It’s a rather overused adage now to compare games to chess. But if any game fit into this comparison so snugly, it’d be Frozen Synapse, the new strategy title from three man indie team Mode 7 Games. Not that you would be able to immediately guess that from first glance.
Utilizing a visual style somewhere between Defcon’s minimalist blueprint style and Tron, Frozen Synapse is essentially the modern day homage to turn based combat seen in games like X-COM UFO Enemy Unknown, but with everything stripped down to the essential components. Two teams face off against each other on randomly generated maps, with the aim -at least on the default gamemode – to kill the other team. Once players have made their moves, they send them to the server, and if the next turn has already been made by their opponent they can see their actions immediately. Otherwise when the turn is sent you can get on with other tasks, and the game will email you when the next turn is ready. After five turns, a victor is declared, based on how many of your team are still standing against your opponent.
The spark of genius comes in that the game actually allows you to thoroughly plan your moves, even down to anticipating your opponent’s. In the default mode Dark Extermination, you are shown the inital starting point of your enemy, and then after that only if you see them again. However, their last known locations not only stay on the map, but you can also move them in anticipation of where you think they are going to go before you commit your move. This means you are far more informed of decisions before you actually make a move, if you think an enemy is going to duck behind a wall but you can hit him with a well ricocheted grenade, you can try out your theory. If it’s unsuccessful, you can try something else without worrying about your move being comitted. A lot like how in chess you know pieces can only move in certain ways, this really helps to inform your stratagems, and victories really feel earned through both intelligence and skill. Of course, the enemy might not actually go the way you thought they would go, but as such defeats feel fairer because you feel as if you didn’t plan for it, not as if you couldn’t.
There are various units, each with their strengths and weaknesses. For example, snipers are more accurate at long ranges but take time to line up a shot. Rockets create a massive explosion that can destroy the scenery but they can only be fired at walls, never at opponents. It’s little nuances like this that make Frozen Synapse deceptively complex while being fairly straightforward to grasp – the hallmark of the best strategy games. Other game modes include an ingenious mode where you have to bid on areas of the game to attack and defend. Whoever makes the highest bid then has to make good on their claim.
Mode 7 Games really seem to have the outwardly simple yet deeply complex thing down to a fine art. From the straightforward controls that allow everything to be done on just the mouse, to the accessibility of one button game joining and the ability to export your best games straight to YouTube; It’s clear Mode 7 have made user-friendliness peak of their agenda. Even though it’s still in beta, it’s a very polished product – so much so that ordering it right now from their website nets you two copies of the beta to play with a friend so you can try it yourself. It already seems fairly complete, but with a map editor, single player campaign and more promised for the final release, Frozen Synapse definitely seems like one to keep an eye on in the time to come.
Frozen Synapse is available to pre-order now from the website from £16.99 which gets you a free copy for a friend.