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Frozen Synapse Review
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Frozen Synapse, the mesmerizing tactical-action game from Mode 7, has been ported from the PC and is now available from the app store for the iPad. A natural fit for the large touch screen, we are beyond thrilled to finally satisfy our tactical fix on the go.

Frozen Synapse Pros:

  • Beautiful neon presentation and realistic animations
  • Mellow electronica soundtrack and great sound effects enhance the experience
  • Controls are intuitive and plentiful, give the player a tremendous amount of influence over each unit
  • Lengthy single-player Campaign, AI skirmishes, and several online Multiplayer modes with cross-platform ability
  • Everything from the PC version seems to have made it to the mobile version intact

Frozen Synapse Cons:

  • Navigating menus is a little confusing
  • Buttons around the perimeter give the game a slightly cluttered look

Frozen Synapse puts you in control of a small squad of elite soldiers who square off against a rival group of equally-skilled baddies in a fight for survival. You can engage in Multiplayer/AI skirmishes or a 55-mission, single-player Campaign that sees you clearing rooms, escorting persons of interest, defending zones, and the like. There are a handful of game types such as Extermination, Secure, Disputed, Hostage, and Charge, each with Light or Dark options. Light games allow you to monitor enemy movements at all times, while they can similarly see where your squad is and where they go. The Dark variation only allows each player to see the enemy when he is in a squad member’s line of sight. In this mode, the element of surprise is a huge aspect of gameplay that significantly ramps up the excitement. Battles play out from a top-down perspective in randomly-generated environments full of rooms, pillars, and open areas. There are also a number of half-height walls and objects behind which you can duck and fire that offer cover, as well. Squads are composed of some number of machine gunners, shotgunners, grenadiers, rocket launchers, and snipers, each with advantages as far as rate of fire, range, and so on. Their initial positioning on a map is also randomized to make things interesting. There is no option to upgrade the abilities of your crew, which keeps everyone on an even plane and forces you to rely on cunning tactics rather than brute force to win. Much like a game of chess, you’ll need to outthink your opponent more than anything else.

The gameplay itself hinges on anticipating what the enemy will do, maneuvering into advantageous positioning, and issuing commands to your units via waypoints. You can pinch the screen to zoom in and out (to an impressively close level) and drag around the screen to pan. Simply tap on any unit to make it active, than double-tap a spot on the map to create a new waypoint. The game automatically handles wayfinding around objects, though you can also override this as necessary by applying a direct waypoint from a pull-out menu in the lower corner. There are a bunch of specialized commands in this drawer, but the most common and frequently-used command have persistent buttons around the screen border. Tapping a waypoint (or even a point along the path line) will make it the active item, allowing you to apply additional commands when your unit reaches that point, such as aiming, canceling a previous aim command, engaging on sight, continuing on sight, standing, ducking, waiting, and more. You can also reposition a waypoint by dragging an active point to a different spot or remove commands/waypoints with the delete button. Units will move slower when an aim order is active, and they will stop cold when told to engage on sight if an enemy comes into view.

A handful of factors contribute to determining which unit is more likely to kill another in which he is engaged, including cover, stillness, and aim. Turns take place in 5-second intervals, and you can check how your commands will be carried out before committing by hitting the play button. The option to give the opposition a set of moves to carry out exists, too. Otherwise, they will simply stay put, which is an unlikely position to find them in when the next turn plays out. You can adjust as necessary and, once your units each have a satisfactory set of commands, tap the Prime button to commit your plans. When playing a single-player game, the next move will play out momentarily. In a Multiplayer match, you may have to wait for your opponent to finish his turn, which could be a matter of moments, hours, days, or whenever he gets around to it. Units engage with each other automatically (unless instructed otherwise), and victory is achieved by killing all of your opponents before they kill you. Some modes have additional goals (collecting items, gaining more territory than your opponent, etc.) and some formats even apply a turn-limit that will end a game if neither player can complete his goal before a pre-defined number of turns have played out.

Graphically, Frozen Synapse has a stylish neon aesthetic, with dark blue full-height walls and light blue half-height walls standing out against the black backdrop. Your units glow green, while the opposition glows red. Yellow units are hostages to be protected, and grey ghost units represent the last-known location of an enemy in Dark mode. Enemy types are easily distinguished by a persistent icon that indicates what type of weapon the unit uses. Killed units typically spray red blood and engage in a neat death animation, though they remain on-screen and can be confused for an active unit at a glance from a zoomed-out viewpoint. Rockets will explode walls into a shower of blue pixels, many of which remain scattered nearby for the duration of the match. The UI feels a little cluttered, with transparent buttons covering most of the perimeter of the screen. You’ll need to pan a good deal to move areas of interest out from behind buttons. It can be easy to forget and tap a button when you think you are setting a waypoint, for example. However, without access to the right-click action available in the PC version, some concessions need to be made. Despite its appearance, having quick access to most of these buttons at a moment’s notice is necessary. The movement animations are fantastic, and the whole presentation is quite realistic. The mellow electronica soundtrack is outstanding, and gunfight sound effects are well done. The controls are generally easy to use, and the intuitive way we can zoom, pan, and set waypoints is much preferred to using a mouse and keyboard on the PC.

While the Campaign and AI Skirmishes are great when you are away from a data/wi-fi connection, the real excitement comes from matching wits with players from around the world. A hot seat mode even allows you to go head-to-head with a buddy on the same device. Multiplayer matches can be set up directly with friends or you can seek random opponents. ELO ratings allow you to gauge the skill of your opponent, too. You can create games by tweaking a variety of parameters, and you can watch past matches (even if you weren’t involved) to devise strategies used by other players. Cross-play allows you to switch seamlessly between devices so that you can start a game on PC or iPad, pick it up later on the other device, and switch back to the original as you see fit. An upcoming Android version will open up additional hardware to play on and switch between. Multiplayer works very well and is one of our favorite aspects of the game.

Replay value is outstanding, as every game is different and strategies/tactics change on the fly. The AI is crafty and can keep you engaged for quite some time, but wiping out real-world opponents is the real draw. A series of tutorial videos walk you through the basics, as it can feel a bit overwhelming to start. We are extremely impressed with how well it works on mobile and look forward to continuing our obsession wherever and whenever we like. The popular Red DLC mode is listed within the app as coming soon, which should add co-op play and a bunch of other awesome enhancements. It’s disappointing that we cannot play on our iPods or iPhones, but it’s easy to see that the UI would be too cramped on the smaller devices. At $6.99, Frozen Synapse is a 5-Dimple stud and probably our favorite iPad game thus far.

Frozen Synapse Review, reviewed by Kevin on 2013-05-16T00:08:44+00:00 rating 5.0 out of 5

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