The Vita's a handheld in spectacular form right now.
For someone who loves moaning as much as I do, it almost comes as a disappointment that Frozen Synapse Prime is such a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But it really is. In fact, I can't wait to get this review finished so I can go and play it some more.
Let's hurry through, shall we?Tactics
As a bit of a dunderheaded buffoon, I usually struggle a little when it comes to strategy. But then, that's because other games make strategy so complicated. That's not the case in Frozen Synapse Prime, which pares down the concept of strategy to its very basics.
In the fiction of the game's campaign - some fairly throwaway fluff about a rebel uprising featuring a cast of sci-fi archetypes - your character literally goes by the name of Tactics. I think this says a lot about the game's singular focus.
The strategic battles here feel pure. You always have full grasp of your objectives, and you know exactly what your troops are capable of. But what makes the game so brilliant - not to mention nail-bitingly tense - is that it's built on second-guessing your enemies.
You see, Frozen Synapse Prime has you and your opponent take turns simultaneously, before each 'priming' that turn and seeing the outcome play out. This gives the game a fundamentally different feel to the 'now it's your turn to hit me' brand of strategy, and it's a lot more lively.
Giving the player a top-down look at a series of interconnected rooms and corridors, it looks almost like a futuristic Hotline Miami. It's super stylised, with battles taking place between groups of blue soldiers (yours) and red enemy soldiers, each casting coloured beams across the map to indicate lines of sight.
Attacking is stripped back, too. All units fire on sight, unless expressly instructed otherwise, and death can come very swiftly indeed. There are no bullet sponges here, with gunshots feeling just as potent and deadly as they should.The Prime of your life
But wait, doesn't this all sound a little too simple? Well, it really isn't. Sure, individual encounters are often won and lost on which unit has the quickest trigger finger, but that's all affected by clever positional play and subtle commands from the player.
Maybe you'll want to duck beneath a window to sneak past an enemy, before cautiously breaching the room. Perhaps you'll take the direct route, aiming to gun him down through the window before he notices.
Or, if you're feeling brave, you could just use the Targeting command to direct all focus towards the poor chap you want dead, legging it towards him like future-Rambo.
You can also preview your turns before priming them, to make sure you've not sent your troops enthusiastically running towards a storm of hot lead, but that preview's by no means a cast-iron guarantee of what will transpire.
Obviously, the preview doesn't take into account your opposition's moves, so you'll have to apply your own intuition here, too.War films
Each time both sides lock in their moves, you get to see it play out in real time. That's cool enough in itself.
But here's the best bit: at the end of a battle, you can watch the whole thing in a single seamless replay, condensing all of that time and planning into what totals only a few seconds of intense warfare. Like seeing a sci-fi movie firefight shrunken into a Vine.
It's like the strategy equivalent of Super Meat Boy's now-classic replays, which show your one successful attempt alongside your many failures. And for me it's equally as exciting.
Essentially, Frozen Synapse Prime stands out as a welcoming presence in the complex and slightly fusty strategy genre. It's bright, fast, and still every inch as tactical as you'd expect.