lauantai 16. kesäkuuta 2012

Frozen Synapse

Frozen Synapse is a cool game where you control a squad of soldiers by giving them orders and then watching them execute the orders for five seconds at a time. Your opponent does the same, and if you anticipated their moves correctly, you should see your soldiers take down theirs. The orders are given as waypoints and they can be arbitrarily complex, such as "back away from the door keeping your sights towards it, then wait for 0.2 seconds before turning and running across the hallway ignoring any possible enemies in there, and then duck behind the cover while taking a particular enemy to your sights". You can finish a turn in five minutes or you can grind it for an hour.

The game has several different modes and a "Dark" and "Light" variant of each. In the Light versions you always see where the enemies are, whereas in the Dark versions you only see the enemies that are currently in the field of vision of your troops. Once you lose a sight to an enemy in a Dark game a "shadow" of the enemy stays at their last known location along with an info text like "Last seen 2.8 seconds ago".

A maneuver assigned to a machine gunner.
The most popular modes are probably Extermination and Disputed. In Extermination both teams try to exterminate the other, plain and simple. In Disputed, the teams also try to kill each other again, but they also try to hold as much ground as possible in order to extract boxes that appear on the map after the fourth turn. Then there's also a Hostage mode where the other player plays as a hostage taker and the other tries to free the hostages. The hostages need to get to the edges of the playing area and they are controlled by the rescuer, but they can only be given instructions once. The hostage taker then tries to prevent the hostages from getting away.

In all game modes you can simulate the end result of a turn in the planning phase. This means that you can also assign commands to the enemy troops and move them around when you try to anticipate what the enemy will actually do. Simulating is crucial. The game is deterministic, so if in your simulation a soldier gets shot, he will get shot the same way in the actual outcome -- provided that everything stayed the same compared to the simulation. A slightly differently placed unit may yield a completely different result.

Let's watch a game of Dark Disputed I just finished. (Unfortunately the replay doesn't show the actual fields of vision for the troops.) The replay doesn't include the planning phases, just the action, so it lasts only 30 seconds. Remember that there was a planning phase every five seconds. I was controlling the green team and my enemy was controlling the red team. I recommend opening the video in a separate window and watching it with the HD quality:

Initially, both players can see the starting positions of each other's troops. I determine that no contact is likely during the first turn and just make my troops spread around and advance. At the end of the first turn, at 00:05, the enemy sniper at the left sees my machine gunner at the bottom and vice versa. The turn ends there and a subsequent simulation reveals that my gunner has no chance against the enemy sniper, so I order him to proceed, ignoring the sniper. On the other hand I turn the guy with the shotgun around, as sniper rifles have a way longer range than shotguns and at this point it doesn't look like it's going to be a close combat situation.

At 00:06 my sniper at the right gets an enemy gunner to his sights and takes him down a couple of seconds later; that's the first casualty of the game. The turn ends a second later when my gunner and an enemy gunner have just opened fire at each other. The simulation reveals that the bullet that's on its way already is going to kill the enemy, so he cannot dodge it and gets shot right at the beginning of turn three. During turn two my other gunner also ran up across the enemy sniper's line of fire because the simulation revealed that the enemy wouldn't have the time to take the shot. From his new position my gunner also opens fire against an enemy gunner trying to run down across the map at 00:10.

Again when I simulate the situation in the planning phase it appears that the enemy running down may be able to escape from my gunner who just opened a fire against him, so I turn the gunner in the middle to face the doorway in case the enemy would try to flank him. Luckily he takes the enemy down himself at 00:14, so there are only two enemies left now. My gunner at the bottom was ready to greet the enemy had he ran downwards instead of just stupidly staying put in the middle.

At the start of turn three my soldiers had caught a glimpse of an enemy gunner going into the room at the upper left corner. Since shotguns are very powerful at close range I decide to have my shotgunner clean the room and make an elaborate plan on how he would enter the room from the top door. I test my plan with the enemy soldier in every corner of the room until my shotgunner comes across as a winner in every scenario. The machine gunner and the sniper are his backup, and indeed the machine gunner engages in a firefight with the enemy right before the shotgunner enters the room and kills him at 00:19.

At 00:20 the fourth turn ends and the red boxes appear. My sniper is on the other side of the playing area and I decide that the three machine gunners are enough to take the final enemy sniper down, so the sniper goes to collect a couple of boxes. The shotgunner stays at the room he just cleaned and guards the windows in case the enemy sniper would run past them. Finally, it's the machine gunner that's ducked in the bottom room who kills the enemy at 00:23. The replay then plays for one more turn that I didn't actually play and you see my sniper exiting the area with the two boxes he had collected.

So, this hopefully gives you a fairly good picture of the game. Besides the multiplayer mode there's also a single player campaign and a possibility to play quick skirmish matches against the AI, but multiplayer is clearly the most interesting part of this game. The game is cross-platform so Windows, Linux & Mac versions exist. The game can also be bought from Steam, and there's an unofficial Frozen Synapse Wiki for you to use as a reference. Finally, it takes a little patience to really get into the game, but if you intend to play it you should probably also read this blog entry called How Not to Be Shot in Frozen Synapse. :)