I’m a big fan of indie computer games, and I love it when I luck into finding something that’s both new and fairly undiscovered. A friend recently pointed me to Frozen Synapse and I’ve had a great few weeks playing through the single player levels as well as trying my hand against a variety of human opponents scattered across the globe.
The game is pure 2D strategy; a bird’s eye view of the playing field gives you the location of your shapeforms — best I can figure out, these are somewhat like cloned soldiers that you control via The Shape, a modified network that has elements of the Internet and The Matrix and virtual reality all mixed together. To be honest, I really couldn’t get into the backstory that has a ton of conspiracy plots and characters that say one thing but do another. You’re basically assigned missions that affect different points of the storyline, but after a handful of missions I just started ignoring the story and going straight for the gameplay.
As for gameplay, imagine a game of Clue where Colonel Mustard is out to shoot (or blow up) Professor Plum. He’s got to move around the board, in and out of rooms (many with doors, windows, and other obstacles that you can shoot over or hide behind), and constantly be checking behind him, left and right, and what’s in front. Meanwhile, Professor Plum is simultaneously hunting Colonel Mustard. Throw in a nice dose of having to micro-control Colonel Mustard’s aiming direction, how long he pauses before sprinting by an open door, and whether he chooses to ignore a distant target in favor of a flat out run for cover, and you’ve got the basic idea of Frozen Synapse’s duck/cover/shoot/run style of play.
If you’re into strategy games and micro-managing a dozen or so game elements, you’re going to love this game. If you prefer point-and-shoot WASD games, you might want to sit this one out. I say that because the game is often frustrating. No, correct that – quite often frustrating. Given a fixed number of turns to complete an objective, you’ve got an unlimited amount of tweaking and planning time to test your tactics. There’s a Play button that you can press to send your units scampering and fighting; if you find a unit’s particular angle isn’t working well for watching the sides, tweak it a bit and test it again. I guess this is why I love X-Com and its land-based fighting game… the ability to take as long as you need to plan your attack before setting it in motion. This is the X-Com assault game on steroids; super-complex planning with the option to play a few seconds of game play over and over and over until you’re happy with the results. And then you do it all again. If that doesn’t sound fun to you, then trust your gut… this is the type of game that has a definite niche audience and thankfully my buddy knew me well enough to recommend it and know that I’d enjoy it.
Besides the gameplay, I have to compliment the developers for some cool graphics. It may just be me, but I love the deep blue, virtual-reality-like graphics; I see them in so few games these days and I’m guessing they make me reminisce for the late ’80s/early ’90s style of games. (The graphics also remind me of another favorite, Uplink; I must have something for UK-based game developers.) The graphics are somewhat violent, however, so this isn’t a game for young kids — after watching one of your shapeforms get blown away, a pool of blood spreads under the outline of the corpse, serving as a reminder that your tactics may need to be refined. Explosions from grenades and rockets never end well for nearby units, so again… not for kiddies.
I do love the music, too — not too heavy on the techno and fast enough to be catchy. (You can also buy the soundtrack to the game if you find you like it as I do.) I’m actually writing this post as one of the songs (The Plan – track #3) plays quietly in the background on my laptop.
After you’ve completed the single player missions, you can select the Skirmish option for randomized games against the computer. I didn’t think these would be as difficult as playing against a human opponent, but I’ve had a handful of randomly generated battles that make me think the computer is cheating! (It’s not — I’ve since discovered some new tactics by watching my computer-controlled foe and figuring out its much more complex tweaks.) There are other game modes as well, including the popular Hostage Rescue where you’ll need to escort one or more VIPs to safety.
The developers are currently offering a buy one, get one free deal– so if you know of a friend that might be interested in this game, you can get two copies for the price of one and split the cost. I don’t know how long this promotion will last, but it’s still happening as I write this post.
All in all, I’ve enjoyed playing Frozen Synapse. I like that I can play a more involved game against a human player or have a quick shoot-out in a random Skirmish encounter. As I said earlier, the game isn’t for everyone. The level of control and the constant testing and tweaking of your assigned actions is sure to drive some players crazy. But if you’re like me, and you like an occasional game that’s not a twitch-based, look away for 0.2 seconds and you’re dead, WASD controlled first-person shooter, you might very well like the slower paced planning and strategy required in this indie gem.
Disclaimer: I contacted Mode 7 Games to request a review copy of the game.