Unless you follow the indie PC development scene closely, the 2011 release of Mode 7's Frozen Synapse might have passed you by. A top-down, high-tech tactical shooter, the game's depth of strategy received considerable acclaim at launch, and this iPad edition of the game has been highly anticipated. So what's all the fuss about?
The game is split into two components - a planning phase where you set up commands for your troops to follow, and an execution phase where both you and your opponent's carefully laid plans are put into practice. In the former, you have a range of options to add to the navigational waypoints that you set out for your troops - aim in this direction at that moment, duck here behind the potential safety of a low wall, engage the enemy as you move to here and so on.
But if the planning phase can be considered tense, the actual execution of both players' actions, automatically played out in front of you, can be terrifying. Where's your opponent's sniper going? Have you just triumphantly marched straight into trap? The constant play and counter-play of Frozen Synapse is thrilling to watch, and your strategy will have to evolve constantly if you're to emerge victorious.
Superb though the gameplay is, in truth it's all a bit bewildering for the newcomer. Your early days in the game will be very wisely spent browsing through the generous collection of gameplay videos that serve to introduce you to even the very basics of the game. Those who rush into the thrill of battle before studying are in for a short, sharp shock. It's a pity that there isn't a more natural learning curve embedded into the game itself, but all of the information you need is at least there to be absorbed.
While there's a storyline campaign to be worked through, the real meat of the Frozen Synapse experience has always been found in going toe to toe against a human opponent, and it's here that the cat-and-mouse thrills of the game really come alive. Less predictable and far more tense, in these encounters you'll find yourself embarking on your assault with considerably more care and caution as you dance around each other's vulnerabilities.
When it comes to transferring the game over to touchscreens Mode 7 has performed an admirable job, although the overall experience is unavoidably fiddlier when you don't have the precision controls of a mouse at hand. Selecting the right units, actions, and navigating the screen briskly comes with practice, but it will be a while before your skill of execution matches your tactical intentions.
You have to work hard to penetrate the unfriendly surface of Frozen Synapse, not just because of the depth of strategy, but also a rather unfortunate disregard for the early days of the eager but uncertain newcomer. Persevere though, and you'll be rewarded with one of the finest tactical games you can get for your tablet.
What's Hot:A deep and absorbing strategy game, one that rewards multiplayer gamers in particular with a different experience every time.
What's Not:It's not a game that eases players into even the basics. Those without the patience to put in a little study time will probably want to spend their $6.99 elsewhere.