have to say that I don't think I have ever seen such an elegantly presented tower defense game. It is beautiful in its execution, nostalgically reminiscent of childhoods spent meticulously setting up battlefields for our toy soldiers to take to the field on. Each battlefield is a table top filled with differing types of terrain. Pan the camera around (or fly around in one of the aircraft on offer) and you can see the room that the table is sitting in. Every soldier or weapon is design to look like the antique tin soldiers that every boy (and some girls) seem to gain possession of at some point. Some even move like the toys would, hopping along as if someone is holding it by its head / turret / wing and moving it across a table.
The loading screens, in game music and sound effects and menus all bask in a similar glow of nostalgia. But although the games design and feel might weigh heavily on this sense of nostalgia, the gameplay certainly doesn't. Signal have done something that many have tried and most have failed. They have created a game that would work brilliantly with a keyboard and mouse. But they have managed to make it work with the Xbox controller. Controls are smooth and obvious, hot keys program in instant moves (or can be used to unleash unit attacks on the enemy).
But, perhaps the best feature is the ability to play as any of the individual units on the field. You can switch into a quasi-first person perspective and take over machine gun posts, or artillery, or tanks, or even a biplane. This allows greater accuracy and more of a chance to eliminate units quickly and stylishly - a way of building up your own supplies of cash and improve your defense or deploy an attack. You can even launch an attack with a tank or aircraft, leave it to fight automatically and then leap in at the critical moment to take control and change the course of the battle.
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