A sequel seven years in the making, Frozen Synapse 2 has finally hit the virtual shelves. Players spent years waiting, mining the first game for all the content it contained. With a delightfully droll, albeit short story and a half-dozen multiplayer modes, Frozen Synapse had a wealth of content, but saw itself eclipsed by more recent RTS releases like XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2. These games also had a significantly higher budget than the indie darling, making it tough to argue that users should just move on to the bigger, better versions. But now players can re-enter the world of Markov Geist, and it is welcoming them back with open (robot) arms.
An immediate question is raised: Would Frozen Synapse 2 live up to the high bar set by the original? The fast-pace real-time strategy game Frozen Synapse received rave reviews in the early 2010s for its challenging and subversive style of play. Where most RTS games feature turn-based combat, developers Mode 7 changed things up with asynchronous simultaneous turns. That means that both players plan out their team's actions at the same time, lending itself to fast-paced games that can flip winner's favor on a dime. The quick gameplay coupled with Synapse's dystopian setting made it a stand out in the indie scene. It even received its own Humble Bundle.
The short answer to the aforementioned question is yes. Frozen Synapse 2 does all the first game does and much, much more. Noticeably, the graphics are improved. There's a crisper quality to the silhouetted soldiers, and the resolutions of the map when zooming in and out load faster than previously. Like its predecessor, the game does suffer from decently long loading times considering the low-poly appearance, but it's nothing too distracting. For the most part, the game looks great with its neon futuristic stylings and simplistic shapes and models. There's no fluff; its streamlined and gets right into the action.
The gameplay of Frozen Synapse 2 is more or less the same as the first. The player controls a squad of vatforms (soldiers), dictating their actions on maps with walls, cover, and plenty of enemy vatforms. Each soldier can have a range of weapons (as indicated by the symbol above them), from knives to guns to rocket launchers. A unit dies in one hit, so every move the player makes is incredibly important. Luckily, players have the option to watch a simulation of their chosen 'turn' before they actually commit to it. They can see whether or not the enemy's cover is too advantageous to make a certain route, or if they need to adjust their soldier's aim to snag a certain kill. To a first time player, it may seem like a significant amount of trial and error, but after a few rounds, the strategies and movement becomes apparent. It transitions into a game of chess of sorts, predicting your enemy's moves better than they predict yours.
There are a few glitches present in the Day 1 version of Frozen Synapse 2. AI characters might find themselves stuck behind invisible walls or facing the wrong direction. These bugs will likely see themselves patched out in future updates, but it is disappointing to see them nonetheless. They make what would otherwise be a shining (and shiny) example of real-time tactics lose some of its sheen.
Frozen Synapse 2 is not just about better, it's also about more. There are a few new multiplayer modes in addition to returning favorites. Players will most likely opt to play a traditional deathmatch, but if they are ever looking to mix things up and play a "One Turn" version of the game, they are given that option. Only have a few minutes? Like the first game, Frozen Synapse 2 lets players "play" a turn separate of their opponent's availability, meaning one can essentially hop in and out of a in-progress game at their leisure. It's like Words with Friends, but with a little bit more... murder.
What really separates the sequel from its predecessor is the revamped and completely original single-player campaign called City Game. This mode gives the player control over an entire faction, warring for control of the city of Markov Geist. This means not just stepping into the fray in the traditional RTS fashion, but also tactically deciding which fights to take. And there's way more to figure out than simple battle planning; players have to manage their economy, contracts, and a mercenary market. It's layered, complex, and like the gameplay itself, surprisingly fast-paced. A player may spend a decent amount of time making a decision, but once it is made, it propels the narrative forward like an RPG.
Frozen Synapse 2 is a delightful success, a worthy follow-up to a game that reinvented the way players think about real-time tactics. With its perfect blend of dystopian neo-future tone (and an excellent soundtrack to boot) and intelligent, yet streamlined mechanics, it will likely have fans playing for years to come. Or at least until another sequel gets made in 7 years.
Frozen Synapse 2 is out now on Steam for $29.99. A digital PC copy was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.