Tactical turn-based strategy tends to provide long, protracted battles that scare off plenty of potential punters with reams of numbers and long periods of waiting around. However, Mode 7 are set to provide a unique experience that they describe as "turn-based counterstrike." Frozen Synapse focuses on instantly accessible missions that last only ten minutes or less... yet deliver the hardcore, brutal and unforgiving decisions that armchair generals crave from their favourite genre.
The attractive wireframe presentation presents a birds-eye view of randomly generated battlefields in which small teams of operatives hunt each other down. Mode 7 explained that they'd purposefully removed the choice and unit setup for most of the gametypes in order to focus on quick turnarounds and on-the-fly decision making; and players will soon get the hang of creating complex paths out of simple checkpoints, stances and rules of engagement (each of which are only a click away). Combat is brutal and usually results in one-hit kills, but effectively using cover and remaining dead still allows your squad to get the drop on foes. Once each player decides ready to proceed, 5 seconds worth of action takes place simultaneously as both sets of waypoints and engagements resolve themselves. It's slick, deep and easy on the eyes thanks to the subtle and attractive visuals.
However, Frozen Synapse only takes half of its inspiration from Counterstrike and other first person shooters. Mode 7 have heavily drawn on popular card games for several key game mechanics. As mentioned previously, hands of units are dealt to each player at the beginning of each game; forcing players to improvise with what they have much like a tense game of Poker. You play the card's you're dealt, after all.
More excitingly, several unique game modes are based on contract bridge. The Secure gametype makes each player bid for the size and location of the area that they believe they can defend successfully. The player that bids the most gets to hunker down and defend... but the bigger the area, the easier it is to assault. Likewise, the Charge gametype (my personal favourite) makes players bid on the distance they think their team can cover in a certain number of turns. Rather than the standard tactical gunplay, players will need to hustle their team from cover to cover and construct ingenious ways of staying out of incoming fire. Each round may only last a few minutes, but the depth and scope of possible tactics are absolutely staggering.
The emphasis on quick, brutal games allows players to meet and interact with a huge roster of other armchair generals- and that's where the deeply impressive networking aspects come into play. Frozen Synapse is built around an integral social network that lets us chat, keep in touch with and (most importantly) schedule matches with friends and rivals. Over 50, 000 games have already been played, and the stats of each round are logged for all to see. Trust me: countless friendships will be made and destroyed on the virtual battlegrounds of Frozen Synapse.
Frozen Synapse is a satisfying juxtaposition of instant accessibility and unforgiving strategy that deserves to attract a lively social scene. Beta access and preorders are currently available- and I heartily recommend becoming part of what will hopefully become a viral tactical phenomenon. We'll bring you our in-depth beta impressions later this month!