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Frozen Synapse

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2011). Mode 7 Games (M7). Designed by Ian Hardingham, Paul Taylor. Platforms: Lin, Mac, Win.

Frozen Synapse is a Computer Wargame, developed as an Independent Game, in which the player controls small groups (or "systems") of mindless Clones (or "vatforms") in small military actions. The gameplay, in which the player works out their orders for a turn and then waits to see the results, is reminiscent of such predecessors as Laser Squad (1988). Here, however, participants can test the simulated results of their actions, assuming that the enemy does not alter their strategy, before making those instructions irrevocable. The game's design is visually striking and highly playable; the effect is oddly cool and detached.

Frozen Synapse was originally built for competition in temporary Online Worlds, with a linear Interactive Narrative added after the core gameplay had been finished. Nevertheless, the story is effective. It is set in a city deliberately unpositioned in time or space, a technologically sophisticated metropolis dominated by a single giant corporation and pervaded by the "shape" (an informational space which functions as a kind of platonic [see Plato] realm inhabited by "shapeforms", but is accessed as if it were a Cyberspace). Various competing factions are struggling for control of the city, including the ruling company, anti-corporate rebels, dangerously idealistic proponents of a Utopian society and religious fanatics who worship the Omega Point. Eventually, the player's character – who acts as primary tactician for the rebels – is revealed as a fragment of the shapeform which controls the corporate enemy, deliberately split off and made amnesiac by this superhuman intelligence so that it can fight a war worth winning (see Doppelgangers).

Ultimately, Frozen Synapse is an excellently crafted, highly atmospheric game of tactical combat which is presented with a very indie sensibility. While its fiction is not especially original, it is honest about the moral ambiguities of revolution, full of evocative detail, and highly self-aware. Throughout, it retains its own sense of style.

Related works: Frozen Synapse: Red (2012 M7, Lin, Mac, Win) designed by Ian Hardingham, Paul Taylor is an expansion pack which adds new plot, equipment and types of gameplay. [NT]


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