As not only the name of your character’s faction within the game but the meticulous planning that you will have to employ in order to succeed in Frozen Synapse Prime, tactics was not only a more apt title but also a large clue in what will be needed to be successful in the latest offering from Double Eleven. The futuristic city of Markov Geist is the setting for the campaign and it has come under attack from the Blue Sunlight group. Over the course of more than 40 missions it is down to you to remove the threat and save the day.
This is achieved by controlling a squadron of futuristic soldiers, known as Shapeforms. Each of your units has five seconds per turn to play with and during this sequence you can order the unit to conduct a variety of actions, from running, ducking, sweeping, waiting or aiming you will systematically roam through the top down arena and eliminate any of the opposing enemies that you will come across. Once you are happy with the moves you assigned you lock it in by “priming” and end your turn. The tricky thing is that your opponent will also be doing the same, independently of your choices, with your soldiers last known location being the reference point for both sides. Once both sets of moves have been confirmed the turn is rather cleverly played out in real time, and actions change as the new lines of sight become available. A unit running out in the open when you thought that the enemy was going the other way will have dire consequences for both him and your squad, or vice-versa. This leads to a very tactical battlefield which soon becomes a game of munitions based cat and mouse.
There are many different units in play with different uses and benefits. The machine-gunner is your standard recruit, and a pretty good all rounder with range and effectiveness whilst Shot-gunners are extremely close quarters combat but will (nearly) always win in close fight. Snipers are deadly but this is compensated by the time it takes to lock on and a Grenadier fires re-boundable carnage. The last main unit is the Rocketeer, who fires explosive destruction and is the only unit capable of destroying the environment. Different levels equip you with a variety of these units, so mastering their benefits along with the controls is essential, as well as something that took me a while.
Utilising either physical or touch controls, setting out orders to your team soon becomes second nature. With the five seconds to play with, you plot a path around the map and using the skill wheel select what it is you want that unit to do. During “visible” matches all enemy units will remain in sight at all times, regardless of whether you have a clear view or not. You cannot see what they will do during your turn until it commences, but its a guide for you to plan your moves or to be cautious when making your assault. Select opens the wheels, Cross will confirm your choice and then again to plot the action. Circle cancels your choices and Triangle will confirm everything and “prime” your turn. Square is your time bar, which is your gateway to the previous turns as well as predicting what could happen in the next. It’s incredibly useful and well worth getting the hang of quickly.
Visually the game is very good, it’s very clean and simple whilst carrying off the futuristic look it intended and it’s a huge departure from the neon style hues from Mode 7’s earlier iteration. As mentioned above it’s presented top-down but any Shapeforms slaughtered during the turn reconciliation are presented in 3D in the form of kill-cams, which is extremely satisfying. The soundtrack is incredibly atmospheric and eerie at times and adds to the tension played out with each passing turn.
The game features a skirmish mode for you to set up your own combat missions although where it truly shines is in the asynchronous multiplayer mode in which moves and turns can be played out at your leisure. It’s incredibly fun and with no hanging around required you can compose your moves whenever it is convenient and the game will tell you when it’s time to make you move through a lobby screen, showing the progress of the match and the match type.
With a varieties of plays on the mechanics you can opt for a straight out Death-match in Extermination, the first to the enemy base Infiltration, Disputed where you need to extract Data Cells and outscore your opponent and remove your units and Charge, where you have five turns to stop the attacker from reaching the target zone. Secure is very similar where you have ten turns to achieve this and finally Hostage which requires one player to secure the escape of hostages with the opposition attempting to prevent this. The slight variations in the modes is great and allows for differing ways to experiment with tactics and ad variety, whilst all modes can simply be won by exterminating the opposing team. Well, I say simply, but the game is anything but simple!
At times it can be extremely frustrating, especially early on whilst you adapt to what is needed to succeed and for the controls click, but when you do get your head around it the game becomes that much more enjoyable as you plot your paths around to victory. Much of the joy comes from out-thinking your opponent and when your unorthodox path around the arena catches the opposition out and yields a well though out plan. The game is reliant on a lot of luck, but perseverance and shrewd scheming really becomes satisfying.
The campaign packs more that 40 missions and will last you a while and the game has a decent trophy list, including a platinum but the multiplayer is really where the game is at and for £12.99/€16.99/$19.99 the game really is great value for what it offers, as well as terrific fun. If you want a game where you will be rewarded for careful planning rather than reactions, this just could be for you.