Frozen Synapse 2 looks to be a work of stunning hubris (in a good way)
It's been long enough, in game industry terms, for people to have forgotten about Frozen Synapse, the stylish indie strategy game originally released in 2011. The follow-up, Frozen Endzone, took similar turn-based strategy to a faux football setting, but wasn't met with quite the same levels of acclaim.
The four-person team at Mode 7 has apparently been very hard at work, though, as I saw first hand at PAX East 2016. Paul Kilduff-Taylor, one of the studio founders and the man behind the original game's awesome soundtrack, took me for a run-through of Frozen Endzone 2, currently in Alpha.
Frozen Synapse 2 looks to be, in a word, ambitious. It takes the familiar turn-based strategy of the original game and places it in a giant procedurally-generated city. The setting is a follow-up to the original game, a sci-fi world in which a hostile force controlled by artificial intelligence is poised to invade, and a dozen or so factions struggle for control of the buildings and blocks of the metropolis in the meantime.
Every single building on the map is controlled by someone, and every single building on the map can be entered, invaded, and fought over. Each of the game's factions has their own values, goals, and strategy, and though they stay the same each time you play through the game their relative strength and the areas they control will be different. As the player, you're free to ally with any faction you want, depending on your strategic needs, moral choices, or just which faction color you like best. You can also break alliances at any time, or show up outside a faction building just to intimidate them, or kill faction leaders to wipe out a whole faction at once, or randomly encounter an enemy faction's force in the streets and start brawling, or any number of a bunch of other crazy things that can happen.
It all looks like a big step up in complexity and depth from Frozen Synapse. Whereas before the unique approach to turn-based tactical combat was the whole game, now those battles are just a part of a larger strategic experience in which you must recruit units, manage resources, and deploy strike teams on the world map. Kilduff-Taylor mentioned Alpha Centauri as the game that most inspired Frozen Synapse 2's diplomacy system, and the whole dual-layer strategic play reminded me a lot of Total War. Mode 7 are calling it an "open-world tactics" game, and it's a surprising and refreshing twist for the franchise.
New units, new ways to play
The meat of Frozen Synapse 2 remains the simultaneous turn-based combat, as you move your characters, armed with rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, and more, through the procedurally generated rooms and corridors of the city. Maps and missions will have a degree of randomness to their generation as well, though there will be key locations and story missions that you will encounter as you move through the single-player game.
Some exciting new additions are joining the units from the original game, in the form of "smoke grenades, flamethrowers, melee units," and more. I had a chance to see the smoke grenades in action, creating a circle of cover through which units can't be seen or killed. In a game like Frozen Synapse, in which cover is critically important to unit survival, this looks to be an awesome addition to the game.
Outside of the redesigned single-player experience, Frozen Synapse 2 will offer the same kind of satisfying multiplayer as the original. To help build up excitement for this sequel, the developers are working closely with the game's community and fans, supporting player-run tournaments of the original game.
The visual design of the game looks like an evolution of the first game's striking style. Black and blue are still the dominant shades, with color accents, shining lights, and even little animated touches like smoke and water all rendered in the same techno-futurisitic style.
Frozen Synapse 2 is a few months away from the Beta stage, and Kilduff-Taylor said that the studio plans for an open beta period after that. He spoke with excitement of the "almost infinite" potential for additional content for the game, including things like an asymmetrical "base defense" mode, and it's clear the studio has very big plans for this follow-up.