It’s not an exaggeration to say that more and more games are going out of their way to be accessible to a wider audience. The line between this accessibility and simple dumbing down is a very thin one and more than a few titles have fallen foul of it. Even games that don’t attempt can feel familiar simply by the virtue of having a similar control setup or game style to other franchises. Frozen Synapse is not one of those titles. Certainly it’s a strategy game, though it’s neither real time, nor turn based. Players dictate what each character can do within a five second window, hit start and watch the whole thing play out. The aim of the game is to guess what the other player will do and counter it. However, it’s not such an easy proposition when the options available are staggering.
On the podcast, Harry said that this was one of the few games where playing the tutorial was absolutely essential and I absolutely agree. The first five minutes of the game was pure frustration as I tried to figure out what to do as I couldn’t understand why each part didn’t work the way I had told it to. However suddenly, as my sniper killed a standard soldier before he had time to react, it clicked. I spent minutes planning out what each character would do; moving through way points, looking in certain directions, engaging enemies or holding off to wait for a more advantageous position, before hitting the preview button to see how it would play out. The preview allows you to see what each of your soldiers will do, but the enemy doesn’t move so it can’t predict the move ahead. Hitting start is a nail biting experience, like a parent watching their child step onto the stage for the first time and hoping they don’t trip on the curtain, but when it works, it’s as rewarding a feeling as you can get in a videogame. Strategy comes not only from the many, many options available in movement, but also in soldier types and the environment. There are doors, windows and low wall to navigate, though having particular unit types can alter strategy completely. In one tutorial mission, all the enemies were clustered inside a small room. I could have had my soldiers flank the building and breach the doors, but the game suggested I simply use the rocket equipped soldier to destroy one of the walls and have my other units rush the building. It worked and it felt good.
The closest comparison to another game I can make would be to the old SWAT or Rainbow Six games played out in five second chunks. However, it shares its look more in line with Geometry Wars than anything else as everything is drawn out in neon, vector style graphics. Interestingly, there was a YouTube option in the menu, which hopefully means your best turns or games can be uploaded to the site to share with the world. It’s an interesting idea and hopefully will result in some thrilling videos being shared among players.
As I mentioned before, the tutorial is essential. However, the manner in which they are delivered completely jarred with the rest of the game. Taking its cue from Glados, the tutorial was delivered in a sarcastic, almost bitchy manner. It’s funny in games such as Portal because the mechanics are simple and it takes very little time to get used to them. Here however, when faced with a very unique concept, it just made me feel like a moron. It also didn’t help that unlike a game such as Portal for example, the humour only existed in the text so it felt at odds with the rest of the game. Maybe it plays a part later but at the time it was less than welcome.
Frozen Synapse has been receiving a lot of attention from the press recently and after playing it, I can see why. It may prove too daunting for some, but for those who persevere, it has the potential to leave you with many a sleepless night. I look forward to seeing what the full game offers and how deep the strategy goes.