Share.tactical tour de force
Planning a turn in Frozen Synapse Prime provides the same inexplicable joy of meticulously setting dominoes on end, only to watch them topple in a fraction of the time it took to arrange them. Aside from its ability to reliably accommodate a staggering array of tactics, Prime’s greatest asset is the glorious tension of that moment when you bite your nails, flick the first domino, and wonder, “Is this actually going to work?” That consistent satisfaction makes this one of the Vita’s most rewarding games, and perhaps the single best tactics game on the platform, period.
Prime’s top-down, simultaneous turn-based action pits two teams of micromanaged soldiers against one another in five-second bursts. You independently outline your squad members’ actions step by granular step with empowering precision, and once every strafe and corner check has been finetuned using the handy dry-run preview tool, you “prime” the turn and watch as your preset actions play out against your opponent’s in real time. “Was my shotgunner fast enough to make it past that window before the enemy sniper got into position? Did he turn left, as I predicted, or did he turn right?” Well, you’re about to find out!
Because you never quite know what your opponent will do next, every turn becomes a psychological duel – the winner, ultimately, is the player who can be more devious, who can cover all the angles, who can outflank and out think his opponent. In essence, it’s the perfect antidote for all those mindless run-and-gun shooters, relying entirely on tactics and a unique brand of predictive puzzle-solving rather than twitchy trigger fingers.
What’s amazing is how fair Prime is. Since soldiers simply follow commands, kills are determined by a number of factors: stance, cover, line of sight, range, weapon type, and more. Constantly trying to account for every factor while inputting commands occasionally made me long for the simplicity of chess. I also spent some early hours fighting with the combat interface, especially when trying to arrange a particularly complex series of commands. You can place and adjust waypoints, set multiple actions at each waypoint, and control the timing down to the split-second -- the level of nuance possible is absolutely daunting.
But that nuance is also what makes Prime such an amazing tactical sim. Once I overcame that brutal teething period (and learned the subtle but crucial differences between the Aim, Sweep, and Check commands), I quickly began to appreciate the deep well of tactics it afforded me. Instead wondering why the hell that stupid AI shotgunner killed my soldier even though my guy was already aiming the right direction, I was able to focus entirely on anticipating my opponent’s moves and embracing the thrill of a calculated risk. Importantly, this was all possible because Prime’s combat proved so consistent. After learning the ins and outs, I was rarely puzzled by an outcome. Either I screwed up or I won; it didn’t feel arbitrary.
Not only are the mechanics thoughtful and engaging, Prime actually gives you plenty of ways to use them. There’s a full, story-driven single-player campaign that, depending on your play style, could easily devour a dozen hours. The dystopian cyberpunk narrative teeters on the edge of trite and often feels a bit scattered, but does eventually pay off, especially if you’re willing to read the expository text dumps between missions.
Beyond the story, the campaign excels at providing new and unpredictable scenarios to test your skills, made all the more unpredictable by the modular, semi-randomly generated battlefields. One mission gave me a trio of shotgunners and tasked me with defeating five snipers positioned on the opposite side of the board, which proved...tricky. Inventive scenarios like that, though occasionally frustrating, kept the experience as a whole fresh and surprising.
As solid as the campaign and its AI enemies may be, the real stars of Prime are its multiplayer modes. This game is tailor-made for head-to-head competition, and thankfully, it gives every tool you could possibly need to orchestrate intense battles, including deeply customizable maps and match parameters, six different match types, and even a replay theater.
But the coolest part? Prime lets you play multiple matches at once in an asynchronous fashion. Opponent taking forever to finish setting his turn? Simply back out to the multiplayer menu, where you can easily track all your matches, and jump directly into the ones that require your attention. It’s smooth, intuitive, and helps combat turn-based multiplayer’s most common problem, though it still can’t eliminate it entirely. I often struggled to find opponents and endured many matches that became inactive almost immediately. That’s not really Prime’s fault, but it is the reality of situation currently.
Relative to the original PC version of Frozen Synapse, Prime enjoys a total visual overhaul complete with 3D modeling and added killcams (though the new gray palette is actually a bit dull). Prime’s controls mix both physical buttons and expertly implemented touch controls, which should make it easy to get comfortable. And the added tutorials help take the edge off the learning curve.
Prime’s simultaneous turn structure makes for a tense experience that’s both intelligent and rewarding. It deftly avoids the tedium that can sometimes plague strategy games, but still provides incredible depth for those with the patience to enjoy it. Find some friends, create some matches, and embrace a thinking man’s mobile tactics game.
By Ben Barrett on November 2nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm
Hang on, that’s not the contrasting green, blue and red I’m used to! There’s been a robbery of extreme colour, replacing it with bluish greys and skyline backdrops! Just one of the changes made to Frozen Synapse in the Prime version that’s coming to Steam on November 14th. It’s a port of the Vita, uh, port with some added goodies. I actually quite like the old Synapse art, it’s simple but unique and nicely abstracted enough from the usually quite extreme violence being committed. Fit the tactical feel of the game as a whole, too. The other changes are less controversial and there’s a trailer to show them off.
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Double Eleven, Frozen Synapse, Frozen Synapse Prime, mode 7 games, .
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