Above: Check out our exclusive first look at Frozen Synapse 2!
The first time you watch Frozen Synapse 2 footage, you’ll hit a specific moment where you start to understand what the game is: The camera, which has up until now been displaying a dense, glowing urban landscape like some sort of cyberpunk City: Skylines, begins to swoop and turn until it is vertical, over a single building’s roof. And then it zooms in to reveal a (similarly glowing) view of the building’s interior, now dotted with a dozen or so (also glowing) silhouetted figures preparing for tactical combat.
The sudden revelation of these two views is a lot to take in, and its at the heart of Mode 7’s follow up to their 2011 indie tactics hit, the original Frozen Synapse. Where the original game saw you commanding units of cloned soldiers through a linear series of scripted missions, Frozen Synapse 2 takes inspiration from the XCOM games, (and especially the lesser known X-Com Apocalypse) adding a strategic layer on top of all of the tactical action.
In that broader view of the game’s (procedurally generated) futuristic city of Markov Geist, you play as the director of Bureau 8, a special agency created at the behest of the city’s districts and the many powerful organizations that operate within it. Your task is to investigate Sonata, an organization (and malevolent AI) that is sending soldiers into the city to recover powerful relics. When Sonata attacks, you send your clones in to stop them, at which point you switch to a map based on the location of the incursion, and play out the encounter via an updated version of the distinct, planning-intensive tactical combat system debuted in Frozen Synapse.
Straight forward enough. But then wrenches get tossed in the gears for the most human of reasons. Let’s say Sonata attacks an office building in New Corteca, the city’s skyscraper filled business district. And for one reason or another—maybe you were waiting for one of your clone soldiers to reconstitute themself before going to fight—you get there late. Well, after the fight ends, win or lose, you’ll get a call from the district’s representative who will be very disappointed in you, director. Disappointed to the tune of, let’s say, a $6,000 budget cut.
This only gets more complicated once these districts start asking you for favors and once you begin to take contracts from the procgen job board as a way to make ends meet. Maybe New Corteca needs you to protect a specific intersection for a few hours, and you realize that it's because Safeguard, the city's biggest paramilitary force, planned on an operation in that block during that time frame.
You can see how things like this begin to connect, but at their best they do more than that, they domino. So, for instance, Brightling University (or the district that houses the university itself) might ask you to break up a protest by the radical “Blue Sunlight” church on campus. And because you’re short on bucks, you say sure, why not. And I’ll tell you why not: Because when you roll up with assault rifles and kill the security guards protecting a group of Sonata-worshiping zealots, there are consequences. (And I mean besides just feeling pretty guilty).
Listen to Austin discuss Frozen Synapse 2 on Monday's episode of Waypoint Radio:
First of all, the church is a faction in its own right, one that will immediately cut their direct funding for you—up until you have a direct negative encounter with them, they’ll hope that you'll go light on Sonata, and let it gather relics in peace. Second, the church has its own combat units, who will start gunning for once you slip into open hostilities, and who will go so far as to attack your HQ directly, where your avatar hides in a corner, an anxious game over screen waiting to happen. And finally, because other factions have relationships with each other too: When I tried to make peace with Blue Sunlight (by “investing” in the church, as they requested), I got a call from the leader of hacktivist collective GUEST, who reminded me that investments looked like endorsements from the outside. Yikes.
This is so unlike XCOM, where your only relationship with your patrons is a mandate to keep them safe by killing aliens who land on their front lawns. Frozen Synapse 2 imagines a much more complex, and cynical, vision of the world, one where a group like XCOM (or Bureau 8) immediately gets swept up by the politicking and backstabbing of the system they’re sworn to protect. When you have power, Frozen Synapse 2 reminds us, there is no such thing as “neutrality.”
You can check all of this out, and see Waypoint’s Rob Zacny and I puzzle our way through some tactical combat, in our exclusive first look at Frozen Synapse 2 at the top of this post or over on YouTube! Frozen Synapse 2 has no firm release date yet, but the developers are targeting a window in the near future, so look forward to it sometime in the coming