Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Frozen Synapse

It takes quite a steady hand to make great strategy games. You have to lay out a bunch of options that can help a player make meticulous decisions to aid them in defeating their enemies who may either be complete dullards or about 5 steps ahead of you. I'm not saying "the more options, the better"; what I am saying is that there need to be a reasonably sizeable amount of variables to make each fight feel significantly different, to give the player a wide array of strategies to combat his/her opponents. That's all. Simpler strategy games, in my opinion, don't work that well due to them having a tendency to limiting you to just one strategy. A game like Pokemon Conquest only works due to the amount of fun that it is, but other than that, it's technically a mediocre strategy game due to the limited amount of strategies available (hmm should I rush and attack, or rush and attack - decisions, decisions). A game like Frozen Synapse, on the other hand, is technically brilliant due there being enough variables to give you many ways in or out of a situation without overwhelming you. It's safe to say that I really love this game and if you're a fan of strategy games... you've probably got this already, and if you're not, Frozen Synapse is not all that hard to get into unless you're easily discouraged.

Frozen Synapse does have a story, but all it really amounts to is that in a dystopian future, you're helping a resistance group take down the government, who had manipulated the populace. There is a lot of information you can look up about the world between levels, though its only significance is for your curiosity. There aren't any characters to speak of and nothing too interesting happens... in fact, the only thing worth anything is the lore, but what makes it more bearable is that it knows it's filler. Unlike, say, Pokemon Conquest, Frozen Synapse doesn't go out of its way to make its story the focal point when it's presented with about as much care as a neglected child. Oh, it's there, but it's not in your face. It's there to justify the fighting, especially when you look up the data files. While the story is essentially filler, eh, it's interesting to at least learn about the world of Frozen Synapse.

Tactics is the name of the game. You'll be given eight turns to take down the enemy units, with each turn lasting five seconds, but what really, really gives it steam is the planning phase. During this, you can essentially simulate your next turn. Using what you can see on a randomly generated map, you select one of your units and double click to a spot where you want that unit to travel, and do the same thing with all of your units. You can also mess around with the enemy units to create a bunch of what-if scenarios, like what if that enemy unit moved through the building and then one of your units moves to the entrance as a surprise, or what if you willingly sacrificed one of your units to get the other to mess the enemies up.

But it's not just about moving from Point A to Point B; you can set up waypoints in between and change how your unit moves, either having them crouching behind cover, ignoring everyone or aiming in a direction you think an enemy unit will come from. It sounds more limiting on paper than it does in practice because not only does your opponent have the same options, but their tactics can differ greatly from yours, and one move can change the game in a very significant way. Not to mention that there are a few different types of units - ones with assault rifles who are sort of the everyman kind of class; ones with shotguns who are brilliant at close range but not so much the further away the target is; ones with sniper rifles who are best at a long range; and ones with explosive weapons whose jobs are to blow up walls with enemy units in them (that or for grenade users, trigger explosions a few spaces in front of an unsuspecting enemy unit), so at least there's some variation between them to keep things a bit more interesting, especially if you learn how to seriously kick some ass with whatever combination of unit types you're given.

In reality though, single player is a glorified training mission to get you ready for the multiplayer. It may contain a lot of missions with conditions varying from killing every enemy unit to saving hostages and protecting an area, but the main meat of Frozen Synapse is its multiplayer. Whether it's offline with a buddy right next to you or online with someone from (say) Scandinavia, there's always something to challenge your opponent with as there are more modes to try out and many variables to adjust. For instance, there are light and dark modes. Light modes let you see where the other player winds up at the end of a turn while dark mode only lets you see them if they're in your line of sight. The rest, I'll leave up to you, the reader. The cherry on the cake is that matches are easy to set up - if somebody happens to be online, you can simply ask them for a challenge and hope they accept it. It can be a little annoying when they bail out after accepting, but it happens and it's not something that should ruin your day, especially since you can simply challenge somebody else... if they haven't asked you first. In other words, multiplayer is a dream if you find yourself even remotely enjoying this game.

The game's visual style reminds me of Tron - what, with all the neon colors, mostly consisting of the color blue with some red and green here and there to make things stand out from the blue "inside the grid"-like environments. Thankfully, it's still easy to tell what are considered walls and what's considered waist high cover, indicated by what shade of blue they are within a square or L-shaped outline - the lighter shade being waist high cover and the darker one being a wall. What little animations and effects there are, are also minimalistic and they manage to look effective within the context of being inside a grid.

The calming electronic soundtrack compliments the visuals very well. Not only that, but it also fits the mood of the entire game pretty well, as each of the tracks are composed in a way that can suit the whole quiet and calculated nature of planning your next move with softer beats or even a piano on top of a synthesizer, while having harsher electronic (even dubstep-y) beats for when it's time to move out and either kill or get killed.

It's easy to want more out of this game like more equipment or a better story, but a philosophy I think we should all be following is that a good game is one that achieves what it strives to accomplish, and I believe Frozen Synapse does exactly that. It strived to be a hardcore tactics game and that's exactly what it is. It's also easy enough for beginners to get into as the story mode doesn't start off by throwing the kitchen sink at you, and the tutorial does a decent enough job of explaining the way it all works. So really, unless you don't like tactical games in general, I suggest that you go out and buy a copy of this game right now.

9/10 (Fucking Excellent) 

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