Frozen Synapse (PC) Preview

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, April 29th, 2010
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Previews/frozen_synapse/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Frozen Synapse is a tactical shooter of sorts from Mode 7 Games, the folks behind the well done multiplayer sword fighting game Determinance. The game just recently hit beta, and I was given some playtime with it to see how things are playing out.

On the surface, Synapse is quite simple and accessible. Judging from the trailers, you might be intimidated, but there's really not much to the foundation of the design, and that's a positive point. However, while the game is easy to play, it can be very difficult to win, and for folks not into say, the Jagged Alliance or Commandos series (particularly the latter), you'll have to put in some fairly long hours before you'll be winning many matches, especially online.

Four modes are included: Elimination, Disputed, Secure, and Hostage. The premise in Elimination is straightforward: throw yourself into a match and eliminate as many opponents as possible before your five turns are up. Disputed is like Elimination except a group of red boxes appear on turn 5 -- you must grab as many as possible and try to escape. Secure sees you defending select portions of the map, and Hostage has you rescuing hostages (surprise).

All modes are available in single and multiplayer, and additionally, there are "Dark" versions of each, which up the ante by making opponents visible only at the beginning -- after that they must be in your line of sight. "Ghost" opponents show you where they were sighted last.

Gameplay is divided into five second-long turns, though you and your opponent are making moves simultaneously.

The hook and part of the accessibility comes from the strongly mouse-based and intuitive controls -- simply double click a location to direct your unit there, and again and again for additional waypoints. Clicking any waypoint allows you to issue orders (duck, aim, engage on sight, etc.) for that particular location and in some cases, for a set duration. The difficulty comes from the amount of tactics you'll have to keep in mind at all times, like ducking behind "half walls", effectiveness of weapons (rocket launchers, machine guns, sniper rifles, and more), running past enemies for an advantegeous position, first sighting, and lots more -- slip up even a bit and you're dead on sight. While you may lose a lot at first, it's very satisfying to win, which is a mark of good game design in my book.

While I was encouraged to keep in mind this is a "very early" beta, in terms of gameplay Frozen Synapse feels about good enough to release already, so I'm definitely excited for any improvements to an already solid experience. However, two main sticking points need to be addressed.

For one, the fantastic music you heard in the video above and also the first trailer is not present during gameplay -- there's one song playing during the opening and that's it. I'm assured this will be present in a future update however, and let me just say it will absolutely bring the game up many notches -- with of course an volume and mute option for the thinking man who requires quiet.

Secondly is the UI. The interface we see during gameplay is fine and dandy, but for the life of me I couldn't find an option for exiting a match or the game itself. Besides that, the interfaces on the whole feel pretty unintuitive and clunky -- kind of like using a webpage with way too much Java. Mode 7 needs to work on this in order to make it feel as smooth and intuitive as the gameplay, then we've got a real winner. I'm told it's very much a work in progress, anyway, and all of my concerns will be addressed.

All said, for casual players and tactical nuts alike, I highly recommend checking out Frozen Synapse, particularly with the insanely low system requirements -- it feels like one of those rare titles that defines a new genre or subgenre. The game is expected to hit the PC late this year, and can be pre-ordered with beta access and other optional content now from the official website. Plus, a copy for your friend is included with all pre-orders. A Mac version will release later, presumably in 2011.

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