Home > PC, Strategy > Frozen Synapse [REVIEW]

Frozen Synapse [REVIEW]

Frozen Synapse: released May 26th, 2011
Developer: Mode 7 Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

My relationship with real-time strategy games has always been tenuous at best. It’s not necessarily that I don’t like them, quite the contrary actually. I’ve had a blast playing through the campaigns of the Warcraft, Starcraft, and the Dawn of War series’, but as I’m sure many people know, it’s the multiplayer that is the life blood of these games. Especially now with how phenomenally Starcraft 2 has been doing in the ever-evolving field of eSports, multiplayer in RTS games is more important than ever. Some people though, such as myself, just can’t ever find it in themselves to dedicate the time necessary to become truly good at these games. I still enjoy spectating, but as far as competing goes it’s really best that I sit the games out.

The appeal of a strategy title for me is in the planning. Out-thinking your opponent, flanking them and positioning your units better than they did. Games like Starcraft of course employ these basic strategical components, but they also require you to learn a variety of hotkeys, build orders for your ideal units, and how to properly maintain your armies economy. I understand the appeal in this high level of strategy, but what about those of us who simply wish to plan and direct our units? We don’t want to mine resources, we don’t want to keep track of ten-thousand different hotkeys, we just want to take control of our units and outmaneuver the enemy. On a completely even battlefield, we want to say that we had the exact same resources available and we still bested you! Using nothing but tactics, planning, and good intuition.

In Frozen Synapse you take control of a variety of units, either a Machine Gunner, a Shotgunner, a Rocket Launcher, a Sniper, or a Grenade Launcher. It doesn’t seem like very many units, but it truly is all you’ll need. You and your opponent both maneuver your handful of soldiers around a top-down map, selecting each unit individually and ordering them to take whatever actions you choose. You control their every action, their exact movement path, what direction they’re aiming, whether or not to fire back, whether they’re crouching or running, everything. You may only be dealing with a handful of units, but you’re in a small area with nothing but walls, windows, and doorways, and positioning is key. Placing units behind cover is of the utmost importance, keeping a Shotgunner hidden around a corner, having a Machine Gunner ducking behind a window, or having a Rocket Launcher blowing that window to smitherines are all things you need to think about in Frozen Synapse.

My favorite way to describe Frozen Synapse to people is that it’s like chess, but with guns and grenades. It is also technically turn-based, but in a way it all happens in real-time. You see, during your turn you will move your units and command them to take whatever action you see fit. While you’re doing this, the enemy is doing the exact same thing with his units. Then once you’re both happy with your commands, you hit the “Commit” button and get ready to see the battle unfold! Well, about 5 seconds of it at least. After you both commit, five seconds of the scenario will play out. Units will move to positions, skirmishes will take place, walls will get blown up, etc. Then, once that 5 seconds is up, it’s back to the planning phase.

I’ll bet you thought that Machine Gunner in the window had a pretty good view, and I’ll bet you also thought he was pretty safe with that Shotgunner watching the door. But what’s this? The wall in the next room just got blasted to pieces! Now there’s a whole different entry point you need to worry about! Time to adapt. This is what makes Frozen Synapse such a beautiful experience. It is that purest form of strategy that someone like myself has always desired. A totally even playing field where the only excuse for failure is that you simply could not out-think your opponent’s movements. It’s not about reflexes or memorizing build orders, it’s simply good unit placement and foresight.

Don’t take this to mean I’m implying that the extra levels of strategy involved in the previously mentioned RTS games’ is a bad thing! I have the utmost respect for competitive players of those games and I love the level of complexity involved in them. It’s just that it’s nice to have a game that tackles the strategy genre in a different way. The decision to make actions take place simultaneously is just brilliant. In a typical turn-based adversarial game you could see what decisions your opponent makes and then react accordingly, but thanks to the pseudo-real-time nature of Frozen Synapse, it simulates the feeling that you and your opponent are both acting in the very same moments. The battles remain intense because you don’t know what your opponent’s squad will do until you’ve already committed.

You will see plans that you had spent ages perfecting get torn to pieces in mere seconds. The planning stages are a truly gut-wrenching experience as you will have no idea what can happen after you hit that commit button. Frozen Synapse does grant you the ability to “test” your movements via a preview feature, even going so far as to let you control your opponent’s units, though you can only test them from their last known positions. Taking advantage of this preview feature is absolutely key to victory, but it doesn’t necessarily always mean success. You can spend hours running different scenarios and trying to figure out what the safest positions would be to come out on top, but you never truly know what action your enemy will have taken until you’re both committed and the pieces are making their moves. You have to be able to predict where they’ll come from and setup accordingly.

I could go on for hours about the nuances of battle in Frozen Synapse, but I think you get the picture. This game offers a purely tactical experience where the most valuable weapon truly is your mind. For the strategists out there, Frozen Synapse is a must play! It possesses a much slower pace than your traditional RTS game, but it manages to retain that same level of intense strategy, wondering what moves your opponent will make and what you have to do to counteract those moves.

It should be noted that the vast majority of my time with Frozen Synapse has been dedicated to multiplayer. That being said, I have spent time in the campaign as well, and it is most certainly worth your time if perhaps you’re not much of a multiplayer gamer. The story isn’t mind-blowing in any sense of the word, but it works. You’ll be given unique scenarios based on different events that are happening in the story. Each level is every bit as engaging as the multiplayer experience, and in some cases can actually be more interesting due to the not so even playing fields and the pre-positioned units. There’s even a skirmish mode available if you’d like to play the multiplayer game sans other humans. I personally believe that mutliplayer is the true heart of Frozen Synapse, but if you’re just not down for it, the single player is a ton of fun and it offers the same level of intense strategic planning that I’ve been raving about through this entire review.

One last feature I’d like to point out is that you don’t even have to be online for your matches to take place! Obviously if you and your opponent are both there than you can play normally, but if you have to leave suddenly, your opponent can continue planning their turn, commit to it, then go on their merry way. Then once you get online again, you can load up that game, make your move, commit, and see how it unfolds. Technically you and your opponent could play an entire match together without ever having been online at the same time. It’s an amazingly convenient feature that me and one of my busier friends are quite grateful exists. Normally we don’t have time to play matches together in online games due to our schedules, but this feature makes it so that we can log on and complete matches on our own time, at our own pace. It’s fantastic.

Frozen Synapse is another one of those games that really stands on it’s own as a unique experience that can’t be had in any other title. It’s horribly addicting and the whole design of the game is just genius. The UI may not be the most immediately intuitive, but I promise that once you get it down, it’s a snap. Anybody who has even a passing interest in strategy games should be required to give Frozen Synapse a shot. I would especially like to invite those would-be RTS gamers to give this game a chance. If you’ve always been enamored with the RTS scene but have always found it too intimidating or too time consuming to break in to, then this game will especially appeal to you!

Frozen Synapse is not simply one of my favorite indie games of the past year, it is one of my favorite games, period. It’s a brilliantly executed strategy game and there is nothing else like it.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: