Frozen synapse 2
A second helping of tactical cyberpunk action
Can you predict your opponent’s next move in a cut-throat, neonsoaked world of cyber-corps?
There’s something very reminiscent of tabletop gaming here. You control a small squad of armed soldiers, usually four or five guys, as does your opponent. Everything they do, from movement, to positioning, to whether they fire at will, is up to you. Both players’ turns go off simultaneously, so you need to anticipate what your opponent will do. It’s a game of outmanoeuvring, of prodding and poking, and it’s very satisfying to set a complex series of orders in motion and see them play out perfectly. Of course, this was also true of the first Frozen Synapse game. Where this one differs is in the new city game campaign. This mode puts you in charge of a bureau of agents, taking contracts from different factions in a sprawling metropolis. You might need to intercede in a terrorist attack at the university, or fight your way through a street blockade of religious zealots. This is all controlled via a pretty, neon-blue cityscape map. When your squadron arrives at a building, the camera pans around, zooming in on the structure, revealing the interior. It’s a cool effect, and it makes you feel like you’re a hacker accessing the mainframe in a cheesy ’90s action movie. This is all wrapped around a plot which involves a destructive faction known as Sonata, whose seemingly illogical but violent behaviour is stirring up what is already a veritable cauldron of mistrust.
Unfortunately, much of the narrative leaves us feeling undernourished. There simply isn’t enough information available about the various factions. Some, such as the Parcel Tossers (a group of couriers) are obvious, but others, with more ambiguous names, are impossible to fathom until you’ve interacted with them several times. Consequently, it’s difficult to lose yourself in the fantasy because the names are meaningless to you. What is Blue Sunlight? Why is it conducting ‘religious education’? Does that mean it’s some kind of cult? We aren’t immediately given this information, so it’s difficult to become invested. Some voice acting might have gone a long way towards enhancing the mood, especially given that the soundtrack is one of the best we’ve ever heard in a game.
Feud for thought
Similarly, many of the mechanics are obtuse and not properly explained during the tutorial. You’ll keep getting reported for municipal code violations, but there’s no indication of what that means or how it’s affecting your faction and its standing with other factions. Is there a way we can avoid these? Should we even be trying to avoid them? I mean, you’re obviously not supposed to fire machine guns on the streets, but we did just rescue a library full of civilians.
Yet there are some compelling ideas on offer here. While many of the city’s inhabitants see Sonata as a destructive, evil force, others question our right to judge it, given how little information there is about it. At times, Frozen Synapse 2 transcends the medium and almost becomes a work of philosophical literature. Unfortunately, it never really achieves a coherent narrative, which is a shame because it looks gorgeous, and initiating combat and then playing it out on the map is always fun.
“it’s very satisfying to set a complex series of orders in motion and see them play out”
There’s still solid tactical action under these ’90s hacker movie stylings.