Few recent tactical strategy games have received such a large amount of attention as Frozen Synapse ($9.99). 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.