One of the surest ways to kill a franchise is to make a crappy sequel. Just ask The Matrix, The Godfather, Star Wars for the last ten years, the Batman games on the PC, and maybe To Kill a Mockingbird. I won’t know that last one until everyone else at my stupid library is done reading it and my turn comes up.
You can also ask Toy Soldiers, the ebullient tribute to shooting things that are running at you. We have a word for this. Tower defense. Unfortunately, it’s become a dirty word. Tower defense has become synonymous with throwaway indie games and free-to-play boondoggles squatting on wide swathes of wasteland in Steam and the Apple Store. But before it was a dirty word, Toy Soldiers was a best case example of tower defense because it was more than mere tower defense. It was lively action with a dollop of strategy. It was cute graphics nestled in dioramas adorned with miniature toys. It was brimming with personality, including the World War I flavor of the original game and the 80s Cold War action movie cheese of the later follow-ups. It was lots of replayability and wonderful splitscreen local multiplayer. It was varied weapons and crazy power-ups and daunting boss fights.
And now Toy Soldiers has a license to kill. Ubisoft has secured the Hasbro license, so Toy Stories: War Chest is a delirious mash-up of He-Man, GI Joe, Star Bright (is that even a real thing?), and Assassin’s Creed. The Kaiser is still around, too. And there’s a random fantasy dude with dragons and dice. What could possibly go wrong?
After the jump, what could possibly wrong.
Publisher Ubisoft and developer Signal Studios have decided to kill their franchise by “Batmanning” Toy Soldiers: War Chest. This horrible PC port is so horrible that it effectively hides whatever good game might be lurking underneath. Some of the design decisions are puzzling, but understandable. I don’t mind all the leveling up hoo-ha and unlockable nonsense, or even the option to microbuy my way through the game. A big publisher scrabbling for extra money by building a feature into a game — unlockable upgrades — and then selling an end-run around the feature? That’s as predictable as the scorpion stinging the frog that rides on its back.
But the way it’s broken down into separate packages is such a blatant attempt to hide the cost. Toy Soldiers: War Chest is sold in a confusing array of pieces. There’s the “Full Game”, which absolutely isn’t because it only has a couple of the factions. There’s the “Hall of Fame Edition”, which is the full game. There are the five dollar add-ons, which you still need to buy individually if you want the full game after you’ve actually purchased the Full Game. Or you can just buy the Legendary Heroes add-on to fully update your Full Game to the full game. Toy Soldiers: War Chest is a $30 game masquerading as a $15 game.
The real problem is that your $30 gets you a shameful assortment of bugs, glitches, and control issues. You can’t control flying vehicles with a mouse. It doesn’t play well if you try to split control between a mouse and gamepad. The keybinds are listed incorrectly. Some of the graphics are clipped in half, as if they’re hiding behind an invisible wall. My aiming reticle occasionally disappears, which isn’t a good thing to disappear in a game about shooting stuff. Either no one is playing online — literally no one — or there are connectivity issues, because I can’t get a multiplayer game going. Local co-op isn’t supported. I’ve learned to live with UPlay jumping onto my screen whenever I want to play an Ubisoft game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still annoying. Because of a bug with alt-tabbing, my copy is stuck with the graphics options cranked all the way down. And just to rub salt in the wound, it’s stuck at 1024×720 resolution.
To add insult to salted injury, developer Signal’s previous release, the ironically named Toy Soldiers: Complete for the PC, is still in early access, where you can buy it in its incomplete state for ten bucks. Signal announced they were suspending updates on Complete to finish War Chest. That’s not a very smart thing to do, and an even less smart thing to announce you’re doing. It’s even further down the list of smart things when the thing you’ve released is this much of a mess.
But, alas, there may be a good game buried under here. That’s the impression I get while my low-resolution non-antialiased Star Bright bubble cannons staffed with fairies and teddy bears mows down armored Italian guards from Assassin’s Creed charging across the short draw distance grass in a window on my desktop. Star Bright just leveled up, so after this level, I’m going to get some tokens that let her maybe choose a new personal weapon for when she’s called onto the field, or I might get a new artillery upgrade, or maybe it’ll be something I already have, so it’ll get cashed in for tokens and I might have enough to buy whatever these toy boxes are. Except that I won’t, because I’m downloading Toy Soldiers: War Chest for my Playstation 4 as I type this. I’ll be uninstalling this wretched excuse for a PC port as soon as the download is done.