2011 was something of a transitional year for the strategy genre as studios looked to mix things up a little bit, with a large number of excellent genre mashups seeing the light of day. Dungeon Defenders and Orcs Must Die! were at the forefront of the partnership between strategy and action, with the former throwing in some excellent RPG mechanics in for good measure too. The Creative Assembly and Sports Interactive delivered sequels to their respective long-running franchises, with Shogun 2 bringing back much of the magic that the Total War series might have lost with Napoleon and Empire. And then, of course, there was Mode 7 Games' top-down, Tom Clancy-esque turn based gem, Frozen Synapse. A pretty good year for all concerned.
NB. Click on the thumbnails for price comparisons and the game's title for the relevant review where available.
Orcs Must Die! successfully married direct combat and tower tactics, but Trendy Entertainment's effort went one step further by providing a persistent RPG element that invoked the likes of Diablo and Torchlight. Dungeon Defenders was an incredibly brave proposition from a small independent studio... and a hybrid gamble that paid off in spades. With four players leaping into the fray it was insanely good fun.
Eric Chahi's new twist on the god game was a slow burner, but beautifully realised. Manipulating the land and the elements rather than directly influencing your minions gave the game a rather unique serenity, catering more towards a patient and nurturing game style that made From Dust one of the most striking little games of the year.
Frozen Synapse wasn't just one of the best strategy games of the year...it was one of the best games of any kind! Fantastic pick-up-and-play appeal married to instant accessibility and a ridiculously deep and compelling level of cerebral strategy made for a masterpiece in turn-based strategy. Not only was it a fraction of the price of hundreds of the 'bigger' titles this year, but Mode 7's infinite combinations of maps and opponents, and excellent community features, made Frozen Synapse a game that we're still playing months down the line.
Orcs Must Die! offered up a simple premise backed up with solid mechanics, some lovely, cartoonish presentation and a relatively low price tag. No, it wasn't particularly original, but Robot Entertainment created a gleefully violent blend of action and strategy that proved great fun in short bursts. We just wished we could have doubled the culling fun with a friend.
For some, Empire and Napoleon missed the point of the Total War series, which was getting stuck in with swords, not whittling away at each other from afar with muskets. Shogun 2 addressed this and plenty more besides, delivering the current definitive Total War experience...until the next game comes out. You should play just to see your ninja single-handedly capture a massive castle.
Frozen Synapse is the next logical evolution of the turn-based strategy genre. Mode 7 Games have created a perfect foundation for years of addictive tactical fun - and now, dear readers, it's up to us to get involved and ensure that Frozen Synapse becomes the phenomenon it rightly deserves to be.
He wasn't lying. Six months on and Frozen Synapse is one of the few games that's still being played here. As the likes of Modern Warfare, Gears and Uncharted have yielded their (admittedly excellent) gifts and gone back on the shelf, Frozen Synapse is something we keep returning to again and again. Simple to get into, but difficult to master, Mode 7 breathed new life into the turn-based strategy genre.