Indie games often allow for developers to experiment, giving them the opportunity to come up with something that has not really been seen before. That is exactly what Mode 7 Games have done with Frozen Synapse.
Frozen Synapse is a strange title to define. It plays in a similar way to the XCOM titles, but also has elements of strategic shooters, with futuristic sci-fi visuals like Tron. Frozen Synapse is an excellent turn-based tactics game that forces you to carefully plan out each move, backed up by a stylish look and outstanding musical score.
Frozen Synapse takes place in a dystopian future. A huge corporation now runs the government and the country, abusing its power in every aspect of society. With the general population suffering at the hands of this ruling force, a resistance movement has risen up to challenge its authority. Players take on the role of a tactical commander who has responsibility for one of these resistance groups, with the aim being to fight back against the government forces.
This story sounds fairly standard for a sci-fi setting, but the plot is definitely not meant to carry the game. Rather, it is a container for the different scenarios that make up the singleplayer experience. Don’t expect a groundbreaking narrative that will immerse you in a deep or emotional story.
Thankfully, the missions themselves more than make up for the story. There are 55 different scenarios and each one has some procedural generation element to it. This could mean anything from the random nature, to how units are placed on a level, to where and what extra objectives there are. So, playing through them several times never quite feels the same, giving some replay value to the game.
In addition to the generous singleplayer campaign, which should last around 15 hours, Frozen Synapse has a variety of offerings. A skirmish mode allows quick battles, while a game editor lets you design your own scenarios and maps. However, most important of all is the multiplayer. There is a selection of game modes available, but what is so impressive is how well the match-making works.
You can start the title and be in a match against another human player in a matter of seconds. Mode 7 Games has thought carefully about making multiplayer work. After all, in a game like this, matches can last a long time. With multiplayer matches that can be played at once, it never feels as if you are waiting around until the next turn. You can just switch onto another opponent until that turn is resolved. It is an effective system that ensures you never get too frustrated waiting.
At its most basic, Frozen Synapse is a turn-based tactics game that sees players having to control their squad through tight office spaces to eliminate all the enemies in the area. The complexity comes in when you begin to plan out how you want to approach each turn. Every action for each particular unit can be micromanaged, so that you are not just deciding where they should move, but also how they should behave.
Getting into this much detail is necessary if you want to be successful. Anything else will result in total failure almost immediately. You can manage practically everything a unit might do, from the direction they aim right up to the route they will take to their final destination.
Each aspect is important as they all have consequences. A unit that is stationary and set in cover is going to emerge victorious if it encounters a moving target. Aiming in the right direction at possible threats allows that unit to get its shots off quickly and not have to react and lose valuable time.
Your careful planning must also take into account the type of unit and any effects they are under, things which can significantly alter how things play out. Once you’ve decided upon your choices you can test them out. Frozen Synapse even allows you to map out how you think the enemy might move to see how your tactics stack up. Eventually, though, you will have to prime a turn and watch your decisions be resolved in real time.
The results are often devastating. Despite all the thought, attention, and tactical know-how, you will no doubt miss an obvious move on your enemy’s part. Due to the tight confines of the play area and the limited amount of units, any error is often catastrophic. Nevertheless, these mistakes don’t feel as if they are unfair. Rather, they act as lessons to be learned.
Thankfully, things never get too confusing thanks to a clever visual look. Not only do the graphics fit well with the theme and setting, they also provide a clean and efficient way of laying out the battlefield. Having too many visual elements or different textures could have become confusing. This style allows the player to fully concentrate on the gameplay while still looking good.
Above all else in terms of presentation is the soundtrack. This beautiful score is worth listening to outside of the game. It is relaxing and full of suspense all at once.
Outside of those positives, there are some technical issues. The game can crash quite often and you notice glitches at a more frequent rate than you would expect. In my opinion, these are not big enough problems to detract from the overall experience.
Ultimately, Frozen Synapse is a game that rewards you for investing time into it. After suffering numerous defeats and making tactical blunders, you start to be able to plan ahead more effectively. Like chess, this game requires you to think about the overall strategy as well as the short term tactics.
Once you get to that stage, it becomes a far more satisfying experience as you pit your wits against others. There are few titles that put so much emphasis on this type of thoughtful gameplay. The fact that Frozen Synapse succeeds makes it all the more gratifying.