What am I playing this week? Genre Breaking with Mode 7s Frozen Synapse

One of the advantages of the growing Indie game scene is the chances developers take on new styles and genres of games. Some of them work, some of them don’t, and bigger developers tend to pick up the ones that work looking to cash in on the popular change in style. Often the first developers to get out of the gate with a successful genre attempt get the additional boost from pulling it off first, and often, best. Mode 7 tried this kind of genre change when they came out with their turn-planned, simultaneous-run, strategy game Frozen Synapse. Frozen Synapse is a triumph of game design and the indie scene…and it’s still sitting near the bottom in my “one and done” pile.

I tried to describe Frozen Synapse’s ‘genre’ above, but here’s a bit more on the gameplay. This is a turn-based strategy game where you play against either an opposing player, or against the scenarios, the game includes to start. Each turn you plan the movement, shooting, targeting, even the facing and item use of your squad. You do this by drawing the movement paths and facings of your characters in a top-down map by drawing movement paths and assigning the various actions for each character in the squad through a few right-clicks and prompts at the bottom of the screen. From a User Interface standpoint, everything is pretty easy to navigate and use, and since this game was built for touch-screens, that makes sense.

Visually, everything uses stark, block colors, solid greens, reds, and bright neon colors that look like you crossed pac-man map design with the Matrix color scheme. It essentially looks like you’re looking at the tactical view that most movies use to show you where people are when they are fighting. It is sort of a neo-retro sci-fi look. To me it was a bit painful for the times I tried to play it, but you can also reskin it in any color scheme you like. It does work for the game though, so it didn’t bug me too much.

So…I liked Frozen Synapse’s game design, I liked the UI, and I liked the graphic style; why, then, is this game in my “one and done” pile? Simple, I could see this as a very successful vs game, where you make up your tactics on the fly, but the single-player campaign is a completely unforgiving puzzle game. If you don’t get every turn and every facing right then the AI opponent will destroy you repeatedly and in an unforgiving manner. You can barely vary your tactics at all because the computer is going to be much, much better at knowing exactly the best ways to cover every fire lane, and every angle so they will spot you out and shoot you down before you know what your did wrong. I ended up trying the same level so many times that I realized it just wasn’t worth my time any longer.

Frozen Synapse is a game that really shows how to innovate and come out with a successful game. It also shows that no matter how well received, well reviewed, and how well it sells, it can always end up on the bottom of someone’s “one and done” pile.

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