I have been busy lately with two things: My final thesis, after which I am finally done with education, and painting 40k-miniatures. Most of my game time went to finishing Eschalon II and playing Dark Heresy. So new game-related thoughts have been in short supply. In lieu of those, I present my thoughts on Frozen Synapse.
Frozen Synapse is a great game. It is something I would imagine myself having done. It is a tactical, simulturn combat game, where the player controls a group of vat-grown clones and attempts to eliminate the opposing ones. The magical word is simulturn: The game is divided into five-second turns (or was it ten second?), and the player pieces together a movement plan for the units for that time. When the player is satisfied with his choice, the computer runs the turn. You can do all kinds of tactical maneuvers: Cover advancing units, perform wall breaches with explosives, flank entrenched enemies, enter a building and cover all the windows. And watching your carefully laid plans unfold in real time is satisfying and fascinating.
When I first saw the Frozen Synapse, I was intrigued on how shooting would work. And the answer is: Weirdly. There are three ”basic” weapons: A shotgun, an assault rifle and a sniper rifle, respectively a short-range weapon, a medium range weapon and a long range weapon. Whenever a unit has a line of sight to an enemy, the computer calculates how long it takes for the unit to react. It notes the distance and whether either of them were moving or aiming, at least. When the time is up, the unit will fire a killing shot. As both parties will usually be in each others’ line of sight, the one who stood in place will win and kill the other. (It’s hard to explain. Go see a video, if you are interested. Or rather, buy the game.)
I understand where the system comes from: You can’t control your units’ shooting when the turn is on. And most of the time enemies are behind cover, trying to flank you. In the end, the system is clear and easy to understand, which makes for good gameplay.
But in my mind, I will compare it to X-com. X-com had one thing that I feel is a must to this kind of a game: Morale. When someone starts shooting at you with an assault rifle, I doubt the correct response would be to turn towards the incoming fire and training your weapon to shoot the shooter. No, you take cover. X-com (Specifically Enemy Unknown) did not have cover-taking, but when being shot at, the agents tended to panic, shoot at random directions or drop their weapon and run. It gave me a sense that I was orchestrating and assault by human beings. In Frozen Synapse, you are essentially (and actually) commanding robots. You can command them to run to open ground and get killed. When being shot at, they calmly turn around and die.
Another thing is the campaign. While I understand that Frozen Synapse is designed for multiplayer, the presentation is quite, let’s say, budget. The story is moved forward by text dossiers and dialogue between character portraits. There is a lot of cyberspace stuff and politics I don’t fully comprehend. I don’t even remember why I am doing anything or what my faction’s agenda is. I think the campaign would have benefited from a simpler plot and setting.
If this post feels like I’m disappointed by the game, it’s because I am. Frozen Synapse seemed like such a perfect concept that I hoped it had all the things I could imagine from such a game. But it didn’t. It was just a good tactical combat game. Nothing more, nothing less.