The shooting mechanics, remarkably, have been left very similar to what most old-school gamers will remember from classics like Laser Squad Nemesis, but Mode7 have added small, iterative advancements to the basic framework that really add a whole new dimension of depth to what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward title. Your squad is randomly generated from a selection of riflemen, shotgunners, grenadiers, rocketeers, and snipers, as is the level you’ll play on – as you can tell by the screenshots, the aesthetic is minimalist and cyberpunk, so strange levels never feel out of place. The classes complement each other beautifully, and you’ll never feel totally outgunned or unfairly betrayed by the procedural generation. A shotgunnerwill take pretty much anyone at short range, but snipers excel at ranged supremacy, while a simple grenade or rocket thrown into the thick of things can quickly even the odds by destroying a wall and eliminating cover. It’s an elaborate game of rock-paper-shotgun, with rockets thrown into the mix – but wonderfully, that added layer of complexity does nothing to remove from the sheer accessibility.
Mode7 have done everything in their power to retain that crucial accessibility, and the level of attention is palpable. At any point in a match, you’ll be able to run a simulation on your projected turn, anticipating enemy movements and seeing just how things will turn out. It’s such a simple, straightforward mechanic, but does wonders to make every turn mind-blowingly tense and remove any frustration that might arise from basic mistakes. I’ve never felt more like a super-computer as when half my squad has been annihilated and I’m running projections on every single possibility, trying to figure out just what the optimal play is – and then being completely outdone by my enemy when he does something insane I hadn’t even begun to anticipate, like ripping apart an entire segment of the level with a rocket to tear down my squad with assault rifle fire. The entire game is designed with the goal of making you feel like a genius, while making your losses feel less like a crushing blow and more like a learning experience.
Were that all there was to Frozen Synapse, it’d still have been one of the more unique and wondrous games I’ve played this year – but Mode7 have gone far further, designing an entire ecosystem around their core game to make it accessible, intuitive, and even immersive. The game is a treasure trove of information waiting to be dug into – from the home screen, you’ll be able to access statistics, rankings, and chat-rooms, all integrated into your client. Every game ever is recorded for posterity, bragging and tactical analysis. So if you ever really feel incompetent – which, trust me, you will – you can always go stealthily observe the world’s elite, seeing every turn as it was played, and every order that was given. And once you begin to display skills that are worth bragging about, all it takes is one button at the end of the match to post it up to Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, or just leave a comment to show off to your mates. For a game of such endless, epic depth, you can’t help but be amazed at how clean and polished it all is.
There is so, so much more to tell. A vast, sprawling single player campaign, sees you play as a member of the fledgling resistance in a vast, wondrous cyberpunk city, full of corrupted AIs and terrible conspiracies, while the entirely newly composed, evocative soundtrack, fits in so beautifully well with the overall game you’re likely to not notice it – and trust me, that would be a terrible shame, so buy the soundtrack edition, which includes the MP3s. There are so many details that I haven’t even begun to go into, like the myriad of game modes, or jaw-dropping aesthetics, but it all feels so totally irrelevant. The core game is so solid, so unique and so carefully put together that all the rest feels like added polish. Divine, intricate and ingenious polish, that in any other game I’d dedicated entire paragraphs to, but here, it’s just a cherry on top of the marvelous cake I’ve been busy shoving my face into.
I’m bewildered by Frozen Synapse. It took all my expectations, crushed them into a pulp, and tossed them out of the window, treating me instead to a compressed, tight package full of some of the greatest gaming I’ve seen in an age. The closest comparison I can draw in recent years is to Quake Live: a huge, expansive game, reduced to its bare bones essentials, and then rebuilt from the ground up, and polished to a mirror sheen – but where Quake Live only really opens itself up to you if you were willing to cough up your cold, hard cash, Frozen Synapse’s generosity is flabbergasting. There is so much content here, so much gaming to be had, so much potential to explore and all of it comes at a reduced price tag. Oh, and that includes a free copy to give a friend.
So do yourself a favour. Go to the Mode7 website, and pick up this gem. Register it on Steam afterwards if you need to, but buy it, because this sort of package needs to be rewarded. Frozen Synapse is nothing less than a masterpiece, and it would be a crime to miss out.
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