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Nathan Hardisty

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Frozen Synapse: Chess reborn



Been a while hasnít it?

Iíve been busy with Tears In Rain, a secret project and generally everything really. In the mean time I havenít been playing much in the way of video-games, though I did runthrough Mass Effect†1 and 2†last week to prep up for the third one. Iíll probably pop into Mario Galaxy 2, Prince of Persia Trilogy, Sly Trilogy†and expect some more retroactive critique corners. I wonít be picking up Deux Ex†because Iím poor and generally not that bothered. Iím not lazy (liar) but I am very busy so deal with the†sporadic†content over the next few weeks.

Frozen Synapse†however has been keeping me on my toes and into the night. Since Iíve been spending my days generally running about being busy and such, Iíve never had some real cool down time, until that is I managed to get gifted a copy of this game by my friend Mr.@FlashJB†and generally had a blast with it. Itís been a while since Iíve played a game like this and it finally made me confess something: chess is amazing but I am terrible at it. Itís a game Iím consistently terrible at and Frozen Synapse†reminds me of that gut-punching loserface that I always put on.

This is a game which demands you explore every possible opportunity, demands you know (thoroughly) its mechanics and also its entire structure. If you donít then you will fail, and I have failed, not because I donít have the patience but because I donít have the actual drive. I can beat my mates easily but whenever I take on someone above my level then I get beaten in less than three rounds. This is an unforgiving, cold hearted game and it reminds me of all my previous girlfriends. Actually, thatís a double joke, Iíve never had a girlfriend!

Frozen Synapse†is a brave game that challenges the player to think and plan and plan and think and the word Ďtenseí doesnít really do it justice. You can never truly predict what the opposite player will do and, refreshingly, what the AI will do when youíre in a single-player game. This is an unforgiving challenge, but itís one that demands†persistence†but eases off of the glorifying victories. This isnít Mario Kart†in which you can spend a minute long cutscene bragging to your friends about winning the cup, this is a game that gives you a badge then kicks you out.

Reminds me again of my previous relationships.

Chess and I have never got along and the same is true for Frozen Synapse†and Iíve finally come across a certain game topic Iíve so cleverly avoided for a long while. Iíll be dealing with it in depth with my September Workshop column I do over at The Gamer Studio (all of which can be found here†soon enough), but for now, Iíve been provoked into talking about it. The topic is of course difficulty, but rather something within that: the nature of evolving†difficulty. See, video-games have been around a longer time Iíve been alive and now theyíre only just starting to find their artistic feet.

Difficulty has been around since the beginning of games themselves, but itís always been player based and constructed around skill, and then the name Ďbalanceí was thrown into the bible of gamerkind. Suddenly, AI and weapons systems and generally numbers†had to be tailored around difficulty. Normal, Hard, Easy so on and so forth; all of these words meaning an increasing challenge or at least increasingly difficult situations that the player would come across. Itís been argued that difficulty has nosedived in video-games given the new universal appeal and I donít know how to talk about that.

Iíve finished BioShock†over 13 times now, and two of those times I decided to try something unique and was rewarded for it. I built my own difficulty and in both instances I was rewarded: in one I chose Survivor difficulty (on the PS3 version), turned Vita Chambers off and did not save once. I essentially Ďpermadeathedí†BioShock†on its hardest possible difficulty and I loved†it. The second time I decided to go on the Hard difficulty but not use any of the weapons bar the Wrench. Once again, I had a blast, and am eagerly awaiting my courage to grow in anticipation of a Wrench only, no plasmids, Survivor, no Vita Chambers, no gene tonics playthrough.

In one of those instances I was rewarded with a Trophy, a little recognition from the developers, and a nice feeling. In the wrench-only instance I only got the nice feeling, but that doesnít matter, because I was allowed to create my own difficulty. Call of Duty†is a scripted series to hell and back, but BioShock†allows in its game design to let you construct your own playthrough. Frozen Synapse†however is different in that it goes back in time to largely player-based difficulty based around skill level. Iím not entirely sure what to think of this, I mean, is it better?

The game operates on a less Ďfreeí based difficulty, perhaps Ďlinearí is the word to give to it but it doesnít give it justice. This is chess reborn but it feels much more tense and†exhilarating.†Procedural†generated worlds housing players going at it with cold hard maths battles through tactical based shooting. This is one of the most exciting games of the year and I think everybody should play this, if only to get beaten to shame. It certainly does make me think though: is this the difficulty I want and the short answer is Ďnot exactlyí. Though that doesnít mean itís not welcomeÖ
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About Nathsiesone of us since 4:57 PM on 02.26.2010

I'm Nathan Hardisty, an author, ex-editorial writer for Platformnation.com, ex-games writer at Screenjabber. I now write for a variety of sites on the internet while still updating both my DTOID blog and my regular blog, which can be found below.

I am currently writing for Flixist.com

Also I'm incredibly pretentious about video-games so beware. I might just hipsterblow your minds.

I can be reached at:

[email protected]

Xbox LIVE:Bananahs


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