Monday 1 December 2014

Frozen Synapse Prime Review (PC)

Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe

I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Frozen Synapse. In equal measures frustrating and exciting, but I cannot hold the former condition as a fault in the game. It was always my impatience and my lack of forethought that caused me to lose games. Arguably, this is a sign of a thorough game, a formidable design and a ruthless challenge. Indeed, the original game posed one of the most interesting multiplayer situations I've recently encountered.

Frozen Synapse Prime is a ground-up remake of the original Frozen Synapse. A squad-based, tactical, cyberpunk themed chin scratcher. With a varied squad of combatants, you direct their movements, aiming, engaging and so forth, using an intuitive waypoint system. It is devilishly easy to learn and with Prime, The developers have refined the interface. The use of a radial, key-bound menu is better than what was a clumsy list. This is a significant point, as the ease of ordering the squad around the arenas should be as elegant as possible, as underneath is a game of precision, preparation and consideration.

The twist is the ability to plan and waypoint enemy squad members, to predict the outcome of your movements. If your machine-gunner moves here, does he get brained by a shotgunner? Slight adjustments can save lives, allowing you to get the jump on your enemy. This is where Frozen Synapse as a concept really shines. You can agonize over decisions, as most of the time, one careless move is enough to tilt the advantage toward your opponent in a critical way.

For me, the original was all about the multiplayer, although the single player campaign is nothing to sniff at. The dialogue is fantastic, the story classically cyberpunk, tongue in cheek and full of character. I however find the missions and A.I underwhelming after the excitement of peer-to-peer, and this is where I predict most of my time will be spent with the game. Honestly, I lose most of my games, but it keeps me coming back. It is similar to X-COM. It doesn't give an inch, brutal but it is never the game.

Aesthetically, this sequel is a huge advancement, however much the Tron-esque futurist-minimalism was both atmospheric and playful. Where before the neon walls were devoid of humanity (fitting for the context of the story), the new arenas are steel-panelled joylessness, functional and brutalist. It looks great, and they've kept the battlegrounds uncluttered. The music is, as before, a slick blend of tense ambient classiness. Sound design in general is subtle, well-placed and sparse.

Overall, a worthy successor to a game that now looks like proof-of-concept. I am confident that veterans will on the whole welcome the update, and certainly the accessibility of this tough game has been increased for the newcomer. Not a lot is really new, but it was pretty much spot on before, and I look forward to being dispatched by my tactical and intellectual betters over and over again.


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