iPad - Frozen Synapse
The Shape of Things to Come
I had never played Frozen Synapse for the PC platforms nor had much compunction to. But there it suddenly was, sitting in the App Store and it was beguiling. If there is one game type that works better than any other on mobile platforms it's asynchronous multiplayer games and I had need of a new one.
What I wasn't expecting was for Frozen Synapse to be such an atmospheric, tense and compelling experience. Yet again a developer has shown that a strong vision and a smart design philosophy is all thats needed to create a compelling experience. Having a great soundtrack doesn't hurt either, and really its style does look great.
For those not versed in Frozen Synapse it is a top down, turn based tactics game where players hand out an array of orders to their band of Vatforms (limited artificial humanoid constructs) to carry out, orders that usually involve killing.
Missions take place on maps of randomly generated walled environments that block or provide cover for attacks and defence. Use the cover well and mission success will be yours.
All players issue orders each turn and once all orders are submitted they're executed by all sides in real-time. Each turn allows five seconds of combat to take place and its up to each player to make those seconds count.
Your Vatforms come in many exciting varieties, such as Shotgun, Machine Gun, Sniper, Rocket and Grenadier requiring you to tailor your stratagems based upon their weapons abilities and range. Grenadiers can bounce their ordnance off of walls and Rocketeers can blow walls apart (and anyone standing behind them) for added fun and complexity.
Your Vatforms are not smart, they act on instinct alone and will only shoot what they can see. Its up to you to direct them, to see the unseen and arrange its untimely death, while ensuring your Vatforms remain alive. They are apparently expensive.
Your orders can be simulated before being carried out to test that your stratagem is sound. A simulation however is a poor guarantee that your Vatforms will survive the next turn or that the mission will be a success. It will just highlight obvious mistakes in your orders.
There is an impressive array of orders to give. It's necessary to control everything aspect of your Vatforms actions: where they look; where they move; whether to stand or crouch; who or what to attack; who to ignore and even timing when these actions take place for maximum effectiveness.
This level of control does require quite a bit of pinch zooming to get the necessary accuracy to issue orders correctly. The sausage fingered may have some trouble at first and you can sometimes end up accidentally hitting the various action icons arrayed around the edge of the screen. A little practice minimized the problem but I'm sure playing Frozen Synapse on an iPad mini was what contributed most of these minor problems. Don't get me wrong, Frozen Synapse is very playable on the mini, it just needs a lot of pinch zooming.
I have not got anywhere near completing the single player campaign. Frozen Synapses default settings randomly generate the missions (while keeping the objectives and story the same) and it has been testing my tactical abilities (which are not always that great). I've been getting a better sense of the AI and have been improving steadily against it. It's great that I'm not just blasting through the single player campaign. There have been quite a few slightly too easy games crossing my bow lately and I appreciate the challenge that Frozen Synapse is providing.
I have found the story engaging as well, its minimalist descriptions of people, places and events allow your imagination to help construct the narrative. Though it did sometimes take a few read throughs to get the players and events right in my mind thanks to their elaborate names. Thats not a complaint, I quite enjoy having to do some of the narrative work myself. But do we want some voice acting included, well only if its "good".
Multiplayer had a surprise in store, it introduced me to the "Dark" mechanic. The single player campaign, that I have played so far, has used the "Light" mechanic where you see where all the combatants are on the map. In my first multiplayer game I was quite shocked to lose sight of my opponent's units when they were not in sight of one of my Vatforms.
When your in the "Dark" your imagination then becomes your best friend and worst enemy. The tension this creates is palpable as you try to predict what your opponents Vatforms may be doing. I found that playing mind games is the best course of action and I truly learnt the value of doing nothing.
I had been worried that the full tactical overview of the "Light" games would cause stalemates to occur as other tacticians might not want to give up their advantageous positions, but so far that has not been happening. Though that might just be because of the rockets that I keep launching.
There is a random element to the multiplayer games. The starting positions of the players may not be tactically equal and it will be up to your skill to outwit an opponent that is in a dominant position.
Best of all players will not be confined to playing against only other iPad users. There is full interoperability with the wider Frozen Synapse community that are playing on other platforms and it has never taken me more than 30 seconds to get a multiplayer game up and running.
iOS users should not be expecting Game Center integration or achievements, the only accolades are to be found are in Frozen Synapse itself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Game Center itself has been so hopelessly hacked time and time again that its leaderboards and achievement tracking has become even more meaningless than what they originally were.
Frozen Synapse has its own online domain complete with leaderboards, ranking and friend management so don't for a moment think that you are going to miss out on that front. The iPad version just uses what was implemented for PC.
If you have any interest in this style of gameplay and you have been holding off of buying Frozen Synapse then don't. It is an extraordinary game to have on iOS that rises far above the many cow clickers and deceptive free to play rubbish that we are routinely subjected to.
Frozen Synapse can be a brutal taskmaster, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Edited // Friday May 24 04:11 2013 // First version. ///