By Joseph Luster

There are plenty of deployment options out there for full-price retail warriors; those who would gladly plunk down on the latest available war experience on the platform of their choosing. Perhaps a more immediate endeavor, though, is the ever-growing market of downloadable titles, something that’s become no stranger to the realm of games based on historic wars, including but not limited to World War II. Services like Steam have made this a reality—one oozing with variety at that—for some time on the PC, but consoles have only been getting the love for a relatively short period.

Last year saw the release of a major downloadable blockbuster, so to speak, with the cross-platform debut of Battlefield 1943. Significant here is not only the pricing of the title—an accessible $15 tag that surely boosted enlistment—but the quality and bang-per-buck ratio that practically puts it on par with its big brothers on store shelves. Though no such restrictions have ever existed on Playstation Network, the removal of a file size limit on Xbox Live Arcade has paved the way for grander downloadable fare, a trend that will no doubt continue to rise.

That’s not to say that this will become the rule rather than the exception. After all, titles like last October’s Panzer General: Allied Assault from Ubisoft and Petroglyph Games prove that there’s plenty of room for everything from smaller strategy fare to full-on multiplayer shooters on the downloadable circuit. Let’s dig in to some of the recent additions to this budding library.

Call of Duty Classic

This one seems like a no-brainer, right? After all, Infinity Ward’s 2003 shooter is the de facto template for many similar titles that followed in its deeply-tread footsteps. Activision recently made the modern classic available for download via Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network, allowing veterans of the series to revisit its roots, while newcomers weened on the fresher entries can see where it all began.

At this point, Call of Duty is admittedly a bit dated, even with the high-def facelift to aid it in blending with the current crop of games. The campaign is, as the previous paragraph would imply, more valuable as a contextual glimpse into a lot of the series’ established bells and whistles, as well as the few annoyances that have managed to stick around since the beginning.

What’s made CoD special is the way it thrusts the player right into the battle, peppering the field with elaborate and at times unexpected action set pieces. They’re all as deliberate as the surroundings in a ride at Epcot Center, but that doesn’t make them any less spectacular. If your first brush with CoD was anything beyond CoD2 or Treyarch’s CoD3, though, the window of potential enjoyment with the first drastically diminishes. Hell, just the fact that you can’t click in the left thumbstick to sprint in this one will make most gamers chomping for blood-pumping battles feel like they’ve been hit with an uncontrollable bout of lethargy.

Another downside to Classic is the emaciated multiplayer, which only allows up to eight-player battles. To put it in perspective, 32 players battled it out on PC back when it debuted, and eight is even shy of console standards at this point. It’s nice for a different set of gamers to finally get a glimpse at the start of a storied franchise, but in comparison to the PC original, the entire package is just a tad bit gimped. Pick it up for a quick history lesson … in gaming, that is. Pick up a book for a real one.

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Aspyr
System(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Available: Now

Toy Soldiers

Alright, to be fair, Signal Studio’s Toy Soldiers is modeled after World War I, but considering the comparative lack of games focusing on this rather than the more prominent WWII, it’s certainly worthy of mention. It’s also quite good.

For those unfamiliar with tower defense games, they’re essentially a blight upon this Earth that must be contained before all of humanity is blasted into oblivion. It may not be that dire, but there are a lot of these games floating around, especially on the portable and downloadable market. The premise is simple: you have something to protect, and a bold procession of ne’er-do-wells wish to do it harm. In order to stop them, objects—be they archer outposts, hacking goblins or, in this case, army artillery—must be placed along the path to impede their progress.

The setting for this particular brand of military defense is, appropriately, a child’s toy collection. In this microcosm of war, plastic army men come from one end of the elaborate diorama to the other, passing through a customizable gauntlet of weaponry, with the sole purpose of invading and ultimately taking out the other player’s Toy Box.

In the solo mode, the focus lies on protecting your own from the computer throughout both British and German campaigns. Microsoft, having published the title, sees it as something along the lines of Battlefield, albeit more accessible. In the end, that’s going to be up to individual players and their tastes for strategy. For me, tower defense games can actually be pretty stressful affairs, with on-screen indicators reminding you that your Toy Box is in turmoil, while the approaching army gets more and more heavy duty; plastic soldiers making way for bigger units and greater numbers.

The variety of options within each game may be what makes or breaks the experience for some. It’s nice to be able to build, upgrade, and oversee units one moment, and then zoom in for a more personal touch the next. Toy Soldiers allows you to take full control of individual units, from massive mounted guns to sniper towers to planes; soaring over combat and taking out infantry from above. This is where players familiar with third- and first-person shooters will feel most at home, as the AI takes over on the rest of the defense as you go all one-man-plastic-army on your foes.

Multiplayer games up the ante in almost every way, whether the battleground is online, or in the living room via split-screen presentation. The extra work involved comes in the form of managing an offensive while also holding a constant watch over your Toy Box; taking care of resources and deploying a sturdy defense.

The toy-based, plastic-loaded theme makes Toy Soldiers one of the few, if only, family friendly war games on the market. Keep that in mind next time you’re looking to engage in militaristic combat with your closest of kin.

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Signal Studios
System(s): Xbox 360
Available: Now

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