Ok, so the red guys look like they’re advancing towards the central pass between these two buildings. So I’ll position my flamethrower here, have him fire when they enter the killzone and I’ll put my two riflemen in a flanking position to mop up any survivors. Let’s test. Ok, that works, all right, PRIME. Oh. Oh I guess they weren’t going there and now all my men are dead. All right fuckers, let’s do this again, attempt number 12, let’s go.
If you’re not familiar with Frozen Synapse, here’s the elevator pitch: it’s a semi-real-time RTS where you make your moves in ten-second chunks, attempting to predict what your enemy will do and position yourself in such a way that you can kill all of them before they kill all of you. You control your men by mapping out a series of waypoints with detailed instructions, listing where to crouch, when to aim and when to play defensively.
I am objectively terrible at it. I struggle to get past the second tier of matches in the story mode and the only multiplayer match I’ve won so far was the result of my opponent accidentally killing one of his own men with flamethrower backsplash. My predictions for what the enemy will do seem consistently wrong.
Now normally, I would consider this a criticism but not in this case. In fact, this intense difficulty is almost exactly what keeps me coming back to the game. The reason is quite simple, it’s the same reason that keeps the-game-that-shall-not-be-named compelling. It never feels unfair. The enemies convincingly appear to follow the same rules that you do and you’re always left with the impression that with enough practice you will be able to win your battles.
However, all of this was true for Frozen Synapse and you will notice that this is, in fact, a review of Frozen Synapse 2, which has just been released. Since the price of the original will certainly fall with the release of the sequel, why should you get this one? Well, on the surface there doesn’t appear to be many reasons. The graphics have received a minor bump but still retain the budget-saving minimalism of the original. The menu is still an uninviting interface that gives the impression you are loading up a sci-fi themed version of Excel.
But dig deeper and some more interesting features reveal itself. The single-player campaign, one of the weakest spots of the original, has received a massive amount of work, essentially adding a whole additional game mode. You’re fighting for control of a city, sending your agents out on missions to keep the peace between various factions while dealing with the impending alien invasion and trying to scrape together enough money to pay your troops and upgrade your home base.
The waypoint system seems significantly improved and less fiddly, and the enemy prediction seems infinitely more benevolent than previously. Now, if you didn’t enjoy the first in the series, I have my doubts that this will be the one to shift your opinion. But if you thought the first was packed full of good ideas in need of structure, Frozen Synapse 2 is a game for you.
It’s a game for me too, but I still suck at it. All right, attempt 14, let’s go!