Frozen Synapse Mac Review

A perfect blend of the old and the new

by Ben Ingber
Gaming Review

Frozen Synapse Mac Review

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It’s not uncommon to hear the claim that a game isn’t original because specific mechanics or presentational styles have been seen before. But the truth is, combining and subverting existing ideas is a legitimate approach to innovation.

And so it is with Frozen Synapse. The gameplay is something of an homage to Julian Gallop (specifically classic titles like Choas, X-COM and Laser Squad: Nemesis), but there are elements drawn from titles spanning nearly three decades: Rainbow Six, Cannon Fodder, even the 80s heist planner They Stole a Million — not to mention traditional turn-based board and card games. 

Similarly, inspiration for the art style can be found in Tron, and further comparisons could be drawn with Introversion’s as-yet-unreleased Subversion, as well as the most recent incarnation of Pac-Man. 

So yes, if you take a microscopic view of specific elements of Mode 7’s latest release, you could rightly claim there is little new to be found. But you’d have missed the point.

In the words of the developers, Frozen Synapse is a “simultaneous turn-based tactical game”. It’s the “simultaneous” bit that provides the twist on the established formula. Matches are a two-player affair in a confined environment, with each squad consisting of three or four units. A turn consists of setting waypoints, aiming lines and so on, and when you're ready you hit the ‘Prime’ button - at which point you're free to go start another game, or wonder how the hell it got to 3am because it only seemed like ten minutes ago that Eastenders was on. Once both turns have been committed, you'll be notified in-game or by email, and when you're ready you can go and watch the outcome - in which both players' moves are performed at the same time. 

The shift in gameplay psychology resulting from simultaneous action cannot be understated. Rather than simply responding to your opponent, the strategic emphasis shifts to pre-empting their moves. During the planning phase, you can set theoretical waypoints for enemy squaddies as well as your own. Hitting the spacebar plays the scenario through, and you’ll find yourself doing this dozens of times, tinkering and tweaking your units’ actions till you are confident your tactics are foolproof. 

As a novice player quite often you'll find that five seconds later - that’s how long a turn lasts in real time - most of your squad will be dead, and you’ll be wondering what the hell went wrong. But this game manages the delicate balance of challenge against frustration flawlessly. You'll learn from each mistake, understand what was done to outwit you, and develop strategies of your own. Soon enough it'll be you who’s winning in just a handful of turns. 

See, the fun in Frozen Synapse hinges on those moments of tragedy and triumph: calculated or unexpected events that follow an age of planning, but take mere seconds to unfold. Maps and initial spawn points are all but random, so to that extent you’re at the mercy of chance, but the in-game rules are quick to grasp and you’ll never feel cheated by the mechanics.

Frozen Synapse

 

There are five multiplayer modes with a variety of imaginative objectives, including a couple in which you wager on how much of the map you can defend or attack. The person who believes they can hold the largest area, has to do so.

'Extermination' is the last man standing option, and is the one you'll find yourself playing most frequently. Each mode can be played 'dark' or 'light', with the former hiding enemies that aren't in one of your squad member's line of sight.

And that which is true for multiplayer extends to the 55 level single player game, too. Levels are crafted around achieving specific outcomes, but design is part-randomised, increasing reply value dramatically. The AI could probably pass a gamers' Turing test, and while the plot isn't particularly memorable (or good), the effort that's gone into the campaign ensures it's not just a bolt-on to a multiplayer experience.

A final mention should go to the effortless social media integration that Mode 7 have included. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all supported, and the video export feature (which edits the entire contest down to just the action) works superbly.

Frozen Synapse is a game that can be enjoyed regardless of whether or not you're a fan of the strategy genre. It captures the competitive calm that surrounds traditional board games, twists it, bathes it in neon, and manages to deliver one of the games of the year so far. Highly recommended.

Scores

Graphics

.
.
8

Audio

.
.
8

Overall

.
.
8

Gameplay

.
.
8

Single Player

.
.
.
.
6

Multiplayer

10

Longevity

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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