991828_largerFew recent tactical strategy games have received such a large amount of attention as Frozen Synapse [$9.99 (HD)]. It has been praised for both its art style and excellent strategy gameplay. Starting on PC and Mac it has now found its way to iOS. While initially overwhelming with a busy interface and lengthy tutorial, Frozen Synapse is able to find a totally appropriate home on iOS.

In Frozen Synapse you take on the role of a tactician. Your task is direct a team of soldiers second by second. They can be ordered to move behind cover, fire a weapon, and many other options. Once all players have decided on the directions for their teams, the actions are carried out simultaneously. It calls to mind the X-wing Miniatures game as your success is based upon the ability to read the other player. Will they take cover or launch an offensive? In some modes of the game you are also locked into seeing only those enemies in your line of sight, which can be challenging. Beware, your sci-fi soldiers are very fragile and a single misstep can mean instant death. Matches usually last only a few rounds as players bluff and bait each other.


There are a myriad of ways to enjoy this title whether alone or with others. There is a fully functional AI in the game which can allow for quick matches. This little buddy is no pushover; you will die often. It is no wonder the developers recommend this mode as the best teacher after finishing the tutorial. The game also features an excellent campaign mode with a story spanning several levels. These range from straightforward skirmishes to  more complex missions of capture or defense. It is the gameplay that stands out, but the story certainly has its strong points.

Frozen Synapse really shines when playing with others. The online play features a separate login and a full blown PC-esque lobby. There are always plenty of people online and games can be completed live or in an asynchronous fashion. You can play with friends, complete strangers, or participate in tournaments. It really is a full fledged online system, the likes of which is rarely seen on iOS. This version also features Hotseat mode which is great for mobile as you can pass the iPad around a room and play with your friends in one location. If you find online play too insular or intimidating, this is an excellent way to play with friends on your terms.

This game comes packed with many hours of content- The campaign will take you some time to complete and then there are untold hours of play both online and off. There are dozens of maps, different unit types, several game modes, and on and on. I was impressed by the amount of things to do. Frozen Synapse is an exercise in complex simplicity. On the service the controls are simple taps and turns, but to really succeed it will require practice. This process can be terribly rewarding, and even games you struggle in will end quickly.


It is this hidden complexity that provides some challenges for this app. The number of choices available to you at any moment make the interface large and somewhat confusing. To really succeed at the game you will have to learn all of these options and know when best to ask them. For a new player they can look downright baffling and it would be great to see a more interactive tutorial that guides a player through step by step. This UI difficulty is paired with the games overall menu system which has a decidedly PC feeling. There are cases of strange pop-up issues and overlays that seem traditional reserved to the wild world of PC gaming. While the gameplay fits perfectly on iOS, the surrounding menus seem to miss the boat.

Frozen Synapse succeeds at bringing a beloved PC game to iOS. It is fiercely faithful in bringing the whole experience to mobile which has its own pros (tons of content, great online experience) and cons (archaic menu system, hard to manage UI). This is a great strategy title which is enjoyable on many levels. There is complexity there if you want it or you can stay on the surface and have a great tactical experience.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Pedroapan

    This certainly looks interesting. Does it run ok on ipad2?

    • Devoid21

      Runs great on ipad 2. Haven't had any problems with it so far.

    • NickyNichols

      Everything runs great on iPad 2. It's still the flagship iPad, IMO.

      • LordOfLetterbox

        That's because of the iPad mini..the Mini is pretty much an iPad 2 so that why it has had such a long life compared to the first gen. I agree with you 100%.

  • blindspot

    Taking off a star because the UI of this awesome and slightly complex app takes a little more effort to learn? I would expect no less from TA.

    • ratsinheat

      They have high standards for "tactics" games, which all stem from final fantasy tactics, according to an older game review.

      • bobehm

        Not on board with the TA hate but this comment is awesome.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      Where does the reviewer say he docked a star for the UI?

      • VeganTnT

        The last line of the review states it's a great game with archaic menus and hard to manage UI. As a matter of fact it's the only criticisms leveled against the game. I think it's fair to make the assumption that the cons of a game are the basis of it not getting a perfect score. Otherwise you're be saying that it's ok to rank a title lower than perfect for reasons that you never mention in the review of said game...

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        Our rating system is and always has been based on an overall recommendation level, not any specific set of factors. So a game can have 5 stars and still have flaws, or be perfect on paper but be a less than 5 star experience.

        That is what I was originally referring to. Saying "TA knocked a star off for the UI" is something somebody just plain made up to suit their own agenda.

      • VeganTnT

        I know how the stars work, that's why I rated it 3.5 stars in my own comment. It's not that the game isn't good, it's just that I feel the package isn't up to par with the PC version which can throw people off cause no one seems to talk about those critical differences. If the reviewer doesn't explain what the reason is what are the readers to do?

        That being said I didn't say anyone was wrong. A game gets 4 stars instead of 5 stars for a reason. If the review mentions cons then it's not unreasonable for readers to correlate the two because they are in fact correlated. Something has to cause the drop in stars and there was only two cons given. They may not be the only reason why but they are definitely part of it. It's not fair to question someone's interpretation of the facts when they are using FACTS to make their case.

        I enjoy Brad's reviews and give them great weight based on what I've seen from the BGG boards. If Brad simply said, "Buy this game" I probably would, based solely on my previous experiences with his reviews/taste in games. But Brad isn't the only reviewer here and the opinions vary wildly based on who's writing. If the stars aren't based any criteria and are purely subjective... why use them? Four stars from Brad means more to me than 10 from a new writer. That's not a knock against any of the other writers new or old but Brad's recommendation means more to me since I've seen that our (mine and his) opinions are quite similar. If the stars were based on SOMETHING, then at least there is a baseline for readers to work with.

