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A slick cyberpunk vibe with a futuristic neon glow sets the stage nicely for Frozen Synapse's brain-twisting tactical combat encounters. When it first launched on Mac and PC, this cool indie strategy game garnered high praise for its unique asynchronous take on turn-based combat and play-by-email style multiplayer matches. This iPad port gloriously packs all of the clever strategizing and insane resolutions of the original – and even lets you play against desktop users – without losing anything in the jump to the portable format.
Frozen Synapse sports a strong story-driven campaign to supplement its multiplayer focus, but regardless of mode, the maps are randomly generated, which adds exciting unpredictability and variety to the squad-based battles. Each round tasks you with queuing up sequences of commands for each neon soldier in your unit. Like many turn-based strategy games, the idea is to outmaneuver, outsmart, and outgun your A.I. or human opponents. However, the fact that both you and your foes spring into action simultaneously after planning each turn's moves throws a wild and crazy wrinkle into the mix.
During the planning phase of each round, you focus on moving your troops, tweaking their aim and stance, and using cover, all while trying to anticipate your enemies' movements. Meanwhile, your opponents are doing the same, and once both sides are ready and locked in, the resolution phase engages and all hell breaks loose as the bullets fly. A cool fast-forward feature lets you "test" your plans before committing, but the way things actually play out can be very different depending on what plans your opponents unleash. This unpredictability keeps you guessing and adjusting plans on the fly, which makes the matches intense and exciting.
Different unit types add sniper rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rockets, and grenades into the fray, and each has its unique advantages. There's a lot to wrap your head around at first, but video tutorials do a good job of explain the ins and outs of the initially complex control system. Once you get a feel for how everything works, Frozen Synapse opens up the throttle on some of the best tactical strategizing you'll find on iPad.
The bottom line. This great indie port flops turn-based strategy on its head with delightful asynchronous chaos and intense multiplayer matches.
iPad running iOS 4.2 or later
Thrilling asynchronous battles. Tons of strategic depth. Great multiplayer experience.
Minimalistic neon art direction is a bit garish.