Play in Process: Frozen Synapse

Each week in Play in Process, Richard Clark shares what he’s been playing and why it matters.

News flash: there are some games that I am really, really bad at. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m not always totally dominating the leaderboards of every game I play like I do for Rat on a Skateboard. Some games are a real struggle. And sometimes the reasons for that are just a little too obvious.

Frozen Synapse (PC/Mac) is one such game. In its purest form, it’s a game where two sides of soldiers are trying to kill one another. On its face, it’s nothing unique, but the mechanics themselves are what really make the game something different. Frozen Synapse is about hope, expectation, and patience.

The way it works is this: you use your planning phase to determine where and how your soldiers will move, essentially by drawing lines for movement and aiming, as well as telling them when to slow down, speed up, etc. You orchestrate the soldiers so that in following your orders they will be best situated to catch the other team’s soldiers off guard and carry out the mission. You press space bar, and watch the soldiers carry out their orders to precision. One of my soldiers walks up to a window and takes out the enemy. Another soldier rounds a corner and shoots another enemy in the back. I am so proud.

Then I enter the Outcome phase: this is real life. This is when all of those plans I made are thwarted. I watch as my soldiers are gunned down, unable to anticipate that the soldiers they were going after were changing directions, taking cover, and popping out just in time to take me out. My game is over.

I hoped to win. I planned it all out. But I didn’t take the time to consider that the enemy hoped for the same thing, and that the enemy had a plan to make his own hopes a reality. I didn’t think to react to the future moves my enemy would carry out. I hoped a little too loud, telegraphing my intentions. I was naive, blind, thoughtless. I didn’t think that maybe, in the future, these neon red guys would have a better idea.

I am really, really bad at this game, and I think I know why.

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