I have spent a lot of time recently playing Frozen Synapse, and an even greater amount of time thinking about it. Pondering my every move and simulating each eventuality I’ve probably spent more time staring at the screen, considering what to do rather than actually doing it. But then, that is kind of the point: Frozen Synapse is a tactical shooter with the emphasis strongly on the tactics, and preparation is the key to success.
Simultaneous but independent turn based combat makes this a unique and thrilling multiplayer experience. As you plot your units actions by setting way points, directing their aim and prioritising targets, your opponent is similarly plotting their own. Only once you have both confirmed your instructions will the match proceed and the result play out. It’s not entirely guess work though as you can simulate enemies orders to see what the outcome of any conflict would be. Can you duck behind that piece cover before being blown away by an on rushing shotgun guy? Try it and see. If not, rethink and try again. Like a militaristic Groundhog Day you can replay scenarios over and over again, tinkering and perfecting orders in relation to what you expect your opponent to do.
Simulation doesn’t make the game any less surprising though, rarely will you succeed so brilliantly as to perfectly replicate their plan of attack. Rockets destroying walls mean the map is changing with every turn, opening up new avenues of escape or exposing units to long range fire. And, as dark game modes will only show you exact enemy locations when you have them in your line of sight, you can only predict where adversaries may be and start your guess work from there. Hours spent plotting and planning, trying to get into your opponents head, can be wasted when an unforeseen rocket sails across the map and explodes above your squad of clustered troops.
Very rarely can you put a defeat down to bad luck, especially not with regards to individual encounters. How a victor is decided in any skirmish is dependent on a few variables, primarily the speed and direction at which a unit is moving as well as if they have the benefit of any cover and how accurately they might be aiming. A unit sprinting will be taken out by a unit more carefully covering the area, and shooting from cover means you’re less likely to lose in a one on one. Multiplayer maps, and the spawn locations of your units, are randomly generated which can be a frustration if your starting point is a little unfortunate, however it does mean that every game represents a unique challenge.
With five game modes, friends lists, rankings, matchmaking and the ability to upload videos of your most glorious victories to YouTube at the click of a post match button, it’s easy to enjoy Frozen Synapse solely for its multiplayer, but there’s also a comprehensive single player campaign to boot. Campaign missions offer a twist on the games own formula, you’re still second guessing the AIs unit placement and movement but with objectives and challenges greater than simply wiping out the opposing force. Escorting and protecting civilians, assaulting marked areas of the map and hunting specific enemy characters, often while outnumbered and outgunned, adds an extra level of difficulty to the standard match up. And, with a more than serviceable cyberpunk plot linking everything together and giving some context to your campaign of well planned violence as well as skirmish games and a quality original soundtrack there’s a whole lot to enjoy without having to pit your wits against another player.
Frozen Synapse is a triumph in multiplayer, an exciting and tense game with ecstatic victories and humbling defeats. There’s a great pleasure to be had in out witting and out maneuvering an opponent, it’s fun against the AI but extraordinary enjoyable against a human competitor. Even in defeat, rather than cursing your luck you’ll find yourself silently nodding in acceptance of a game well played and a lesson learned as it’s never the constraints of the game that leads to your defeat but absolutely the better play of the victor. Intense, creative and intelligent, Frozen Synapse succeeds both online and off, this is an incredible game I would happily recommend to anyone with an internet connection.