This review is a little late, I know. There are defences I could bring to hand – the much-appreciated spatter of bank holidays and a recent training course that’s kept me out of the office – but they’d all be excuses, rather than reasons.
The reason this review is late is because I’ve been far too busy playing Frozen Synapse and talking about Frozen Synapse to spend any time writing about Frozen Synapse. I’ve finally found a multiplayer strategy game that I love, and it's consumed my life.
It’s important to get the basics out of the way now, so know that Frozen Synapse is primarily a multiplayer simultaneous-turn strategy game. Players enter typically random maps with usually random forces at their disposal and plot the movements of their troops in five-second intervals. You lay your plans intricately, and then press the big button called ‘PRIME’. Only when both parties have pressed this button do your five-second strategies play out, then it’s back to the drawing board for seconds five-through-ten. Repeat until you win or lose – see the video below to see how a standard match plays out.
How Frozen Synapse is supposed to be played
Usually, my matches end in defeat. That doesn’t stop me playing, though; again and again I respond to the automated emails I’ve set up via the options menu and crawl back to the site of my last and latest humiliation. Every time I fracture into different feelings; fearful of another loss, yet hopeful of victory. The part that always wins out is the part that’s come to regard Frozen Synapse as a means of self-improvement. I tell myself Frozen Synapse will help me bridle my impulsive side; it will teach me caution, patience and why I shouldn’t charge into rooms full of men with shotguns.
There are many different game modes available in Frozen Synapse; some see you trying to defend/rescue hostages or claim/defend areas of the map. All of the modes are available in Light (you can see enemies constantly) and Dark (you only see them when your units can) modes too. The mode that almost everyone seems to play, however, is Dark Extermination –straight-up deathmatch with random maps and teams. Below, you can see how my average game tends to unfold.
How I play Frozen Synapse
Now, it’s easy to look at this flowchart and have a little giggle because it’s tongue-in-cheek, but you might also look at it and think I’m making a point about the unbalanced nature of the game. I’m not. It’s important to make that clear, because Frozen Synapse is as rigidly fair as any game dealing in random maps can ever be. The flowchart doesn’t show how every game will go for everyone, and not even I've lost every game I’ve played.
In fact, the only reason that the flow chart doesn’t show a path to victory is because, on the occasions that I have won games, I’m not sure how it’s happened. I’ve been locked low inside my own head, deep in Zen and unable to communicate with my conscious mind. I’ve set the waypoints for my soldiers to follow, dragged out timelines to have them wait in place and told them where to swing their weapons when they come around corners, but I’ve done it all instinctually.
There is a path to victory in Frozen Synapse, but walking it means you need to know what your enemy will do before he does it. You need prescience; a little bit of magic. On the occasions when you manage to muster this spiritual state it feels so good that it’s worth suffering all the previous blunders 1,000 times over. It will make you jump out of your chair with joy.
This feeling is just one of the best aspects of playing Frozen Synapse.