Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
For years, Signal Studios has been polishing its Toy Soldiers franchise, across two releases for Xbox Live that have done suitably well when it comes to capturing the grit of war, but with toys you'd find in any given garage sale. For its third effort, Signal pulls out all the stops with War Chest – now licensed by Ubisoft and seeing release on multiple platforms.
The concept is the same – base yourself in the art of war while taking a hands-on approach – but there's more variety this time around, thanks to four different armies to choose from. Don't like the military group? Take control of the girl's toys, use some aliens from the sci-fi world, or let loose with a fantasy based army, ready to do battle. With this variety in choice, the action definitely picks up – and even more so with the Hall of Fame Edition, which comes with four different licensed sets, including He-Man and Assassin's Creed.
Go On, Play With Your Toys
War Chest is one par strategy, one part action. The general goal of the game is to stop invading armies from entering your base, and the best way to do that is by setting up defenses, including turrets, cannons and other tools of the trade. They can take a little time to put down – and you'll need the finances in order to put them there to begin with – but they're a must-have when it comes to defeating enemies.
What's more, War Chest offers a hands-on approach to the genre, as you can jump into any turret or vehicle at any time and take command of their actions, shooting soldiers and other enemies at will. It's a great technique that still works the third time around, even better than before due to refined controls. The action can get a little repetitive if you play for more than an hour, though, so be prepared to take a break, or maybe try a new army to see what they have to offer.
You can also charge into battle in online multiplayer, as well as with a friend through local or online co-op. Teamwork really plays a big part in War Chest, if only because you can calculate a worthwhile plan to really put rival armies in their place. The split-screen effect is good, although online can be questionable at times. While co-op runs okay for the most part, versus matches can take a while to set up – and can also be unbalanced, due to opponents with bigger strengths being matched up with you. Signal should've put a better matchmaking system in place.
Overall, though, between single player and co-op (and multiplayer matches when they're not so overwhelming), War Chest has plenty to offer.
A Step Up In Design
Compared to the previous games on Xbox 360, War Chest looks like a winner. The battlefields are more varied this time around, and things aren't so dark and moody in terms of appearance. Each army offers something colorful to take in, whether it's the Kaiser team's reliance on green, or the Starbright's squad insistence on shooting rainbows all over the place. The action is fun to watch as well, and the frame rate never slows a bit.
As for the audio, it's pretty good, with lots of explosions and fun voice effects to make you feel the effects of war, but without the grittiness you've come to expect from most Time/Life based drama.
A Little Something Extra
As far as a game purchase is concerned, we suggest going all in for the Hall of Fame version of the game. It's $15 more, but worth it, as you'll be able to get your hands on armies based on Assassin's Creed, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe and their sworn enemy Cobra. Most of their battle tactics are the same, but the Heroes make a difference, as you can rush into action with He-Man and Ezio and mow down soldiers like there's no tomorrow. It's actually pretty sweet, when you think about it.
Each of the customized armies have something terrific to offer, and upgrades make them even better over the course of the game. You haven't lived until you've seen assassins take on Orkos in a battle for…the backyard? Hey, it's still something.
So, yes, if you're into this series, or just want to see where the true magic lies, definitely upgrade to the Hall of Fame Edition. It's the better way to go.