Frozen Synapse Review

Don’t miss this iOS tactical treat.

The developer of Frozen Synapse has crafted an engaging fictional landscape that justifies their game’s futuristic style of warfare, a game in which you play as a ‘functionally atemporal’ tactical genius. This rich fiction held my interest until I was blown away by its art style and equally dense gameplay. Frozen Synapse is a turn-based game in which each team controls a squad of gunmen. It presents the player with bite-sized tactical maps in which battles can be waged asynchronously or against an AI player in skirmish or campaign mode. As a fan of games like XCOM and the old top-down Rainbow Six, I was delighted with how Frozen Synapse handles its particular brand of gameplay. The player assigns their units’ movement vectors and actions for each turn, and turns are resolved in real time. This means that the traditional unit-by-unit, turn-based model is usurped by a series of large turns in which the player’s actions for all units play out over the course of ten seconds.

When it originally launched on PC, the first thing I thought after playing Frozen Synapse was that I would love to have a portable version. While one can certainly agonize over each individual unit’s movement, the smaller scope of each battle makes this a fantastic title to play as a distraction as home. The portable nature of the iPad title also lets players address their turn in multiplayer matches the moment they are available. It can also be played for long stretches of time, and the game offers a  campaign and AI skirmishes to fill the voids between multiplayer rounds.

Of course, if you want to solely focus on multiplayer the game will accommodate you. The matchmaking and game customization options are infinitely more robust than a game like Hero Academy, although I found that jumping between match to match wasn’t quite as smooth or simple in Frozen Synapse. Diehard fans of Hero Academy are likely enjoy Frozen Synapse, and while it is certainly more complex the game is friendly enough to new users.

It is astonishing just how well the interface of the original game has been ported to function on the iPad. Being a pointer driven game in the first place, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I have seen so many games that fail to implement what should have been an easy to use interface. Frozen Synapse is especially exceptional on iPad because it manages to condense a large array of tactical options for movement, timing, aiming, focus and more onto the small screen. Some of the out-of-game menus could stand to be cleaned up a bit, and it may have been a good idea to add a “commit” phase to the matchmaking button – an accidental slip of the finger can shove you into a game with someone else when that was nowhere near your intended action. Not that being forced into another round of Frozen Synapse is a bad thing.

The difference between a title like Frozen Synapse and conventional turn-based tactical games is immense. Not being able to see each unit’s turn in sequence does more than simple fog of war (although Frozen Synapse includes line of sight based visibility as well). The player really does feel as if they are directing the battle as it happens, and watching the replay afterwards doesn’t look like the awkward, stilted affair that a real-time Final Fantasy Tactics game would be.

There certainly are many things to consider in what appears to be such a simple game. The player has direct and extensive control over each of their units. I can direct a unit to run a specific path to the end of a room, stand up after a chosen amount of time, aim in a specified direction, and engage the enemy or aim a rocket at a wall. All of this information is conveyed intuitively, and it is simple to go back and tweak your choices before committing your turn.

Frozen Synapse does so many things right on iPad: Single player, multiplayer, and the thoughtful tactical gameplay that is consistent in both modes. If you have any fondness for tactical games, don’t hesitate before jumping headfirst into Frozen Synapse.

Final Score: 


Frozen Synapse is available on iPad for $6.99, and was reviewed on an iPad 4.

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  • AppsGoer

    good game, but it is too expensive.

  • GiHub

    I disagree completely about the price comment. The single player portion alone would probably take around 20 hours to complete. There is more content here than your average $60 console game. And cheaper than a Guinness as well!

  • AppsGoer

    Boy! It is a mini touchscreen game!