Lest We Forget Toy Soldiers

Christmas is a time for looking back at the year passed, processing what's been most important for you over the past twelve months. For me, and video games, one such thing was — surprisingly — Xbox Live Arcade game Toy Soldiers.


I'm not normally one for shouting "UNDERRATED!" about a game, because it's a pointless pursuit. People dig different things, and what you dig, many others may not.

But in one key way, my love for Toy Soldiers is based on something I think a lot of people didn't even know, let alone be given the chance to appreciate: it's the best game about the First World War ever made.

OK, so there's not a lot of competition in that regard. Some flight sims, some strategy games and a weird alternate-history shooter are about the sum of games set during the Great War.

But there's a reason for that: the First World War was a terrible thing. There were no dashing commanders. No exciting breakthroughs. No iconic symbols of victory. Just mud, trenches and a catastrophic casualty list.

Most games based on the conflict have tried to circumvent or rewrite this fact. Strategy games have usually seen you trying to avoid the trench warfare that categorised the war on the Western Front. Flight sims have done the same thing, putting you in the shoes of some of the war's few genuine celebrities, the first fighter pilots.

What Toy Soldiers does, though, is drop you right in the middle of what made the First World War so terrible.

You are commanding the machine guns that mow down men in their hundreds without pausing. Of the artillery that dispenses poisonous gas into ranks of the enemy with little regard for of its evil effects. Not only do you determine where these weapons are placed in a macabre version of desktop tower defence, but you can take individual control of them, manually distributing death to as many Germans as you can pull a trigger on.


When you consider the historical inspiration for this "game", it's gut-wrenching. Disguised as lead toys duelling in a boy's bedroom, you quickly gain an appreciation for just how pointless and horrifying the First World War was. Wave after wave of men emerge from an apocalyptic wasteland of mud and craters, and it's your job to kill them again and again and again.

There's no consideration given for tactics. You can't tell your men where to go, or order them to take cover. All you hear is a shrill whistle, a shout and suddenly hundreds of Germans are running over the hill, and you rain bullets, shells, gas and fire down upon them until none are left standing.


This gut-wrenching feeling never dissipated for me. The more enemies you wipe out as the game progresses, the more you're shown that this is just a "game", the more you realise that masking it as a boyhood hobby was the only way this game would be playable, let alone palatable.

And that's exactly why I love it. It's a history lesson given as only video games can provide. You can watch movies, documentaries and TV shows about the Great War all day and it won't give you the sickening feeling actually conducting a piece of Trench Warfare provides.


It may not be "fun" in the traditional sense (though it is a robust and enjoyable game of tower defence!), but not every game has to be fun. Sometimes they just need to be memorable, and Toy Soldiers was certainly that.



I would rather play Outfit. Thats not a mean statement coming from me. Outfit is a cult classic among my friends.