August 16th, 2011 | By Mark O'Beirne
Few games make players spend so much thought, effort and time on something that will take five seconds. Frozen Synapse does. Mode 7 Games has produced a top down, turn-based, strategic shooter that has players pondering every possible outcome. Frozen Synapse bears resemblance to the tactical planning section of old Rainbow Six titles. Players are given an overview of a randomly generated area and must plot out soldiers’ movement turn-by-turn. Squads are comprised of soldiers armed with assault rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles or rocket launchers.
Each turn lasts a total of five seconds but players are given the opportunity to preview how scenarios may play out, and can attempt to second guess their opponents. When players feel that the perfect plan is in place, they simply commit to a turn and the outcome is played out. However, there are no second chances. Once you commit you must watch, sometimes in heartbreak, as your squad moves around the map.
The graphical style is simple but clean and efficient. Rooms are illustrated as 2D overlays with shades of blues on display. This works to perfectly outline where cover is available and how the room is arranged. Explosions are dazzling and fire fights are easily distinguishable. It is a pleasure to play such a tactical shooter when everything is readily identified. The only downfall in presentation is that the turn overlay covers the bottom of the map. This can hide some of the action or potential moves and requires players to take some care to ensure that their squad does not get caught off guard.
There is a comprehensive tutorial that demonstrates a player’s “skill with clicking”. This can be played or watched online. The tutorial is invaluable as it breaks the game down into simple steps that, when combined, see a player’s squad scramble around any map eliminating opponents with military precision.
The single player campaign acts as a proving ground for any new player. Like the tutorial, players will refine essential skills to help the squad survive and overcome the opponent. There are 55 campaign missions in all which see you command squads engaging in many different scenarios. The missions range from escorting a NPC across an area to eliminating a staff of scientists to taking down enemy squads in an area. Once a mission is completed, players are given the option to watch the action back. However, if a mission is failed, there are no second chances. Levels are randomly generated so a failed mission will not appear the same again. While the basic objective remains constant, the squad at hand, the enemies and even the layout may change.
If that wasn’t enough, players have the option to engage in instant skirmishes, which is a randomly generated scenario, or can generate a custom scenario. Every detail can be customised from map size, squad composition all the way to the overall play style of the AI. There is a seemingly endless combination of possible scenarios available to players.
While the single player provides plenty of play time but the main draw of Frozen Synapse is the multiplayer element. It is possible to make yourself available for challenges or directly challenge other players. Games can be accepted and participated in at any time. When new turns are available, a notification will appear which gives the player the option of immediately crafting a turn. However, players are free to play at their leisure. If offline, players will be notified by e-mail that a new turn is available. There are five unique game modes available and two different versions of each. A game can either be “light”, which means that enemies are always visible on the map, or “dark”, which means that enemies will only be visible when in sight and will appear as ghosts in their last known position.
The multiplayer interface is full of information ranging from the best ranked players to results of matches and new games started. Popular recent games are also highlighted with the replay available to watch and learn from. Player profiles and replays can also be searched. Frozen Synapse also makes it quick and convenient to export results to Facebook and Twitter, or replays to YouTube. There is a wealth of information available online at any given time.
Frozen Synapse is quite simply sublime. The concept and mechanics are simple but the game has plenty of depth to it. It is well executed and well presented throughout. It is amazing to think how important five seconds can be. One wrong move in a five second window can be the difference between success and failure.