Like Edge of Tomorrow and Source Code, Frozen Synapse Prime is a gun totting tribute to Groundhog Day. It’s a game about patience, thoughtfulness as well as trial and error. Quite simply, Frozen Synapse is chess with guns.
It’s a game that might seem complicated to begin with, but with an easy to use design taking full advantage of the Vitas touch screen, it’ll only take a few minutes to pick up all the basics you’ll need to win. Especially with a simple and quick tutorial available. You will control a small team of combatants of various types, and engage in a desperately precise battle with an opponent, either human or AI. Each turn lasts only five seconds, but planning can take as long as you’d like. This is where the game takes on the role of so many famous films, by letting the player test very possible outcome, even allowing you to plan what you expect your opponent to do in an attempt to try and get the best of them. You might see your soldiers die dozens of time, but each one is merely a learning experience until you’ve perfected your side of the turn.
For all that Frozen Synapse Prime operates on a turn based system, both teams’ turns transpire simultaneous. Having given each of your soldiers their orders, from where to aim, ducking, moving and even waiting, you watch as both teams execute their orders at the same time. It’s an almost painfully tense moment when you lock in your orders, hoping to have outthought and outmanoeuvred your enemy. But Frozen Synapse rollercoaster’s from both high and low points, with the untold satisfaction you get from outsmarting man or machine, to the crushing defeat of being beaten. This game is all about tactics, and with randomly generated maps and squads you’ll be able to play over and over again on and offline.
There is also a campaign mode, which features a surprisingly vast array of levels, with a variety of interesting game types. Unfortunately the campaign also features a completely over-the-top storyline that makes virtually no attempt to hold your interest. Its a shame it’s so unlikable, as some of the conversations can be quite funny, but the overall sifting through an overcomplicated and uninteresting story isn’t worth it. When you play Frozen Synapse, you play for the gameplay, although it is hugely better online, practicing on the skirmish mode is also enjoyable.
Playing online also has an interesting feature not seen much in other games: both players don’t have to be there to play. Because it’s all about planning, you set up a game, plan out your first move, and then go and have some lunch. Afterwards you can log back in to find you’ve got an opponent and they’ve planned their turn. You witness the outcome and plan the next move before doing something else. Like a good game of chess, Frozen Synapse can be played over the course of days with each player meticulously planning each phase.
What really helps Frozen Synapse Prime stand out from other tactical games is each unit is as strong as you. Rather than other games whose units are strong or weak against each other, Frozen Synapse’s are just different. You can’t just put a sniper in front of a shotgunner and expect him to get the kill, as the shotgunner will most likely weave between cover until he can close the distance. Likewise the Shotgunner will have to be aware the sniper might adjust their position in order to catch him behind cover. It’s a game mechanic that gives the overall fate of the match to the players, not the troops.
The graphics also do a surprising job of drawing the eye. Being a blend of minimalist shapes and bright, crisp colours is an interesting but very practical design. This is true of the PC version of the game, although the Vita has had a powerful and beautiful remastering. Teams are instantly recognisable by their colour, while vivid, stark maps make sure everything important stands out. The music is nice, fitting in well with the futuristic style of the game. That being said the game doesn’t require your constant attention, and you might wind up muted it in favour of anything else.
Frozen Synapse Prime is a near perfect display of tactical and initiative ambition. It won’t be like anything you’ve played before (unless you’ve played it on the PC) and proves once again the power and scope the PS Vita has. Playing with friends is a great experience while there’s a real feeling of learning from each defeat. If you’re looking for a tactical game that is both deep and accessible, look no further.
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