War Tapes Frozen Synapse17 Apr 2015 0
Welcome to the semi-regular feature War Tapes, where Jake Tucker examines some of the better PC games of years gone by. In this instalment we’re going back to the future with Frozen Synapse.
Words have power.
Words and the way they’re used are important, which is why one of the most powerful details, tiny though it is, is the way the End Turn button is called “Prime”. There’s a weight to the word.
Why shouldn’t there be? Your glowing characters could find themselves extinguished if you’ve made the wrong move. If you’re not as smart as you think you are, or your opponent is smarter. You won’t tell until the turn resolution plays out. So, it’s with bated breath and my heart in my throat that I find myself clicking the prime button at the end of each set of moves.
What Is Frozen Synapse?
Some context perhaps. Mode 7’s 2011 Frozen Synapse is Rainbow Six’s pre-mission planning phase made complete, a stripped back simulation of close quarter combat that never fails to be equal parts tense and compelling.
This odd mix comes from the unique way the turns play out. Both players plan their next 5 seconds simultaneously, trying to plan their own moves while second guessing what their opponent will do. That doorway could lead to perfect cover, or a quick end at the hands of the flanker with the shotgun but you can’t stop moving because you only have 8 turns to come to a resolution.
The space bar is your biggest ally and cruellest enemy here, because by hitting space you can simulate the next five seconds with all the information available to you. Any rockets flying your way or soldiers you can see are accounted for, but information you don’t know and enemy actions still to be confirmed aren’t included giving you a murky picture at best.
The spacebar is your salvation, but only if it wants to be.
There’s a mix of different soldier types, from the scenery destroying rocket launcher to the pinpoint accurate snipers, and learning each unit’s strengths and weaknesses is key if you want to succeed.
The game has an extensive collection (35 in the base game, 15 more in the expansion) of single player missions, and a random skirmish generator but the real strength here is in the randomly generated multiplayer match-ups that can even be played asynchronously, with Steam giving you a polite nudge when it’s your turn.
How Does It Play Now?
My first thoughts on loading the game up is that in the several years since I was playing it extensively I’ve forgotten how to use the interface. As it’s mostly controlled with a right click menu and drag and drop, I was back up to speed within 20 seconds of the first turn.
The 8 turn limit in skirmishes delivers quick, urgent combat. This means that you can quickly get a dose of the full experience. It also handles the close quarters stuff so much more elegantly than War Tapes favourites Jagged Alliance 2 and Silent Storm.
I played a few skirmishes against the AI and they were challenging enough, but the real fun was in playing with a friend. There’s no time to test each other’s defences and instead you’ll just push into each other and hope to get lucky. In most of the modes you won’t see the position of the enemy unless they’re in your line of sight, with a ghostly afterimage of their last position being all that remains.
My friend was much sharper than I and the first round saw me getting pushed back into a corner.
“You dick” he typed in all caps after two clever turns turned his overwhelming advantage into a draw.
The single player tends to be slightly longer form with your operatives shooting down scores of enemy combatants on the way to completing their objectives. It’s the same game, but different. I found myself regularly shying away from the single player in favour of AI skirmishes but for those of you wanting something to sink your teeth into there’s plenty to enjoy.
Technically Speaking / Which Version
The game isn’t particularly taxing. It should run on any hardware post-2007 that you’ve got laying around and there’s a good selection of resolutions supported too. As it’s a relatively new game by War Tapes standards compatibility with newer systems isn’t a problem.
There’s a few different versions floating around though. I’ve played and tested the original Frozen Synapse PC version but you can also get the game for Android and iOS. There’s a remake floating around: “Frozen Synapse Prime”, which is available on PS3, Vita, Android, iOS and of course, PC.
Honestly? Nothing I can recommend. There’s a lot of extra maps that’ve been made to cater to people that might want to run around levels from other maps. It doesn’t really need that in my mind, I’d recommend just jumping in and playing it vanilla.
Is It For Me?
If you like your strategy in short doses, or you don’t have the time to get into a long winded strategy campaign, this gives you a perfect sized chunk of strategy without any sort of tradeoff in the core experience. There’s no oversimplification, no diluting of the core experience.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more consequence you might be better served with a bigger strategy game, but for something to play during a lunch hour or if you don’t have a lot of time it’s excellent.
The multiplayer is great for people short on time, too. You can play asynchronously or finish a match in 15 minutes, and I think all of the strategy fans should keep it installed just to dip into at will. Also, buying a PC copy on Steam gives you a spare copy to play with a friend, so you can try out that multiplayer with a friendly face.