I once did a review of Frozen Synapse, a tactical, simultaneous, turn-based shooter with unique game mechanics that made for a tense and fun strategy game. Well it seems Double Eleven, the group behind console releases of Limbo, Goat Simulator and the PC release, Cloud Chamber, has jumped on board with Mode 7 Games, the developers of the original Frozen Synapse to produce Frozen Synapse Prime, which will henceforth be known as FS and FSP respectively because I’m a lazy typist.
For those who are unfamiliar with the original game, FS is set in the futuristic, cyberpunk, dystopian/utopian (as is often the case in science-fiction) city of Markov Geist. You play a tactical commander controlling strike teams of artificially created lifeforms in an attempt to thwart an over-controlling, corporation-aligned government. Mind you, all this information was delivered through a poorly designed, single-player campaign which was merely a series of boring and incomprehensible exposition in-between too-easy scenarios. The levels themselves are pseudo randomly-generated where its your strike team against their’s. You get several types of units (i.e., gunner, shotgunner, grenadier, sniper, rocketeer) each with their own unique, obvious function. In each turn, you decided where your units will move, who they will shoot or ignore, whether they will duck or stand, where they will aim towards while moving or standing still. You get complete practical control over your units. At the same time, your opponent, AI or real, prepares their turn in the exact same way. After ‘priming’ your turn, both sets of actions play out simultaneously, units interacting and reacting to each other and the environment as their orders dictate.
It is incredibly satisfying spending five minutes preparing a turn and watching all the outcomes you hoped would happen play out in 6 seconds. This is especially the case in the dark game mode where you can only see what your units see. FS is a game of pure strategy where you’re constantly trying to predict your opponent, plan for every outcome, bluff or put all your hopes on one unit. Simply put, the FS series is a fun, tense and engaging strategy game.
FSP isn’t so much a sequel to the original as it is a reboot. A new look with updated, swanky graphics, some more options for combat, giving you greater control over the outcomes; and a revamped multiplayer system. All together, there’s not that much new going on. The new commands now allow your units to ignore or focus on a particular room, and also allows them to focus on one particular point while moving, not exactly ground-breaking beyond the initial mechanics. While the graphics quite nice to look at, they’ve been implemented at a sacrifice to UI cleanness and clarity; and graphical smoothness. All the units move a little sluggishly, making the game feel less fast-paced, less tense.
I own the PC version and the UI is nothing short of clunky. You can’t give a unit a move order while in the every-other-order dial, which requires a button to bring up and close. Space bar opens the turn predictor and closes while pause, fast forward and back have different keys again. The UI is clearly designed for the PS Vita touchscreen which doesn’t translate well to the PC.
As I mentioned, FS’s single player was pretty poor and FSP has done nothing to improve on in this. The strength in the series is ultimately in its multiplayer. While adding an extra game mode and revamping the old ones, FSP wholly fails because of its multiplayer. Not that it’s doing anything too wrong, but more because there are just not enough players. FSP hasn’t got a large enough player-base to keep new players in the game. I played several matches against some European players (European a guess from their names), but most matches were never continued once the other player decided they were going to lose, a bit of a killjoy. I booted the game yesterday and there was only one player online… me, and zero matches waiting to be started.
I’m hoping I’m just a victim of the right game, wrong console. I imagine the game would actually be a lot smoother on the PS3 and PS Vita with more players online. Otherwise, despite the graphical upgrade, Frozen Synapse Prime isn’t really worth it, unless you can grab a group of friends to play with.
Next review in 3 weeks will be on Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna)