Frozen Synapse in the test - blue is addicting

Author: Jochen Gebauer
Date: 2011-08-09 15:18:00
Frozen Synapse is a round-robin strategy game for those who don't like round-robin strategy. And anyway for the rest.

Round-the-clock strategy is sometimes said to be dry like a Bedouin fart, accessible like a colloquium in applied quantum physics and exciting like WDR school television. Frozen Synapse does away with these prejudices: learned quickly, internalized in no time and, especially in multiplayer, so exciting that you could easily get used to biting your fingernails.

The game principle is astonishingly simple. Two parties, five types of troops and a randomly generated map in the Tron-meets-Smurfette look. Basic building? Troop Upgrades? Experience points? Doesn't exist. Basically, Frozen Synapse works like a round of poker: the game - the dealer - deals us a handful of units, creates a battlefield and then leaves it to our tactical skills to use this starting position more cleverly than the opponent.

The principle of the game: Where am I actually going?

You can tell from the types of troops that Frozen Synapse is primarily designed as a multiplayer strategy game. The fact that only five different units are available (machine gunner, shotguns, rocket launchers, snipers, grenade launchers) hardly disturbs in multiplayer games because the balancing is almost perfect. In the campaign, on the other hand, with the same troop types - and without gimmicks such as experience points or upgrades - things get a bit boring at some point.

Instead, the game principle is pleasantly unusual: Instead of taking turns taking turns in the planning phase, both players make their moves in parallel in the planning phase - and are condemned to quietly watch in the subsequent outcome phase when the decisions just made are actually carried out. From both sides at the same time.

In practice, this system proves to be incredibly exciting for a genre that is otherwise quite leisurely and more predictable. The built-in “X-factor”, that “I think, he thinks that I think” ensures, similar to that in poker, that we are constantly tacting around three corners.

Where in other strategy games we brood over attack values, movement points or armor, the tactical task in Frozen Synapse proves to be fundamentally much more banal. The first question in each round is: Where am I going with my five units and in which direction am I looking?

For example, if we accidentally move our machinegunners into the range of fire and sight of enemy shotgun carriers, then they are gone. The field of vision therefore plays an essential role. Frozen Synapse does not dwell on concepts such as life points, however, after just one hit, each unit blesses the temporal.

The fighting system: False eyes are shot

Instead of the life points, a simple and ingenious system is used. If two enemy units run into each other's sight and fire range, Frozen Synapse uses a number of factors to determine who will win the subsequent firefight. Troops in cover strike unprotected, standing still means movement. And if you look in the wrong direction, you just hit yourself because you don't see the enemy coming.

As simple as this basic principle may be - you can't win a flower pot just by walking and looking properly. We can therefore give our boys specific commands via a context menu. This is where the entire complexity of Frozen Synapse is revealed.

Sometimes it makes sense to deactivate the automatic fire so that the unit simply storms away. This enables, for example, quick advances to well-secured snipers. Or we let our infantry wait a few seconds because we suspect that the enemy will pull his unit around a certain corner - after which we could safely catch them from behind.

The weapons themselves also play a role, each unit has different talents. Grenadiers, for example, can shoot around the corner (thanks to ricochets) - provided the enemy is still there when the grenade arrives. Rocket launchers, on the other hand, can crumble walls and are therefore ideal against entrenched opponents.

The tactic depth: people plan, game laughs

In this way, the initially quite manageable options - similar to chess - create enormous tactical depth, there are countless variations of moves and approaches. So that we can tinker with them properly, we have a preview function available in the planning phase. With this, we can safely simulate our own trains and anticipated enemy maneuvers in order to check whether our sophisticated project really works in practice.

Especially at the beginning, however, in the subsequent outcome phase we find surprisingly often: Shit, our plan doesn't work at all. What still looked on the drawing board as if it would make even old Clausewitz jealous, in reality quickly turns into Waterloo when the AI or - better still - a human opponent does exactly what we hadn't expected at all.

In contrast to many other strategy games, defeats at Frozen Synapse are always understandable. Little brother coincidence plays almost no role, and thanks to a rewind function, we can analyze the outcome phase again in detail and check exactly where we made which mistakes. That is exemplary transparency.

The multiplayer mode: pay once, play twice

Since the opponent's "reading", ie anticipating his moves, plays a central role, Frozen Synapse is made for a multiplayer game.

There is an excitingly narrated campaign with a whopping 55 single-player missions, but the solid AI does not replace any human teammate who acts unpredictably and who is wonderfully nasty after victory or defeat.

With a good buddy, the subsequent analysis is almost as much fun as the actual match. Nice gimmick: When you purchase Frozen Synapse, you automatically receive two versions, one of which you can give away to a friend.

If you don't have a buddy on hand or have annoyed all friends through too many victories, you will find more than enough willing players in the server lobby at almost any time of the day or night. A small warning to beginners though: the online competitors are usually darn good.

Technology: cleverly concealed

Technically, you notice Frozen Synapse's indie background, of course. Whereby the cool, futuristic neon look doesn't hide the limited budget in a clumsy way and the options menu offers every imaginable and absurd resolution - by no means a matter of course for an indie game. The electro music also fits the cyberpunk setting perfectly, even if it is a bit too discreet in the background for our taste.

The staging of the campaign is tolerably successful. First thought: A strategy game developer from 1995 called and wants his briefings back. Second thought: Okay, we don't want to be so strict, it's an indie game after all, but my goodness, it works a lot better even there. Third thought: you know what, it doesn't really matter, as long as it's fun and it does. Fourth thought: That was a good final word.