Frozen Synapse – Review


Frozen Synapse is an indie title from the Oxford-based studio mode7 games.  I had discovered it back last June, and fell in love with it instantly, and now I can profess my love in virtual script!  It’s an intense tactical game to test your foresight, planning and intuition, and then a practice of weeping into your hands when it all goes horribly wrong!

So how does it work? The game plays out as a simultaneous turn-based strategy game.  You control a small handful of units, as does your opponent, and you will then take it in (simultaneous) turns to plot out your moves in a randomly generated map, assigning each unit their individual orders, and then prime your team for the planned out five-second time span.  Once you have clicked the ‘Prime’ button the game will process both teams’ plans and calculate the results, to your delight or despair.

Now while uploaded replays make each game look quick, the reality is very different. The sheer depth into which you can plan your turns is incredible.  Telling a machine-gunner to specifically ignore the enemy sniper if he sees him, to ignore everyone, then at a later point to shoot on sight, finding cover, checking locations, all of it combines into an intricate plan where you should try to keep your own team covered by one another, whilst carefully picking off the opposing side.

One nice facet of this is that you can spend as much time as you like planning. You can even put in a preliminary plan, go to bed, then come back and alter it in the morning.  This can occasionally have the downside that some games might never finish if your opponent never comes back, but since the official release I’ve not experienced this issue!

It had been a long while since I’d last played the game, so I decided to get practising again with a friend who had recently bought it.  We play a couple of rounds of Dark Extermination (one of the most popular game modes – Dark meaning, unless your units see the enemy, they’re invisible, compared to Light where you can always see them, and Extermination … well… think Daleks) before trying out some of the alternative modes.

We fought over some Dark Disputed matches, where you both have five turns to try and control as much of the map as you can, and then after the fifth turn five red squares appear.  You need to run over at least three of these to win and then head to the evacuation zones around the edge of the map, or wipe out your opponent.



The game is a battle of wits, and if you plan badly a giant Styrofoam hand slaps you right in your face, metaphorically speaking.  In the match replay (above) I couldn’t see my opponent’s units without direct line of sight.  I catch a glimpse of his shotgun running up behind one of my units.  I have a second unit covering him.  I simulate the plan as though the shotgun will, having seen the enemy, pursue him and get shot in the back of the head.  I get overly-confident that this is exactly what he will do.  I prepare my entire plan accordingly.  The turn plays out.  The second unit gets a back full of buckshot.  My cocky, self-assured mentality turns into respect for my opponent.

Frozen Synapse is an inspired title.  You’ll second-guess yourself each split-second that you spend second-guessing your opponent, and you’ll reshape your whole game plan to accommodate your prudent planning, or your paranoia, which makes for an entertaining experience.  On top of that, there’s a simple and clean look to the game that needs no added flair.  The soundtrack has been praised so much so that a separate soundtrack bundle version has been released.  And there’s the added bonus of being able to upload your matches to YouTube with a few mouse-clicks, so you can gloat on those special occasions when you beat your opponent in one perfectly executed turn.  If you’re a fan of strategy and relish the mental challenge of trying to outplay your opponent you can’t overlook Frozen Synapse.