Preview | Frozen Synapse
Format: PC | Genre: Strategy | Publisher: Mode 7 Games | Developer: Mode 7 Games | ETA: Q4 2010
With advance orders launching today, Lewis Denby delves into the neon world of FROZEN SYNAPSE.
Of all the independently developed games peeking their low-fi heads over the horizon, Frozen Synapse has been grabbing my attention something rotten. Announced way back at the start of 2009, Mode 7 Games have been chronicling their progress almost daily, releasing wave after wave of enticing screenshots and video footage. But it’s only now that they’ve felt ready to properly show off their work to anyone but a small team of testers.
This is to be Mode 7 Games’ second release. Their debut, Determinance, was a multiplayer sword-fighting game in which mouse movement corresponded with your swing on-screen. Despite largely slipping under most players’ radars, it won several strong reviews in the press, along with an innovation award from indie-championing website GameTunnel in 2007.
With Frozen Synapse, the focus is once again on multiplayer, but everything else is rather different. Determinance’s fully 3D engine has been dropped in favour of a smart, stylish plan view, and real-time action has been ousted and replaced with simultaneous turn-based play.
A game goes like this. Two players begin with a selection of units, a top-down view of the map, and an interface with which to create a plan of attack. It’s a game of stealth, sneakery, and shooting the living daylights out of the opposition should the situation call for it. Except you have no direct control over the way the round eventually plays out. You get what you’re given, and you live with the end result. Your role is simply to strategise, and hope your intelligence pays off.
“The units we have are machinegunners, snipers, rocket launchers, grenade launchers and shotgunners,” explains Paul Taylor, Joint Managing Director at Mode 7. “And the idea is that your units are like a hand in a card game. You can’t really upgrade units and change weapons.” Instead, Taylor says, you’re “dealt” units at the start of the round; it’s up to you to guide them, and make them work to your advantage.
Taylor walks me through a typical scenario. Turns in Frozen Synapse are split into two parts. First there’s the planning stage, in which you calculate your moves and formulate an action strategy, dragging and dropping units around the map, configuring the routes they’ll take, then watching an animated prediction of how the imminent segment will play out.
“What you can actually do, if you’re an advanced player, is make a plan for the enemies as well,” explains Taylor. “So you can say: ‘Okay, I reckon he’s probably going to come up here, and aim out here’,” he says, gesturing at the monitor, “’so if he does do that, and I’m aiming there and I’m already in position, who’s going to win?’ And that’s me, in that instance.”
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