Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Frozen Synapse: Violent Cyber-Chess With Perfect Tactical Simulation.

I've got more than a few video games awaiting my attention at the moment, so noticing that there was yet another Humble Bundle being offered was not great, in terms of timing. A further glance revealed that the bundle consisted of just one game (though several days later a second game was added, and paying more than the average of about USD$4.75 also gets the Frozenbyte Bundle.) When I noticed what the single game was, however, I snapped it up immediately. The game in question is Frozen Synapse, indie developer Mode 7's simultaneous turn-based strategy game. I loved X-Com, it's spiritual descendent Laser Squad Nemesis and Jagged Alliance is still one of my favorite games of all time, setting a tactical plan and then letting the violent results play out is really a thrill, especially when your plans work as you think they will. In my experience, that is rarely, so I find myself saving a whole lot in this sort of game and grinding through the more difficult levels. Frozen Synapse solves the issues with these sorts of games that made me do that, and made that cheesy "strategy" impossible at the same time.

Happy, sunshiny, soul-crushing Dystopia. But the internet is not only high-speed,
it is literally everywhere.

Frozen Synapse is set in a complicated and somewhat confusing cyberpunk dystopia, the City of Markov Geist. In this city, a complicated network called the shape that has features of both augmented reality and virtual reality overlays the real, physical architecture of the buildings and streets. The city is ruled by the megacorporation Enyo: Nomad who own everything in both the real and the shape, including armies of "vatforms," cloned humans capable of noting more complicated than moving about and firing a weapon. The player is called only "Tactics," as giving orders through the shape is his specialty. Tactics has been hired by the splinter resistance movement Petrov's Shard, a group funded with technology and funds stolen from Enyo: Nomad when its founder left the conglomerate. The goal is to liberate the city, with the help of a rogue "shapeform" (A.I.,) several double agents and members of the unwashed fringes of humanity, as well as an army of your own vatform soldiers.

The game is played through a tactical display connected to the shape, giving buildings, units and cover a stylized "Matrix meets blueprints" look. Tactics is only called in at difficult "chokepoints" in various sections of the shape where things get rough. These chokepoints are procedurally generated, so the terrain and tactical possibilities are different with every time a mission is played or retried. Orders given to the vatforms can be micromanaged to an insane degree, and freely tweaked until the final order is committed. There is no "I go, then you go" as all orders execute simultaneously. The play feels like the tactical display and command found in the Rainbow Six games, but with one huge difference. Nothing is random. Depending on cover, aim, range of weapon and movement, a unit that has the advantage gets a kill. There are short range shotgunners, medium range riflemen, long range snipers and the terrain-destroying rocket launcher troops.

The interface shows everything you need to know to plan your next move.

Every move, shot, choice of aiming or hiding can be simulated before making orders final, and if you can guess where your opponent will move to counter you, you can give that order and see what happens if you are right. Simulate several possibilities and see which plan gives the maximum advantage, commit the order and see if you were right. The single player campaign offers escort missions, traditional "kill all the guys" scenarios, objective defense and many other scenarios. However, the true replay value in this game is the multiplayer. All the same tools and possibilities used against the AI can be used against a human opponent in a tense game that resembles a version of chess where pieces are heavily armed psychopaths that all move at the same time. Multiplayer games play like an online version of a "Play by e-mail" as you submit your next moves whenever you are ready, even if your opponent is not, and get a notification when the system is ready to display results of the last turn and accept new orders.

The developers set up an excellent lobby/matchmaking system with advanced tracking of statistics and the ability to watch games in progress or archived replays of past games. Particularly good matches are easy to export to YouTube with a click of a button and though the graphics are stylized with blue walls, red opponents and green friendlies (with yellow NPC allies in single-player missions,) the violence of headshots or rocket launcher explosions is almost more graphic in how it has been abstracted. There is a wide variety of multiplayer scenarios, each with "light" and "dark" variations depending on whether both sides can see all units at all times, or if an opponent is only on your screen if one of your units has line of sight. I particularly like the scenario where players "bid" on how much terrain they can keep their opponent out of based on the random tactical situation presented by the procedurally-generated map.

A strategic view of the fight for Markov Geist.

This game is well worth the normal price of USD$25, but through October 12, 2011 the game can be downloaded for whatever price you choose at the Humble Bundle Site. Like other bundles, you choose what to pay and how much goes to the developers, the guys running the hosting site and to charity. You also get the soundtrack to the game (the music is quite good) and a Flash adventure game about a woman recovering in a hospital named Trauma. Both games work on PC, Mac and UNIX, and can be redeemed with Steam or Desura if you like, all DRM-Free. If you want to try before deciding what the game is worth, it is easy to pay a price low as $0.01 and then go back later and increase your donation to whatever you feel is appropriate.

Best Blogger Tips
  • Stumble This Post
  • Save Tis Post To Delicious
  • Share On Reddit
  • Fave On Technorati
  • Buzz This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Digg This Post
  • Share On Facebook
Blog Gadgets


Post a Comment