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Frozen Synapse Prime – Review

We have no idea how the war of the future will be waged. Drones, machines, robots, information, orbital, weapons, the list of possibilities goes on. But no matter what kind of future you enter, the tactics still count, and can easily turn the tide of a battle, regardless of technology or sizes.

This is the world of Frozen Synapse Prime, by Mode 7 and Double 11 studios. The team at Mode 7 have created a very unique and distinct tactical strategy game, set in a distant cyberpunk future. It is an inventive experience but is slightly hampered by the dynamic duo of trial and error.

Deep in the future lies a massive, hyper-futuristic city, known as Markov Geist. A super corporation has taken control of the city in this world without governments. Thoughts, ideas, and freedoms are regulated, framed in a manner of justice and order. The people aren’t terribly oppressed, but their way of life is fundamentally manipulated. Deep within the bowels of the city, a rogue Artificial Intelligence reaches out to you, recognizing you or your strategic talents and skills. You, the player, are TACTICS, and before you know it, you are joining an underground movement to expose the truth of the evil corporation and liberate the city.

Frozen Synapse Prime is a 3D turn-based tactical strategy game which focuses on forming paths and issuing commands. Players take command of Vatforms, which are fully autonomous humanoid machines. In Markov Geist, they have the capability of performing a variety of tasks, but they can be outfitted for combat. The vatforms under your command can be outfitted with a variety of firearms, from shotguns to rifles to heavy munitions, such as rocket launchers. As TACTICS your job is to complete the objectives set in 40 missions, by issuing commands and orders.

While on the surface, Frozen Synapse Prime appears to be similar to titles such as X-COM and Fire Emblem,  Frozen Synapse Prime is significantly very different. As a strategy game, Frozen Synapse Prime focuses squarely on the issue orders, which includes forming paths and managing your firing angle.  A helpful tutorial introduces players to the mechanics of the game, and for any new players, I highly recommend doing so before embarking on the single player.

Players control vatforms in a 3D isometric environment, filled with hallways and obstacles. To move, players choose any point on that map, which forms a path. The point is formed as a hexagon, and within that hexagon, players can issue orders. The orders range from ignoring enemies to sweeping an area to specifically target an enemy unit.

Additionally, players must zoom in and tweak their unit placement. When their weapons are drawn, a cone of vision is formed. The range and size of this cone depends on the weapon being wielded. Sniper rifles have a narrow, but long cone of vision while shotguns are short but wide.

What is quintessential is the placement of your soldier around corners, as a small sliver of an enemy’s cone of vision can be enough to lock on and potentially eliminate a member of your team. Fortunately, you can observe the enemy’s line of fire as well as predict where they will move. There is no way to tell exactly where an enemy will move, or what they will do. This makes Frozen Synapse Prime an unpredictable combat experience. After concluding the tutorial, players are thrust into the overall experience.

Frozen Synapse Prime is a bold and engaging tactical experience, but it does come with some setbacks. Being able to place each vatform and see the moves you plan unfold in real-time is engaging. It becomes even more exciting when their paths successfully eliminate targets and complete objectives.

The enemy is also unpredictable, using their vatforms, they can move about the map and execute their attack orders as well. It feels absolutely great being able to see one vatform use a rocket launcher to break down a barrier, then to see another vatform use an assault rifle to eliminate a target. This sense of exhilaration goes into other objectives, such as defending a target or avoiding an army after securing data. However, there is a drawback and that is trial-and-error.

In essence, almost every tactical strategy game has a degree of trial and error. A move you make can go swimmingly well, only for an unexpected attack or unforeseen enemy to cripple your entire strategy. In Frozen Synapse Prime, it is more evident, especially in the later levels.

The later levels feature more enemies, including ones that turn completely invisible. There is no radar or pinging on the direction of the enemy. In one stage, after 5 turns, an invisible team snuck up on my remaining members. Despite all my proactive strategies in covering angles and maintaining a line of sight on possible locations, the lone wolf managed to lock on and successfully terminate my team, forcing me to restart the battle after 15 minutes.

Additionally, the teams can become overwhelming against your small squad. This lead to me restarting the level shortly after my first turn, as fighting multiple combatants with one member remaining is fundamentally impossible. It was frustrating and I feel that this could have been improved somehow, in the use another agent, perk, or a special vatform. Fortunately, for levels with multiple phases, restarting means starting at a particular phase at the very beginning of a mission, which can last upwards of an hour. Overall, the gameplay, despite its difficult and the trial-and-error moments is engaging.

Coupling with the gameplay experience is a sharp presentation and interesting story. Throughout the course of the campaign, players will encounter an interesting web of conspiracy and influence, with a few moments of philosophy and levity.

UK-based electronic music artist nervous_testpilot lends his musical talents to the game, delivering a thrilling upbeat, and intense electronic soundtrack, the emphasizes the cool calculations of strategic combat. His music also blends female vocalizations to instill a sense of mesmerizing calmness to the madness.

Visually, the game looks sharp as everything has a crisp, clean feeling. Not much of the city is shown, but with the news-channel like ticker on the bottom, and the illustrations of the buildings, it does feel like there is some life to the city. Hopefully, in the future, we can see more of this futuristic city.

Despite its shortcomings in the tactical gameplay, Frozen Synapse Prime is a solid and distinctive tactical experience. Its gameplay is fresh, the cyberpunk world it creates is fascinating, and there is a solid reward for each operation successfully accomplished. With MODE 7 releasing a successor sometime soon, now is a good time to fire your synapses and prime yourself for battle.

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