We already featured Frozen Synapse for review, and everything I said back then is still true now. Frozen Synapse remains one of the greatest turn based strategy games of all time, one of the most deep and cerebrally compelling strategy games on the market and features the cleverest combination of real time action and turn based planning ever created. The only people who shouldn’t play this are those that simply don’t like this kind of game. If you have even a passing interest in turn based strategy then this is quite simply essential. Just check out all the fun me and fellow CDT members Aeacus and BigBearScot have in the videos throughout this review.
With this expansion pack Mode 7 has added a raft of new additions that freshen up the experience without making any major changes to the formula. Frozen Synapse Red adds a number of new features to the game, the most obvious of which is the red colour of levels that you can use as an alternative to the originals blue scheme. It also adds new gameplay modes, a co-op mode and a whole new singleplayer campaign featuring a story and a selection of objective focused missions. There are also a host of other mutators, tweaks and additions, and most interestingly a whole new unit, the “Riot Shield”. Before going into depth about these new additions, its first worth explaining exactly what Frozen Synapse is for those that don’t know.
I was first exposed to Mode 7’s unique simultaneous turn based strategy game long before its official release as a beta, and even back then it was clear that it was very different from everything else available at the time. Even today, a few months after its official release, there’s nothing else that plays quite the same. The closest analogy would be the planning phase of the old Rainbow Six games, interspersed with the kind of strategy and tactics involved in the UFO or X-Com games. Those are loose comparisons though, the only way to really understand the systems in place in the game are to sit and play it.
Play is split into two sections, the planning phase and the action. During planning, you set a series of waypoints for your digital soldiers from a top down map. Laying down these waypoints is simple enough, but the most important consideration is generally making sure their firing arc is facing any enemies they may stumble across as they move. Complexity arises from the adding special commands to waypoints, such as having the soldiers pause for a set amount of time, duck down behind cover, move quickly without engaging any enemies they observe or change the way they face. Each planning phase therefore is a subtle guessing game of anticipating the moves the opponents will make and setting your own troops up to move towards their opponents while always facing them and maintaining better combat positions. When troops do meet the victor is determined by how little they have moved, their cover, their facing and the weapon they possess.
The new unit that has been added is a sensible addition that increases the tactical options available to the player. It would have been easy to simply add some new weapon type with bigger explosions and go for visual spectacle, but the Riot Shield unit is far more interesting in practice. Careful placement of this unit can cover vulnerable fire arcs and generally multiplies the different strategies open to a player at a given point in the game. The shield is not a form of perfect protection though, like the rest of the game the action is modelled realistically with underlying physics and as such so a stray bullet can still be your undoing.
In fact the physics are one of the key elements of the game that elevates this from other turn based titles. There’s a genuine feeling of realism throughout, which is ironic given the “virtual” theme of the game world you play in. From the brutality of the kills to the way that each weapon works – modelling each shot fired – there’s no aspect of the game that doesn’t feel like its modelling real combat. The fact that you can bounce grenades off walls or destroy level geometry with missiles launchers just makes the whole experience even better.
Paul Taylor and Ian Hardingham have created a wonderful game in Frozen Synapse, and while the additions for the Red expansion aren’t huge, they do bring more depth and life to the game. The new singleplayer campaign is engaging enough with some seriously tough AI opponents, but its in the games multiplayer and the associated infrastructure that Mode 7 have excelled. Logging into the service to complete your turns and see what sneaky moves your opponent has made will probably be something I will do for a long time to come.
I guess all that’s left to say is come and play against me. My names CalmDownTom, and I’m waiting for your challenge.
8 tactical tricks to triumph out of 10