Frozen Synapse (PC) Review

Author: Sean Ridgeley
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, June 2nd, 2011
Originally Published on Neoseeker (
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Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.


Last year I took a look at Mode 7 Games' tactical shooter Frozen Synapse, noting its uniqueness and depth, but lack of polish. 13 months later, the studio has released the game to the public, polished it up a bit, and added in a 55 mission single player mode, plus another multiplayer mode (Charge).

Multiplayer & learning curve

Multiplayer is the meat of the game, so let's start with that. Sessions are set up through matchmaking or the friends system, and as the game is turn-based you can switch between matches and modes at will, playing as many as you like at a time. Once you get in, you're given a handful of green men to accomplish your objective with, whether that's taking out all enemies (Extermination), defending an area (Secure), capturing boxes (Disputed), rescuing or maintaining hostages (Hostage), or playing a stylized tug of war (Charge). As before, Light and Dark versions of each mode are available, which determine whether or not you can see your opponent at all times, or only at close range.

There are no noticeable changes in the learning curve department. The basics are easy and intuitive to grasp: in the planning stage, double click a given area to travel there, click again to add more destinations, and issue commands on any of the points to see them play out exactly when needed (Duck, Focus on Enemy, Continue on Sight, etc).

The same actions can be simulated for the enemy side, so you can determine exactly who would win an encounter, assuming it plays out as anticipated. A variety of units -- snipers, assault, explosive, etc. -- maintain a dynamic relationship, so you'll have to use each based on their strengths and weaknesses against other given units (snipers win against everything at extremely long range, for example, while shotgunners excel at close range). Once you've got your plan set, you hit the Prime button and watch it play out, and on and on it goes until you lose or win.

Unless you're a tactical or strategy master (or possibly even if you are), you'll be losing encounters left and right and will spend quite a few hours afterward determining why and how to improve your game. It's a hard slog, but a rewarding one: losing feels as frustrating as winning feels satisfying, which is to say, thoroughly.

For the especially epic matches (and they are aplenty), video recording is built in, in addition to YouTube uploading. You can also check out other players' footage, and search for those from tournaments and the like. Besides that, leaderboards, ranking systems, and a surprisingly thriving multiplayer community are all good reasons to stick around.

Single player

The single player aims high in the story department, but suffers hugely in presentation -- it's one of those cases where it feels like an independent game, and not in a good way. There is no voice acting and very little stylization; you're given the lowdown almost entirely through avatars speaking to you in text, which could be compelling with enough reworking, polish, and production values, but it's just not there. Frozen Synapse works best as a sandbox game -- a true single player experience would require heavy adaptation.  Nevertheless, it is a significant addition as it offers a heap of unique and challenging scenarios, whether it's going quickly after a high profile target, murdering scientists for the greater good, or hell, just blasting your way through the place. Besides that, it serves as rigorous training for multiplayer.

Music, UI, PC features

Unlike the beta, the launch version includes the phenomenal soundtrack in-game (available separately for a few extra dollars), and as expected, it adds a lot to the experience. The tunes are throbbing, mesmerizing, and expertly crafted, but the best way to understand is to hear for yourself, so be sure you've tried a sample with the gameplay footage above.

Besides the lack of music, the UI was the other major sticking point in the beta, and thankfully, this has been fixed up proper. It's not the finest UI I've seen, but feels up to par and integral with the rest of the game, as opposed to feeling cheap and somewhat thrown together as seen earlier. The menu screens, however, could do with some optimization for high resolutions, but it's not a critical issue.

There are no real graphics options apart from resolution, though as with many games in this vein, it's not really needed. Synapse has extremely low system requirements, as you may have guessed, so it should work well on anything from netbooks to high end PCs or the latest Macs (there's even an iPad hack). For those in the high end PC or likely even mid-range department, expect it to run at a solid 60fps at all times with no technical issues whatsoever.

Final thoughts

Frozen Synapse is still lacking some polish -- a rematch option and audio notifications of new turns and the like are needed, plus transitions between turns feel intrusive and break immersion, to name a few examples -- but all told this is a tactical gem, and well worth the $20/25, especially for enthusiasts. If 30 minutes of planning for 30 seconds of action over and over again sounds like it'd do it for you (and it should for many), go right for it.


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