I’m a sucker for tactics games and cyberpunk settings. Frozen Synapse 2 combines both into a cerebral, moody management game full of corporate politicking and high tech squad battles. While the game can be glitchy and has rough edges, the core experience nails everything I want in a cyberpunk game.
Frozen Synapse 2 is a sequel to 2011’s acclaimed tactics game Frozen Synapse, which is known best for its relatively unique take on turn-based action. Where most tactical games like XCOM or Battletech alternate between the actions of two opposing forces, Frozen Synapse 2, like its predecessor, has both sides carry out their moves simultaneously. Your turn is spent planning your own actions, but you can also plot out any potential movement of your AI or human opponent to hypothesize their behavior and see if your plan would crumble in that scenario. When you’re done, it’s time to hit play; both you and your opponent act at the same time. It’s a twist that keeps combat active, sometimes leading to surprising shifts in balance.
But this isn’t just a game about tactical combat. In Frozen Synapse 2’s single-player story mode, you manage a small company in a sprawling city full of seedy arms dealers and stuffy bureaucrats. You can hire contractors to provide new equipment, manage the payroll of your mercenaries, buy new buildings around the city, and deal with faction reputation. For instance, I intentionally took a job from a group of anarchist hackers to attack a fascist paramilitary force even though the latter faction offered me a contract with greater rewards. I had brokered a truce with an ethically grey science institute on the edge of my territory. After defeating the fascists, my squad was bringing important loot back to my HQ only to be ambushed in the street by my supposed ally. We fought them off but had to pay some steep fines to the city government for disturbing the peace and discharging firearms.
This mixture of tricky moment-to-moment combat and higher level corporate backstabbing makes Frozen Synapse 2 feel right in line with the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk covers a spectrum of speculative futures, some more idealistic than others, but it is most often defined by a cynical outlook on late capitalism merged with impressive technologies. Managing an army of clone mercenaries at the behest of a municipal council while plotting against corporate rivals makes for a gritty yet detached experience. You’re a corporate director moving bodies and assets, not a sergeant looking out for their loyal troops.
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Frozen Synapse 2 is prone to crashing and sometimes has a habit of dropping enemies in strange positions. I once had a group of murderous robots stand frozen outside of the building they were supposedly raiding, which made them easy pickings for my squad. Those moments make it hard to enthusiastically recommend the game until some patches fix the issues. But if you’re dying for a neon-lit, morally dubious tactics game, Frozen Synapse 2 will scratch that highly specific itch.