At first glance, Frozen Synapse may seem like an iOS version of the classic arcade game Robotron. The simplistic graphics and sparse battlefields call to mind a time when shapes and stick-figures were the best we could get from a game. But if you take a closer look at this PC port, you find a game brimming with a staggering depth of gameplay, hours of intriguing strategy, and one of the best soundtracks you’ll ever hear in an iOS title. And if you zoom in, those “simplistic” graphics are gorgeous.
Frozen Synapse is a turn-based strategy game that puts you in the role of a tactician in charge of a group of troops. In the massive single-player campaign (and the equally robust multiplayer), you’ll guide your warriors through an awesome sci-fi, cyber obsessed world. You’ll order them to do assassination missions, escort missions, and infiltration missions, and you’ll have a multitude of units with different specialities to carry out your orders. Your soldiers seem to be made out of paper, so keeping them alive is a tough job. One hit and they’re out. The A.I. you’ll face is intelligent and cunning. This is a game that will test every one of your strategy muscles.
The different strategies you can use are where the game truly shines. This isn’t just a run-and-gun game. If you do that, you’ll never survive. By setting up waypoints and zones of control, you have to plan out every step and every action your troops make, all the while trying to anticipate what your opponent is going to do. Will you duck behind a wall, hoping to surprise that unsuspecting enemy unit coming around the corner? Or will you kneel below a window, only popping up to snipe your target from clear across the screen? That moment of anticipation you’ll feel between the time you hit the “Prime” button to lock in your decisions and viewing the eventual outcome can be nerve-wracking. But after a successful mission, you can wipe the sweat from your brow and the revel in the feeling of a job well done.
However, the strategy in Frozen Synapse can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Like another PC port, Imperium Galatica 2, the options can sometimes be overwhelming, confusing and occasionally superfluous. Some tactics you’ll use over and over again, and some you’ll try once or twice and never use again. This is a game where you will most likely die quite a bit just trying to figure out what works best for you.
All of the different options available to you are presented as icons around the border of the screen, and you can imagine how cluttered this can get, even on an iPad. This problem just gets compounded when there are lots and lots of units on the screen. I had one mission with nearly 20 units, and found that the best way to handle this was to zoom in on each individual unit to give them orders, and then zoom out again to make more plans. It can get cumbersome and frustrating at times.
But complaining about a strategy game with too much strategy is like complaining about a pizza with too much cheese. Frozen Synapse is a crowning achievement in the tactical game genre and Mode 7 did an impressive job of porting this game to iOS. The few problems that do exist will disappear once you find a groove and really get into the game. The level of strategy here is profound, the world presented is exciting and vibrant, and the amount of fun you’ll have playing alone or with others is unlike anything you’ll have recently played.