Frozen Synapse is one of those games that you look at and think it would be great to have on the Vita. A game that appears from the off that it is ideal for your wonderful little handheld that could. Well the teams at Mode7 and Double Eleven agree and Frozen Synapse is on the Vita in the form of Frozen Synapse Prime.
But what is Frozen Synapse Prime I hear you ask? Well simply put it is a simultaneous turn-based tactical strategy game. Yes, yes, it is an over-crowded genre the STBTSG, full of yearly franchises that offer nothing new… No, that’s not what this is at all. What you have here is a totally new experience on the Vita and one that is well worth taking the time to get to know.
Frozen Synapse Prime is a game that won’t grab you instantly like a platformer or a shooter and is unashamedly difficult as it progresses, but that is purely based on it being something new and not just a new take on a popular genre. But that difficulty comes in just beating the game, as controls wise and mechanics wise, it really couldn’t be any simpler.
You are free to use a mix of touch and physical controls, without the game pushing you towards one or the other. This is also extended to the menus, which must be commended as again there are many games out there which don’t give you the choice or find themselves made to favour one over the other. Here though you will find yourself happily using both options in equal measure, this is mainly due to the touch controls making sense.
Let us expand further. Frozen Synapse already has a home on Android and iOS thus meaning the developers have some experience with how best to use touch controls. So things like pinching to zoom work perfectly and are something most of us will understand in today’s age of touch screen devices. Touch and drag to move the screen around the level, tap to select, etc. These could have been used exclusively and been more than acceptable, but the developers also understand that there are buttons on the Vita, therefore they have made sure that every action has a function on the physical controls also and truth be told it is amazing how much more approachable this makes a game, being able to change up what you use on the fly, or even use a mix of the two to best suit your own needs. Using the shoulder buttons and right stick to zoom and pan, but using the screen to select and move. Wonderful.
The game mechanics too have a simplicity to them which understanding that not everyone has the time to learn over convoluted systems that are designed for hardcore fans only. Maps are easy to read and understand, enemies are clearly defined along with your own units, support and targets. You goals are clearly explained before each round and early tutorials explain the basics of gameplay in such a way that you feel comfortable very early on.
Turn-based battle systems aren’t exactly new, they have of course been the staple of the RPG for a very long time, but it is the simultaneous nature of the turn-based gameplay that stands out here. You and the enemy are making your decisions at the same time each and every turn, meaning you need to decide on a few factors with each turn.
Which path you want you units to take. Are they going to directly engage the enemy, try to flank them, try to avoid them to get a better position to attack? Which aiming system will you as you move? Will you focus on an enemy, sweep the area as you move, or aim in a general direction. You may even decide to have a unit hold their current position. At the same time though the enemy will be making their own series of choices, going through the same motions as you.
This could render the time you spent in the planning phase totally worthless, because like chess you will be trying to plan many moves ahead. What happens if you try to go this way? Are you safe from being picked off by an enemy sniper? What if this unit moves this way? Well luckily you can test out numerous scenarios before priming you move for real. You can try and plan what the enemy might do and what the reaction will be. By testing you will be shown the likelihood of your units being killed, or maybe what advantages the enemy can get over you.
It is possible to obsess over all the possible outcomes for what seems like an absolute age and yet, once you have decided on the best strategy for that one turn, it could all go wrong as the enemy does something unexpected or gets the jump on one of your units and you confident offense minded plan, suddenly sees you going on the defensive. Again though, while you may find some rounds taking ages to get through, others will feel like you are speeding through them, with your choices seemingly obvious and everything going right. It really is simplistically brilliant.
So if everything is so simple to understand, why might it not appeal instantly? Well that is because if doesn’t try to be a game that gives instant reward it is one that tries to test your own powers of logic and deduction and has the same rewarding feeling as winning a game of chess. Whilst not looking as fun as other games, to those who pick it up, it will feel great. Trying to sell it to your friends is another thing altogether, it just doesn’t have the visual appeal for the broader audience, nor does it have the that immediate sell if you get them to have a quick go. As with a game like chess it really does need someone who is willing to buy into it fully.
For those that do though, you will be rewarded with a rather excellent game and one that will give you hours upon hours of entertainment and can be played fully at your own pace. It is a perfect fit for the Vita and one that we will be spending a lot more time with.