I don’t immediately reach for a turn-based title when I’m gaming. I’m a fairly twitchy gamer (thanks, Quakeworld), so having to actually wait my turn while my opponent is free to move around gets on my nerves. That’s not to say I won’t give turn-based titles a chance – the iPhone implementation of Neuroshima Hex is quite enjoyable. As gamers, we should all be clear-minded and open to new experiences. (Should.)
Frozen Synapse is a turn-based game of tactics. Players pit their assault teams of little neon men wielding assault rifles, shotguns and explosives against their opponents’ in a top-down arena filled with cover. You plan your assault, issue orders, and then play out the results. Every turn is played asynchronously – once a turn begins, both sides move and perform their actions at the same time. It becomes less like chess and more like American Football.
The game does reward sound tactical thought, encouraging you to read your opponent’s moves, anticipate what they may do the next turn, and wait for them to overplay their hand so you can take the advantage. (That said, a little bit of luck goes a long way towards winning.) Alternatively, it can be incredibly frustrating to see your carefully planned assault go horribly wrong when your opponent counters with devastating efficiency.
The level of gameplay detail in Frozen Synapse is deep. Players need to issue orders to their troops by plotting paths using waypoints, and issuing orders throughout those waypoints to maximise the amount of damage done. Players need to be incredibly explicit when giving orders to their troops. There are very few contextual actions here, and the initial learning curve can be intimidating. If you want a soldier to run, you should tell them to stop aiming beforehand. If they’re behind low cover, you should tell them to duck so as to take full advantage of it. When they reach a certain waypoint and are getting sprayed by the enemy, you should tell them to ignore the gunfire and keep on running. If a grenade is ready to explode near your soldier’s path, you should tell them to wait 2.4 seconds and then emerge from cover. This is where would-be tacticians can shine because most of the control is given to the player. Those who are looking for something akin to an RTS (where build orders are memorised and units are sent to their deaths en masse) will probably not enjoy themselves here.
Randomly generated levels (be it skirmish or single-player campaign) ensure some good replay value, and the obligatory co-op and versus modes are building a growing community. Server connections can be touch and go, but that could just be me attempting to connect to a UK server from Japan.
Even though I’m not a huge fan of turn-based games, Frozen Synapse has the uncanny ability to make me think “…just one more turn before bed”. Fans of micro-management and tactical planning will really sink their teeth into this one.