Frozen Synapse is a Simultaneous-Turn-Based game developed and published by Oxford based Mode 7 Games. The nature of the turns is that both you and your opponent choose what actions you wish to perform and then you both watch them play out simultaneously; this leads to an interesting style of gameplay.
There is a loose story to the game but it is mainly to string the Campaign skirmishes together for a more directed experience. The skirmishes are all objective based with some being essentially deathmatches and others involving the escort of CPU controller units. The story is only a few dialogue windows during the missions, and the pre-mission briefings consist of talking to your commanders and persons of interest and browsing through dossiers full of background information on the setting of the game and the characters and Intel on the current mission.
The presentation on the game is a minimalist, featuring a futuristic, computerized approach with strong colours and dark outlines showing off the terrain and characters. These colours differentiate all the different factions of the units with: your troops, civilians, enemies, allies all with fully customizable colours which are a godsend for any colour-blind gamers. Audio wise there is very little in terms of sound bar the gentle background music and the sound of the weapons.
The gameplay takes place in short, 5 second simultaneous turns were you set out the actions you wish your units to take once you feel the orders are at their best and that you are ready to commit to them. The orders range from movement, aiming (or firing if it is a Grenade Launcher or Rocket Launcher), ducking, waiting a specific number of seconds etc. When a unit of yours sees an enemy unit they will stand still and shoot at the enemy unless told otherwise. All of these details mean that each you can really get into as much detail as you want with each of your unit’s actions. If you want to have one person cover a set of open doorways while another flanks to shoot into a room over some cover then you can do that. If you want a Rocket Launcher to blast open the wall of a room then a Grenade Launcher bounces a grenade in while a Shotgun covers the exits then you’re able to do that to. The scope of what you are able to do and how you plan everything to pan out; is entirely up to how you invest in all the actions. More detailed actions are not necessarily more likely to make you win. With everything killing in one shot the game really does expect you to take your time committing to orders. Before you make any moves you can preview your actions for this turn; which can show you who aren’t doing what you want or who will be killed if you don’t change your actions for that unit. The only problem is that it only works with your units meaning that civilians are still an unknown quantity on the battlefield.
The five types of unit in Frozen Synapse are: Shotgun, Machinegun, Sniper, Grenade Launcher and Rocket Launcher. The Shotgun excels at close quarters were it will kill an enemy more often than not. Machineguns are mid-range but can hit anything on the map if enough shots are fired. Snipers are long range and are almost guaranteed to hit. Grenade Launchers fire grenades when you specify which will bounce off of any walls they come into contact with, they will not however destroy walls or cover. Missile Launchers can fire straight across the map if they have line of sight but all missiles fired will only detonate on walls; you cannot hit the floor or cover (unless you are ducked down). Using the unit types to the best of their abilities is just half the challenge of setting up your orders, making sure that you take into account enemy actions and the objectives of the match is the other.
The multiplayer has 5 gametypes: Extermination, Secure, Charge, Hostage and Disputed; each of which has a Dark mode which is the same game but with fog of war on, all of which last 40 seconds as a standard with the ability to be changed to be longer or shorter. Dark mode restricts what you see so you only see the last known position of any enemy units that one of your units has seen after the games start. Extermination is a standard Deathmatch with whichever units you each have trying to eliminate as many of the opponent’s units as possible. Secure has you and your opponent “bid” on an area to defend from the opposing team, the larger the area chosen the higher the bid. The highest bid wins the ability to defend while the opposing sides bid is highlighted in red on the map and they now have to attack this position. Hostage has you play as either the attackers or defenders, with the defending team making sure hostages don’t escape while attackers try to free them by bringing them to the yellow borders around the map. Hostages can move from turn 2 and can only receive orders once. Once hostages are committed they cannot change their orders, so knowing a plan is imperative. Disputed has boxes spawn on the 5th turn where the boxes can be picked up and evacuated to the blue edge of the map to score points with the team with the most points winning. If the enemy team is eliminated then you claim all boxes and vice versa. Charge has a bid system like secure where you each choose a line to reach and stay behind by the end of the match; with the furthest bid winning. The bid winner must get a unit over the line and shave a unit over the line by the end of the match to win.
Multiplayer games can be played with multiple games on the go whilst you wait for your opponents to commit to their moves. You can switch games on the fly with a short load time before switching back or playing a campaign level. In game prompts will alert you to a game being ready to continue or if you have to go offline you can carry on later. This system lets you play in an internet chess style way were you can continue here and there and you can even receive email updates on the progression of your matches meaning that you can micromanage your games bit by bit over days, weeks or however long you feel, giving gamers who live in different time zones to play together with ease. There are also options such as watching your previous games or similar games meaning you can always check on what you’ve been doing wrong in your matches.
The map generator is a good piece of tech that can change different elements depending on what you want such as; randomise the terrain, make the map symmetrical, add units for one or both teams etc. These maps can then be saved after being generated so that you can load them up for use later. The generator is also implemented in the single player campaign where if you fail the mission/restart the map will change ever so slightly but still retain a lot of the same layouts.
Presentation & Audio
The game keeps everything looking futuristic with sharp colours and simple environments which keep the gameplay at its top without being cluttered or difficult to understand. The inclusion of colour changes to give access to colour blind gamers is well thought out and obviously a great help to those who need it. Menus are slick and easy to navigate with nothing being too hidden away, and switching between games is fluid and easy to do.
A great idea that is executed incredibly well and though the game’s tutorial is good it never really prepares you as fully as is needed for the campaign or multiplayer as the difficulty and learning curve are pretty high. Once you can find your bearings with the steep learning curve you will find the game to be very open to all sorts of tactics.
With 55 single player missions, randomly generated maps and 5 multiplayer modes this game has a good amount of content to get through. The ability to play turn by turn with an option to have emails sent to tell you that your moves are required is a huge part of keeping the multiplayer alive. Hopefully DLC will be made to add new features and give even more to the game.
A hybrid game-type which needs well thought out orders for the missions to be successful gives plenty to do and a lot to look at statistics wise including playback of previous matches, seeing similar matches to what you have just played. The game excels in all areas of gameplay and the various options and statistics will give you plenty of room to learn from mistakes and improve your game. The variety and design of the game lead this to be a must have strategy game.
Frozen Synapse is unlike any turn based strategy I have ever played; it is far more tactical, more detailed in each action, more varied and has a lasting appeal that many other games don’t. If I play multiplayer I can leave and take part in another game or continue in the campaign without losing any data or have any down-time waiting for my opponents to make an action. It really is a game that improves on the turn based genre and makes it much more engaging and rewarding when things pan out well. If you want something that is easy to pick up and play whenever you have time or that you like turn based games then this is definitely a game to buy. If you can get past the difficulty curve then you will find this to be a serious contender for strategy game of the year.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.