Have You Played… Frozen Synapse?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s bittersweet that so many games are doing the XCOM thing lately (not to mention that they’re not doing the X-COM thing). The great thing about the great turn-based, squad-based strategy comeback was it picking up a ball that had been dropped years ago, but now perhaps we’re in danger of the whole thing atrophying. There’s a whole lot more to experiment with there, rather then rest on genre laurels. For example, Frozen Synapse, which does turn-based combat as rapid-fire prediction.

Where the current crop of XCOMlites demand hours of your time and often emotional investment in your units, Frozen Synapse demands minutes. In theory, anyway. You’ll either be high from winning a match or burning for redemption after losing one, so will want to get straight back on the horse regardless.

The thing about Frozen Synapse, other than its quickness, is that you’re not simply deciding where to send your units and what direction they should shoot in, but basing that around educated guesses about what the opposing team will do. There’s this great system where the game will show you how things will theoretically pan out once both sides commit their orders – you tell the game where you think the enemy will be and it will show you the result. When you guess correctly, you feel like superhuman – you’ve intuited exactly what your opponent was thinking. Conversely, there’s plenty of keyboard-slamming and shouting of ‘how did they know? How could they possibly know?’ if you’re on the receiving end of someone’s successful prediction.

It’s an elegant system, and one that gets the heart pounding with tension – not just the need to win, but the need to be right.


  1. kwyjibo says:

    It’s on my Steam list, but I never got round to it.

    They’ve recently released an updated port called Frozen Synapse Prime. It replaced the cool blues and easily readable action for a uniform illegible dullard grey. This is progress.

    link to store.steampowered.com

    • Baines says:

      Prime is a PC port of the Vita port, done by a different studio than the original PC game. It doesn’t excuse the quality of Prime, but does explain it.

  2. darkhog says:

    Yes, I’ve played Frozen Synapse and I hate where art of new one is going.

    • Ditocoaf says:

      Same. The blue-with-abstract-lines made lots of sense given the story behind it all, and was so much more usable to boot!

  3. jezcentral says:

    I love FS, although I can spend 15+ mins working out the moves. It can be exhausting trying all the little permutations.

    The best feeling is watching an opponent run the width of the level to get away from you, and still end up intersecting the blast radius of your grenade. (How did I know? I just knew!)

    Must also mention the music. It is wonderful.

    Also: Mode 7, sort out your multiplayer two-week time-limits!

    • Everblue says:

      I bought the soundtrack for about £2 when I purchased the game. Well worth the money as the music is indeed stunning. I’ve had more pleasure from the soundtrack than the game!

  4. TomxJ says:

    I have had SO MUCH FUN being thrashed at this game its not funny.

    My favorite bits are; the replay so you can watch, in realtime, your entire tactical blunders unfold infront of you eyes in under 30 seconds and upload to youtube! + the beautiful soundtrack.

  5. Hex says:

    Indeed I have played Frozen Synapse, and it’s probably the only thing I ever would play if any of the ungrateful buggers I’ve gifted it to would ever play it with me in multiplayer. >:(

    Squaring off against random internet strangers is all well and good, but unless I can look a man in the eye after trouncing him and gloat face to face over besting him, what’s the point?

    • Synesthesia says:

      My exact experience as well. A shame, now that the servers are dead.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        The servers are what!?

        Whew! The servers are still alive! Or did you just mean they don’t have many folks on them any more?

        @Hex – I’d be up for a game, haven’t fired it up in ages, since the demise of the RPS leagues…

  6. JB says:

    Great game, great soundtrack.

    I recently got back into playing it, I’m so glad I did.

  7. VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    Frozen Synapse is indeed ace.

    But—“the current crop of XCOMlites”? I’ve been looking for good, fast paced turn-based tactical games akin to XCOM, and not found much to like.

    • Hex says:

      You can try Massive Chalice if you aren’t already familiar with it, though I dunno how much there is to like about it.

      • Joshua Northey says:

        Given DF’s history should one wait until MC is done?

        • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

          Thanks, I’ll go watch someone playing Massive Chalice on youtube to see what it’s like just now.

    • Dave Tosser says:

      Halfway, Dreadnought, Space Hulk, Warmachine: Tactics, Mordheim, Xenonauts, Satellite Reign, Codename Steam, Crowntakers,.. And not only can we expand that list hugely if you want actual strategy games and operational-scale wargames, but I know the mobile and tablet markets are stuffed with Eggscomlikes.

      Most of those are too close to XCOM than X-Com for me, but I did enjoy Halfway and Xenonauts is excellent. Plus there’s a million freeware clones and remakes of X-Com, not to mention all the classic squad-based tactics games neither of us have never heard of that came out of Russia a decade ago. That must exist.

      • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        Thanks. There’s a few names there I’ve not heard of. I’m definitely looking for XCOM-likes rather than X-Com-likes, which is why I’ve left Xenonauts alone, for example.

  8. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    ‘Tis super. One of my favourite multiplayer games of the last few years.

  9. Volpe says:

    It was my favorite game of 2011. It was, and still is, quite special.

  10. Lead Sponge says:

    This is an excellent game. It has a great theme, and the tactical choices are simple, but very deep. The turn structure is really innovative. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I find I like it better on the iPad then on the PC. It’s structure is really good for playing when you’re on a trip. I like to play it as I’m winding down and getting ready to go to sleep.

    The sound is pretty good to. I dig the soundtrack. It has a very cyberpunk feel mixed with a bit of Tron. Pick it up if you like tactical gameplay. You won’t be disappointed. The game is so good, that I bought it twice: iPad and Steam.

  11. strangeloup says:

    I have indeed played this, and I am completely unable to get my head around it. I can’t understand how on earth you’re meant to achieve anything with simultaneously resolved turns, short of blind luck. If I hadn’t played Unlimited SaGa it’d be the most confusing game I’ve ever owned.

    • c-Row says:

      Thank God I am not the only one then.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Once you have played a few matches it becomes much clearer – there isn’t as much luck involved as you might think. The main thing is to plan, plan, plan! Because you can simulate what your opponent might do as well when you’re planning your turn out, you can generally at least narrow the likely outcomes down. A good practice I find is to assume that your oppenent will do the most prescient, inconvenient thing possible with their units and plan around that, then change your opponent’s moves to another set of similarly dastardly possibilities and see how your plan will manage against those. You can usually end up with an effective move planned this way, although there is always the possibility they will still manage to be in exactly the most deadly place, but remember they are in the same boat!

      There is very little randomness in the way the battles themselves plan out – all things being equal, someome in cover will kill someone out of cover if they both spot each other at the same time. Somebody who is not moving will beat somebody who is etc. Differently equipped units will take varying times to begin shooting, and have different maxium ranges etc. When things get more advanced there are some tricks to be learned, but for the most part it is just a matter of planning carefully, and getting familiar with the units.

      • FunnyB says:

        Wait, you can simulate the other soldiers as well? You can give them orders?

        MIND BLOWN.

        I totally missed that in the tutorials…… Maybe this will make the game a bit easier…..