Frozen Synapse • Page 2

Laser Squad's nemesis.

Except, of course, your best-guess will often enough be completely inaccurate. Set up your orders, click end turn, and so long as the other guy's also given all his orders, your gambit plays out right away. Click, boom, rattatat, everybody's dead. Frozen Synapse can go disastrously wrong in an instant, but the rapid-fire nature of it means even the most brutal defeat is almost funny.

While you could have another go on the same map with the same units, another one of Frozen Synapse's neat tricks is that, by default, the level layout and soldier roster is randomly generated come each new match. You'll have a new experience each time and, crucially, you won't have to spend any time dicking around with soldier inventories.

This was the great folly of the otherwise splendid Laser Squad Nemesis, the play-by-email TBS by the creators of X-COM, and the clearest inspiration for Frozen Synapse. That game was slower than continental drift as it was, but the set-up times were the real killer. In Frozen Synapse, you're straight into the action: if you're given a rocket launcher, two snipers and a shotgun, that's what you're using. If no shots have been fired by, at most, turn three, then both players are bally cowards.

This is a game about crushing your enemy, punching the air and breathlessly bragging about how clever you are. It is not a game about hiding behind a wall for 48 turns. In a way, it capitalises on the new movement towards turn-based indie gaming, headed up by Solium Infernum and Neptune's Pride, but the fact that it's so quick to learn, quick to play and quick to reward or punish means it could well attract the horde. And so it should - the current beta build needs a little spit and polish, but it is still a shiny diamond of a thing. There's no question that it's taking action-strategy to a much-needed new place.

Also ensuring that Frozen Synapse stays frosty is a healthy bunch of different modes. I'll spare you a blow-by-blow, but suffice to say there's a whole lot more to do than repeatedly gun down Tron-like dudes. In particular, there's a puzzle mode - which proved a big hit with even entirely casual gamers when demoed at last year's Nottingham Game City - and a neat twist on base defence.

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Your troops are always green, and the enemy's red, for easy identification/murdering. Mode 7 says it's planning a colourblind-friendly mode, incidentially.

The latter sees both players bidding for how much of the map they believe they can realistically defend. The highest bidder gets his wish, while the other chap goes on the offence, able to spawn his guys all over the place and brutally test the wisdom (or idiocy) of the defender. These trials of honour versus sense are likely to prove one of the most popular modes, I suspect; you'll get to wave around a whole lot of willy if you successfully defend, say, a third of the entire map. Bragging rights are also endorsed via a baby Battle.net lobby, with which you can arrange a rematch, gloat over other players' stats and instantly upload entire match videos to Youtube.

There's more cleverness in how the turns are taken and communicated. You can both play simultaneously, the game letting each of you know when the other player's made his moves and the bloody resolution is ready, or you can wander off after you've sent your orders. Then game will send you an email when your nemesis-to-be is ready, or you can leave it running in your system tray and have it alert you with a pop-up.

So, while this turn-based game is likely at its best when played in breathless real-time, it's also something you can play in two-minute chunks across a couple of days without having to allocate a specific half-hour to play with a chum. In other words, if you are boring and old and spend all your time feeding the baby, walking the dog and washing the car, you can still play videogames about shooting other men to death. Welcome back, commander

The full version Frozen Synapse will hopefully be released before the year is out, but preordering it gets you instant access to the beta, and a second copy for a friend.

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About the author

Alec Meer

Alec Meer

Contributor

A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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