It gets deeper and better – which, I know, is hard to believe. Between the TRON-esque visuals and the simultaneous turn-based tactics, Frozen Synapse is already outpacing the competition and leaving most other indie releases behind.
Some of the most advanced manoeuvres we’ve seen have involved making use of the destructible terrain and the explosives which you occasionally get access to. It doesn’t happen often – most games feature only shotguns, sniper rifles and machine guns, but explosives do show up occasionally and they never disappoint. Used properly, grenades can be deflected off walls and used to clear whole rooms, while rockets balance out their slow firing rate with the ability to knock down walls and create new paths.
There’s an impressive array of modes to get stuck in to as well, both in singleplayer and multiplayer. The offline option only provides a few proper missions in the beta, but a full-on campaign will ship with the final version. There’s also a clever Puzzle Mode to try out too, which tasks your team with collecting and defending boxes. We didn’t rate it quite as highly as the standard Extermination mode, but it’s a nice distraction all the same.
Don't shoot 'til you see the neon of their uniforms
Frozen Synapse’s main attraction though is the multiplayer content, which includes modes that aren’t available for AI battles. Our personal favourite is Hostage, which labels one team as a rescue squad and another as kidnappers, but there are lots of options. Secure is probably the most unusual game type; it starts with the level divided into a grid and asks players to bid on how many squares they think they can defend. Whoever bids the most has to put their money where their mouth is and stop attackers from capturing a single sector.
The best thing about Frozen Synapse’s multiplayer portion though is that the developers, Mode 7, have clearly recognised the fundamental slowness of the game and compensated for it by letting you play multiple online games at once. If your opponent is taking too long to finish his move then you can play another match or even turn off your computer and come back later – Frozen Synapse will notify you by email or in-game message when the other player has taken their go, letting you watch the outcome and then plan your retort. It harks back to the old days of playing chess by e-mail, albeit with a violent, neon twist.
Unfortunately though, there are problems – most of which are likely borne out of the beta status and the necessary complexity of managing multiple active games. Navigating the menus, finding specific players and trying to keep track of what games you are playing can be a tiresome and confusing process, though that’s something that will hopefully be addressed before release.
I order you to patrol this route in the style of John Cleese
Other areas of the beta are in need of a polish too – such as random level creation, which occasionally puts you in an empty map with no soldiers to control, or the sometimes difficult process of moving your men through tight corridors. While the interface for plotting movements is certainly usable it could probably do with being a bit less minimalist and a touch more readable at a glance. Too often have we lost matches simply because we didn’t spot that a soldier was still aiming in a certain direction or had been set to ignore all enemies since the last turn.
It has to be said thought that, while the bugs current in the beta are definitely a bit annoying, they aren’t exactly surprising – this isn’t a finished game yet, after all. What’s more is that is that they never stop Frozen Synapse from being fun either - even unfinished Frozen Synapse is still one of the most enjoyable, unique and addictive games we’ve seen this year. All that’s stopping this from being one of the highlights on our gaming calendar is a few easily squashed bugs and a menu clean-up.
Don’t be fooled by the name – Frozen Synapse is going to set your world on fire.
Frozen Synapse is being developed by Mode 7 and will be released on PC later in 2010.