Frozen Synapse Review

In games of strategy, there’s always the struggle of visualization. You might think you have the perfect tactics for a given situation, but you never know, especially in Strategy genre video games. Will my marines engage those zerglings at a distance, or will the gap get closed any my forces shredded? Will the enemy continue as I expect or route left and take the flank? And most importantly, Can I win this battle?

In most strategy games, you never know. Part of the skill is in the imagination — seeing what your opponent will do and seeing how your forces will react. In Frozen Synapse, though, you have all the information the next five seconds can provide, because you can simulate (almost) every possibility.

Frozen Synapse is a turn-based strategy game from indie developer Mode 7 Games, and your role in each of its simulated, computer AI-type battles is to issue orders to your forces. The game is turn-based in that after every set of orders is issued, they’re executed for five seconds, and then everything stops and you have the opportunity to issue orders again. Both sets of forces — you and your opponent get all the time in the world to tell your troops what to do, but once you hit the button to commit to your plan, both get executed simultaneously, and just about anything can happen.

And while it’s a complex game with a lot of rules about who will win what combat under which circumstances, Frozen Synapse takes all the guess work out of the game at the same time that it gives you the tools to make the best decisions you can in every situation: the simulation. When you issue orders to your team, which are displayed in the form of waypoints along a line that represents that character’s path through the battlefield, you’re able to hit a button and watch the next five seconds of the battle play out. You can see what your forces will do as they move around, and how long everything will take them. You can work out hinks in your strategy, and you can even issue orders to your opponents’ characters to simulate their possible actions, then make necessary adjustments.

The simulation at once makes the game very easy and very hard, because it doesn’t take much to start you overthinking your own strategy. You can simulate a hundred possible actions by the enemy and they may still surprise you. But you never need to exactly worry about whether you’re going into a battle primed to lose, whether your character is out of cover or will be intercepted by a certain foe, because you can always test it — so the rules of the game come a lot more naturally.

Each of Frozen Synapse’s levels takes place in a sort of top-down office building, and each presents players with multiple different classes, ranging from close-range shotgunners to wall-destroying RPG gunners. There’s a single-player campaign, which presents a story that’s a bit out there and hard to follow in that slightly overwrought tech-world kind of way, but it boils down to one group attacking an oppressive corporation that controls everything in a city. Though there’s quite a lot in the way of world-building babble about the various aspects of the world that can be hard to understand (the characters you control are called shape forms, for example, and they’re something of a mix between real and AI programs), but the gist is easy enough to follow, and you still feel a bit strained when you’re ordered to gun down civilian non-combatants and the like. The campaign is fairly long on its own, which is nice.

The real fun is in Frozen Synapse’s many multiplayer modes, however. Here you can take on other players in a number of game types and put your tactical skills to the test. The games are generally pretty fun and tactically diverse, too — maps are randomly generated as are player locations. This can be both positive and negative: on the one hand, no two games are ever alike and you’ll always need to be on your toes in every match, for every turn. On the other, positioning can often make or break a match even at its outset; finding yourself in an indefensible position with nowhere to go can and does happen fairly frequently.

The only other major issue I encountered during my time with Frozen Synapse were its occasionally painful load times. Even when playing alone, there were times when the loading of my orders into the game engine to execute them seemed to take a painfully long time. This wasn’t game-breaking, by any stretch, it just seemed as though at points my system was taxed by Frozen Synapse more than I was being let on; at others, everything seemed to function just fine.

But that’s a quibbling with a game that is otherwise a refreshing reworking of tactical gaming. Like a good game of Chess, quality Frozen Synapse matches leave you hungry to improve, not frustrated with a loss. The game doesn’t always make you feel like you were outwitted when you lose because of some slightly game-breaking choices — namely, random level generation and positioning — but on the whole the game feeds the intellect and still includes lots of little digital guys getting shot and blowing up.

Pros:

  • Thoughtful, interesting tactical action
  • Cool look
  • Engaging campaign
  • Lots of online multiplayer support
  • Solid price
  • Requires you to be tactical without being taxing and requiring a lot of memory for rules

Cons:

  • Story and writing are a little convoluted
  • Some inordinate load times
  • Randomly generated nature of maps means starting positioning can cost you a match

Final Score: 85/100

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1 Comment on Frozen Synapse Review

Mike

On February 5, 2012 at 10:34 am

You forgot to mention the awesome soundtrack to whats a pretty awesome game.