        If all TA reviews are purely recommendation based then are they really reviews at all? or are they a collection of personal opinions? If you aren't giving readers the criteria by which your review is based then how can they make an informed choice?

      • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

        No. You're assuming a game starts at 5 stars and then is subtracted from based on its negatives. "Something has to cause the drop in stars" That's not how it works.

        I wish we didn't have star ratings, we've tried really hard not to. It's just something everybody wants and is basically a necessity in this day and age.

        And since the majority of people simply look at the rating and don't bother reading the review, it makes sense to have the rating reflect an overall recommendation level.

        I mean could you imagine having to give a game like 10000000 a poor rating because its graphics aren't very good, then somebody sees a 3/5 at the bottom and just decides to skip it? That would be tragic.

        We are a gaming blog ran by gamers, so no there's no specific criteria used for coming up with the rating. Think of it as how strongly the reviewer would recommend a game to their friends. It's pretty casual, not Consumer Reports or anything. If you want to know the nitty gritty then you can read the body of the text.

  • PureRumble

    For a game of this caliber i would rather see 4.5 stars, but we are all entitled to our opinions

    Even brad, even brad ;-P

    • troyster

      I expected a higher score but I think 4 is in the realm of what it deserves. I just can't get over TMNT endless runner getting 4.5, lol!!! This is a PC/console quality game.

  • JJE McManus

    Wonderful spate of tactical games lately, ain't there? First Ace Patrol, now this. XCom soon and maybe (just maybe) some Warhamer. Where am I supposed to find the time for all that? I'll be playing Synapse right after I finish making the sky's safe for freedom. Yup, lots of real good tacticfying fun coming up. OFAP

    • flashbackflip

      You forgot Leviathan Warships - ubercool title imo. Positively rocking despite ugly menus and lack of retina

      • JJE McManus

        Absolutely correct. I remembered right after I posted. I'll probably wait on warships and see how updates pan out

  • VeganTnT

    It should be mentioned that while it is fiercely faithful to the whole experience it does NOT have the interactive tutorial of the PC version. You're forced to learn the game via videos which is not ideal. The iPad version is also missing the AI flexibility for the offline skirmish mode. Technically, you can just give the opposing team more units but the PC version has that ability AND the ability to choose AI difficulty (1-4) and AI personality (Agro, Turtle, Suicidal, etc)

    I'd say it's more like 3.5 stars. The game is still great but you need to be cautious as this isn't a 1:1 port of the highly acclaimed PC version.

    Users that don't plan to play online will feel the biggest hit because once you beat the 55 mission campaign you'll be good enough to wipe the floor with the one skirmish AI available.

  • MidianGTX

    Amazing game on PC, depressingly average port on iOS. The concept and game mechanics hold up, but it doesn't feel like an iPad game, more like a PC game someone's hacked to run on an emulator.

  • jamarohn

    I see a lot of negative reviews from folks who are comparing this with the PC version...

    Personally I have never heard of this title until yesterday, and it's friggin amazing. Yes, the learning curve is a bit steep at first, but after little effort, I reached a "aha" moment in understanding its UI paradigm, and from that point on, the game opens up wide and fantastically. I have no issues with the tap control, whatsoever. And the visuals are good for what it is, especially since the gameplay trumps it.

    If you're a little patient and don't mind taking the effort to learn what it has to offer, it becomes a very rewarding experience.

    And for $7!!!

    • VeganTnT

      Well the developer starts the AppStore description by listing all the accolades of the PC version. If they are allowed to compare the two why can't the customers?

      • jamarohn

        Agreed. I never said people shouldn't. People will do whatever they feel they want to no matter what anyway. No big deal.

        Just wanted to chime in another opinion for the rest of us that had no clue about the PC version. If I came in fresh and saw all these slams, I might walk away thinking that this iPad game was ugly with crap user interface that ruins it all.

        That's just not true. Currently the app is getting a stellar 5 star review on the App Store, and I frankly haven't experienced any of the crappy UI and graphics complaints.

        Now if you have a PC available and don't mind the extra price, then it seems valid to encourage people to get that version instead. I just don't happen to own a PC, so for me, this iPad version is stellar.

      • VeganTnT

        Hmm, that's very true. It's hard for new users to make the distinction since they have nothing with which to compare. I really do think the game is good but I can't, in good conscience, give this game a must buy cause this isn't quite the game people have heard so much about. I'd rather just say look, here's what you need to be aware of, while still letting you know the core content is still excellent.

        It's a problem that sometimes occurs with developers that create premium packages. If it doesn't meet the same level of excellence on all platforms it will get picked apart for what it isn't rather than being judged for what it's actual merit. Being part of a humble bundle may have been a part of it too, with a pay what you want pricing scheme the PC version has been in a lot of hands which makes the comparisons all the more likely.

  • TJK15

    Can anyone who has experienced this game tell me if its worth the hefty price tag ?
    I've played hella good games for 0.99-1.99$ , so I don't want to buy one game when I could buy 4-6 other games for the same price if it doesn't live up to its expectations.

    • jamarohn

      You can buy one quality game for $7; or 4 or 5 mediocre-but-serviceable games for $7.

      I find the former to be of more worth. But I have a friend who thinks the latter has more worth. And we're both right!

      For me, I have waaaay too many "bought but never played" games. This one, however, bucks the trend for me. I've been playing it a lot.

      There's nothing quite like it on the App Store.

  • http://www.ebog.me/ ebog

    'Frozen Synapse' Review - A Brilliant Tactics Game Comes to the iPad, I will use with your iPad.

  • Endscrypt

    Was gonna go get this one today, been keeping an eye on it for a while. But after reading some of the thoughts from main TA members ill pass.

Frozen Synapse Reviewed by Brad Cummings on . Rating: 4