Frozen Synapse Review

Justin Clouse | 10 Jun 2011 19:00
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My relationship with Frozen Synapse was practically love at first sight. I was looking for trailers to upload for the site and I stumbled across this video for Frozen Synapse. When I wrote the description, I described it as X-Com meets Rainbow Six in Tron. If you can imagine the planning gameplay of setting waypoints and ordering actions that was presented in early Rainbow Six games combined with the tactical nature of titles like X-Com and all wrapped in a bright Tron-like technological aesthetic then you've got a pretty good feel for Frozen Synapse.

Finding an opponent in Frozen Synapse is dead easy. You can change your icon to indicate you are looking for a specified game type, which generally finds you one in less than 30 seconds, or if you're feeling savvy you can even directly challenge people from your friend's list or the player rankings. Winning said match however is a different matter. While Frozen Synapse is deceptively simple, expect your brain to be taxed if you want to consistently come out on top. Because terrain and units will be randomized you are always challenged with outthinking your opponent then and there instead of coming up with a great catch all strategy before. In one game, I might hold some machine gunners and snipers behind cover for suppressive fire while I try to sneak some shotgunners through the structures. Another match might be chalked full of exploding each other into pixel bits. You'll have to dance your rocket and grenade launcher units around to avoid death while trying send your shots to where you predict the enemy will be next turn. When all else fails, you can blow up a few walls to find where they are hiding. Frozen Synapse strikes a great balance between feeling like simultaneous-turn-based chess, just with rocket launchers and machine guns instead of bishops and pawns, and a fast paced game.

I feel what Mode7 Games has done is really refine the tactical strategy elements to deliver a new experience in the genre. Instead of a system of stats or the random number generator determining success, which unit kills which is decided with a weighted series of checks. All things being equal, a stationary unit will kill a moving one, but if they are both moving at the same time, then the unit that had been directed to aim in the correct direction will win the engagement. This rock, paper, scissor engagement system further extends to include being behind cover and changing stances. The rough order of importance for keeping your units alive and killing the enemy first is: cover, changing stances, stillness and then aiming, but the game's help section will be quick to remind you that all these elements must be considered for success.

Each unit can be independently given waypoints and a series of simple tactical orders to carry out. Units will automatically attack other units in range unless directed not to. It's a remarkably simple and yet at the same time incredibly deep game. Each turn plays out the next five seconds of your plan. You can preview the outcome and even giving orders to the enemy units trying to predict your opponent's movements and adjust accordingly. Finally, once you are satisfied, you commit to your orders and the game will generate the turn based on the two sides' plans. Each turn you are given the opportunity to revise and change your plan.

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