Over the weekend, I picked up Frozen Synapse, a new, cyberpunk-themed indie squad tactics game, and so far I’m quite impressed.
First off, the actual game seems pretty cool. It’s stylish, with its green-and-red outline soldiers, blue backgrounds and futuristic music. It’s minimalist: there are only five unit types in the game. And it’s quick-to-play, due to the extreme speed at which units die off. But the real genius of Frozen Synapse is that turns execute simultaneously: the players input their orders, trying to guess what the other will do, and then they see just how little of their plans survived contact with the enemy (this synergises really well with the lethality of combat; one foe unexpectedly lying in wait can cut down half your squad). As a result, I get the impression that this is one of those “minute to learn, lifetime to master” titles.
The second area in which Frozen Synapse has impressed me is its multiplayer. This is one game where the basic concept – trying to anticipate what the other guy will do – is just tailor-made for playing against other humans, and the designers have taken advantage of that. The game’s multiplayer is asynchronous – i.e. players can take their turns at any time, upload them to the server, and load the latest turn when it’s ready – which makes it easier to work around clashing real-life schedules. And the designers were also shrewd enough to integrate a touch of Web 2.0 – at the end of a multiplayer match, there’s a handy button to upload a replay to Youtube.
The experience so far hasn’t been flawless.
The documentation is practically nonexistent, even by my “never read the manual” standards; I had to visit a forum to find answers to basic questions such as “what are the units good for?” and “who shoots first if two units spot each other?” Correction: the game is in fact pretty well documented by the readme file in the game directory. The playerbase is currently split amongst several different servers (which the designers have said is just a stopgap), and the servers themselves have a tendency to go down (for maintenance?) when I’m free to play in the evenings after work. Still, none of these issues has been a game-breaker for me – now I have found answers to my questions, and I could also play the single-player campaign or botmatches.
All in all, Frozen Synapse is definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the game’s genre. Check it out on Steam, Impulse or the developer’s website!