The indie scene has produced some stellar titles of late and this trend continues with Mode 7’s Frozen Synapse, a turn based combat simulator that is hugely addictive and enjoyable. In fact, it could well be one of my favourite games of the year.
Frozen Synapse places you in charge of squads of drones, human soldiers who lack intelligence beyond firing their weapons, as you lead them to victory against enemy drones in order to overthrow an evil totalitarian corporation. It’s a pleasantly well thought-out and delivered narrative. The resistance enlists you to help command the drones, and through the briefings you are gradually apprised of the state of the world and the plight of the people. It’s thought provoking stuff that’s exceptionally well written, if a little clichéd.
The interface and visuals are explained as a virtual reality construct for you to operate in, explaining the aesthetic and graphical limitations wonderfully, and despite the justification they certainly have a charm of their own. In-game, the environments consists of neon shades of blue to represent the floor and different sized walls – full height and chest high – with drones represented by other neon primary colours. As the commander, you are tasked with ordering the drones to perform actions within these battle zones.
Each zone is a fight to the death for yours and the enemy’s drones. You decide each of your drones’ movements and tactics for each turn, ordering them to walk, run, crouch, aim in a certain direction and so forth through waypoints and a whole host of drop down options, all in an attempt to out-think your invisible enemy. During your issuing of orders, you can run a simulation to see them carried out, you can even predict how the enemy drones will act in order to test your plan. Hours can be spent constructing the perfect attack plan, but it’s not until you proceed with the turn that you find out the results of your hard work. It’s utterly brilliant. The enemy AI is just as devious and tactical as you and makes each turn a tense battle of wits.
Additionally, drones are equipped with a range of different weapons with different situational uses. Rocket launchers can blow holes in walls, shotguns are useful for close encounters, and so on. Positioning becomes an incredibly important part of the process. Sheer strength of numbers and aggression certainly have their uses, but tactics are the true name of the game, and using each drone to their full potential is the only way to victory.
It’s not perfect though. The impressive scope of options in commanding your drones suffers from a slightly confusing and cluttered dropdown menu, although the wonderfully written tutorial equips you to handle yourself more than adequately. There’s also a lack of variety. Whilst the environments change — even replaying a mission results in a newly generated locale — the overall goal and method of completion is less dynamic. It is, however, undoubtedly fun and addictive, so it’s hard to judge it too harshly on this.
There’s also multiplayer, which simply replaces the AI with human opponents and is absolutely excellent. Fellow humans make an already tense and exciting battle even more so.
Frozen Synapse reinvigorates the turn based genre by injecting an intensity and excitement to the fundamental mechanics. It’s a wonderfully simple idea fully realised through the depth of its tactical scope, and man alive is it addictive.
Frozen Synapse is an outstanding indie game that will completely consume your time.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PC Release Date: 26/05/11
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Frozen Synapse for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.