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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Frozen Synapse (PC)

Frozen Synapse is one of the most engaging little strategy games I’ve ever played. Its multiplayer-focused, short and sweet battles are intense while also being strategic, and yet this is also a game that almost anyone can pick up and play. In short? It's got something for everyone, and even casual strategists can get into this one.

This game is awesome.

It starts with a really easy tutorial that lays out the basic foundations of the game. Frozen Synapse does a good job of introducing people to simultaneous turn based strategy games – a genre usually relegated to the most hardcore of strategy wargames. Both yourself and your opponent plot out movements and actions for each of your soliders, and then those actions play out at the same time. It’s a system that works well for many other strategy games, and has the unique ability to both reducing your ability to simply react to your opponent, while (unlike most RTS games), allowing you to lay out some fairly complex strategies.

After completing the tutorial you’re free to play the campaign, skirmish against AI or engage in multiplayer bouts. To be honest the AI while decent, is the dull side of this game. The real fun is in taking on friends online, and there this game glows.




The secret to its success is in its simplicity, meaning anyone can pick up and get into the game. There’s only a handful of unit types, and these are randomly assigned before each battle – there’s the machine gunner, rocket launchers and grenade-toting explosion man, shotgun guy for the close-and-deadly and the long range sniper.

Each of those units only have a few commands, with the main ones being movement, changing facing and toggling whether your unit will fire on the enemy, or drop his guard and move a bit faster. Given there’s only three or four units available to you in each battle, being able to make the most out of those units with the limited commends is critical, and will take a lot of practice to master – each unit has unique firing ranges and quirks to take into account; Rockets can blow holes in the wall, grenades bounce off those same walls, for instance.

It's initially confusing, but soon becomes very easy to play


And, given the randomly generated levels are small in size, you have to be on your toes. It’s rare for a match to reach the ‘draw’ point – most games are over in just five or so turns – in video form, that’s just half a minute. Moving around the levels are a skill in itself – units have their unique firing arcs and can be set to stand and fire. It’s a system that opens up the opportunity to lay down ambushes and suppressing fire.

It’s possible to “save” battles and come back to them at a later date – the developers have implemented a play-by-email system into the game itself, meaning it’s possible to come back, input your turn, and then come back a day or two later to see how that turn went and input your next turn. The developers have clearly gone all out to offer a robust online experience.


This is a battle between myself and another of the Digitally Downloaded staffers, Owen. It was a good battle indeed.


Add in YouTube, Facebook and Twitter support, and this is a very social kind of strategy game. It’s fun and easy to save and upload your favourite matches to YouTube for sharing around, and it’s encouragement to keep playing the game and getting better – you can watch back and see how your strategies and abilities of the game evolve over time.

There’s an online leaderboard as well for additional incentive to improve. So, while Frozen Synapse is a relatively simple and limited strategy game, much like chess or a good board game it’s a great way to while away a rainy weekend. Throw in a huge range of gameplay modes (everything from standard deathmatch to rescue the hostages), and you’re looking at a game that will last a lot of rainy weekends.

Maps are small. This keeps the action tense


We can’t recommend this game enough, and if you are yourself a player, why not log on to our forum, introduce yourself, and get a few games going?


Review: Frozen Synapse (PC)
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