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When Frozen Synapse first came out, I really did not pay much attention to it. The visuals were really bad, and it was something that had almost no pre-release buzz. Then I picked it up cheap as part of a bundle and finally decided to see what all of the fuss was about.
I went into this title blind. I will admit that I saw the blocky, basic visuals and thought it might be a puzzle game of some sort – wow was I off-track on that one. What you have is a turn-based strategy game that actually feels fresh. Now, I cannot give the graphics a pass – they are pretty rough in my opinion. The map and characters would feel right at home on a PC from two decades ago, though there are some decently rendered sequences between missions that show peoples’ faces and locales.
The reason this game works though, is because the strategy is actually interesting. You really do get back what you put into it. At first the learning curve was a bit high – there was a lot of information to take in right away. That said, the layout was clean, the menus are helpful and easy to navigate and those elements helped ease the transition.
Essentially you are in command of a number of soldiers, who have different weapon types. You move them to specific locations, set them up with options like hiding behind shorter barriers, guarding windows or trying to control intersections by positioning and aiming them. You make these choices without knowing what your opponent has planned. Then both sides ‘go’ and move through their commands, and the sides engage in firefights if they call into each others’ cones of vision.
If this all sounds a bit strange, that’s because it sort of is at first. But there is a very long single player mode, and a fairly interesting multiplayer mode that handles rankings and matchmaking. I enjoyed the multiplayer, and had a frustration with it at the same time. The game plays out just like it does in single player mode, in that both sides plot out their turns and then flag themselves as ready to proceed. Once both sides are ready, the computer handles how the scenario plays out, and you are informed that you have a new turn available.
You can then access that game again and watch your turn play out. This was neat because I could react very quickly and have a handful of rounds roll out one after another if my opponent was still online at the time, or I could check back the next day and see if I was up yet. I really enjoyed that sort of measured play.
The downside is it is way too easy for players to abandon games they have no hope of winning. I had several matches I was almost certainly going to win, having my opinion down to their last soldier or two, but then they just never finished the map. This can create a very false win/loss record.
The music is decent – certainly better than the graphics, but the meat and potatoes here is in the gameplay itself. Adding further value to it, these maps are randomized. So even if you lose on a map, you start the level over and you will likely have an entirely new situation. I liked that because it forced me to actually get better at the game and not just memorize maps and movement patterns.