Heavy tactics with a simple narrative, a great soundtrack and a cyberpunk aesthetic.
Frozen Synapse 2 is a top-down turn-based heavy tactical game from Brtish indie studio Mode 7, where we command a security force in a kind-of-cyberpunk city dominated by various corporate, political and criminal factions looking to expand their influence. The narrative premise of this second installment of the Frozen Synapse IP is a novelty on its own and adds some lore to a previously flat experience in that regard.
I entered as a newcomer to the franchise and as an enthusiast of turn-based tactical games, as well as cyberpunk universes, so the stakes were high. And even though Frozen Synapse 2 feels a bit all over the place, with highly complicated and extensive list of commands available to issue to our strike teams in situ, the truth is that with a bit of good old practice, the endless list of possibilities become more familiar and intuitive.
Things start to feel a bit overwhelming when we’re presented with the ability of not only planning ahead of each turn, but also testing them before seeing their actual outcome. In this phase we can also draw out what we think enemy units are going to do, checking for every different scenario we can think of and, lastly, sticking to the safest, most effective tactic. So, basically, we can be lazy or over-thinkers. We can commit to barely planned turns or meticulously, brain-stretched ones.
Movement actions are reflected by vectors that can be modified and filled with additional commands throughout their length. These range from engaging enemies or ignoring them on sight, aiming to a specific area, focusing on a particular enemy unit or area, checking for enemy presence when these are hidden, and much more. These actions can be fitted and located at any point through our unit’s projected movement, providing a highly versatile and deep tactical experience.
This neon-tainted, procedurally generated cyberpunk city is divided into unoccupied buildings that can be purchased to expand our influence, corporate and political faction buildings containing security forces and valuable assets we can take a risk and raid, plus criminal-owned areas. The narrative of Frozen Synapse 2 puts us in the search for a certain amount of valuable relics in a city that has been shaped by a sentient and somewhat rogue AI.
Each faction has a CEO or leader which we can call and talk to about various subjects. Depending on the level of reputation we have and our individual relationship with each of these groups, we’ll be able to have more extensive conversations, revealing more about the lore and history of this game’s characters. Alliances, cooperation and also war can be declared at any point by making a call or just stepping into a faction building and opening fire. Take your pick. Even so, smart managing of these relationships is mandatory in order to progress in the game. Often times I tried to have a faction leader open up and spill some gossip, but was swiftly rejected for lack of influence and reputation.
Contracts can be taken in order to increase our funds and hire new mercenaries to join our ranks, as well as buying new buildings to further our area of influence. Easy contracts include taking something from point A to point B, while harder and more profitable tasks ask us to set up a checkpoint in a building for a certain amount of hours, which might lead to a shootout with criminal factions. Harder tasks make us raid a criminal building, which may include one of our main antagonists, the Sonata faction.
Visually, Frozen Synapse 2 looks good in its neon-dressing and cyberpunk aesthetic, although battles can seem a bit bland and flat. Units have no distinct features apart from carrying one gun or another, information which is displayed in its name. There’s no customization of units or ranking up, making our strike teams look and feel depersonalized and hollow.
The city is a bit of a mess, with a grid filled with random and irrelevant buildings that many times confused me as to where I had to send my strike teams and what was the difference between one or another, aside from its price.
It is important to mention that I ran into some performance issues like crashes, that made my experience a bit frustrating. I also wasn’t able to select between strike teams to perform missions, allowing me only to send my “Strike Team 1” to every single contract. Although there is a tutorial at the beginning of the game and it’s certainly okay not to hold the player’s hand, a more comprehensive guide to a clearly complicated and stuffed system might have been welcome.
As for the soundtrack, a thumbs up for Frozen Synapse 2’s synth-styled, smooth music, which is more than suited for its tactical missions where a lot of thinking goes on. Its soothing audio really makes the experience a much more relaxing one.
If you’re someone that enjoys planning each move with precision and accuracy, then Frozen Synapse 2 is a great game to have in mind. Despite some performance issues, a sometimes confusing interface and a city maybe too stuffed with buildings and areas that hide no real content in them, its turn-based combat and heavy tactics options are a real challenge for fans of the genre. Plus, its cyberpunk looks and awesome soundtrack are clearly valuable assets to consider.
Our boy from Buenos Aires, Juan has been a gamer for as long as he can remember (and possibly even longer than that). He loves a good story, and believes every indie game has a compelling one to tell.