Into the Kill Zone: A Beginner's Guide for Frozen Synapse 215 Oct 2018 2
If you missed the release of Frozen Synapse from Mode 7 Games back in May 2011, you missed one of the most tense, tactical of tactical turn based games of the last decade. From the cyberpunk neon-clad aesthetic to the simultaneous turn execution, it was a fantastic exercise in trying to understand the true randomness of conflict when trying to predict what the enemy is going to do.
That it was loaded with a campaign which took on the heady issues of consciousness, what is the real, and a host of other ideas that most cyberpunk gaming often struggles with was gravy. Come for the story, stay for the competitive leader boards.
Skip to 13 September 2018 and fans of the game had a brand-new treat: Frozen Synapse 2 finally made its way onto our machines and brought a new bag of tricks.
A new more complex single player campaign in which you attempt to manage a city which threatens to burst into outright war thanks to threats both outside and within, an exciting procedurally generated map system, and nearly double the number of vatform soldiers with different weapon systems.
It can be a little bit intimidating.
Let's go, turn by turn, into setting up a skirmish with a few soldiers on each side and a little bit of weapon diversity so that you can feel comfortable before taking on the leaderboards in a prolonged engagement, enjoying the new One Turn competition, or diving headfirst into the strategic-level management of a procedurally generated city.
Putting the Band Back Together
Let's go ahead and create the skirmish we'll use to do our step-by-step. The skirmish mode system was added in a recent patch and there are still a couple of rough spots, but it works well for just playing some test matches against the AI, whether it be a carefully customized solution or a quick pickup match.
We'll start by picking the Extermination map type and look at a couple of options.
I want a relatively small building with multiple entrances to keep things simple. Let's assume that we are assaulting a small office for potentially nefarious purposes.
Once we find something close to what we like, you can Regenerate This Map in order to get the same sort of design without getting an entirely new procedurally generated architecture. It would be nice to be able to give the generator a little more direction from the beginning, but this works out pretty well.
Next: Picking units.
We'll clear the unit list and start from scratch. A three-man team of shotgun, a scoped rifle, and a minigun seems like complete overkill for raiding an office building full of ne'er-do-wells, so that's what we take. As you can see, there are a lot of options, each with their own acquisition times, firing styles, and uses.
For the enemy, we'll just pick five guys with pistols. That sounds like a complete mismatch – and it is – but never underestimate the lowly pistol-man. In close quarters they can absolutely murder someone with a superior weapon.
After a little bit of sorting, we'll put them in position around the map. Our guys, the green team, will form up outside the perimeter and the red guys will be hanging out inside the facility. Note that once they're set, we don't actually provide them instruction or control. Once the mission starts, it's all AI.
(Ignore the weaponless husks left when we removed the initial units. Remember how I said there were still a few rough spots?)
Kick the Tires and Light the Fires
Time to start the mission. When we kick off, there are a few more options, including what side you will be playing and perhaps more importantly what vision mode you will be using.
I prefer the ability to only see entities you actually have line of sight to. There's also the ability to see their starting points but not where they are currently unless you have line of sight to them, or complete visibility. For this demonstration, will go with complete visibility at all times.
Eight turns maximum of five virtual seconds each is the norm; this looks good for us.
Opening situation. We are formed up outside of the wall at both openings and no one has line of sight either way. Excellent.
Let's start by planning the route for the shotgun, since he's the fastest. The low, light blue colored areas represent windows which provide cover based on how close you are to them. So do the larger bits of furniture in the same color around the map. As do the cars. We want to take a look into the room and kill anyone that we can at close range. The shotgun has a great firing speed, so we ought to be able to catch pistol units off guard.
As we get close to the window, we use the ability to add waypoints and aim points (and a lot of other things we won't be using here) to put an aim point onto the map and into the room. If a target happens to be in or near the diamond, reaction time is even faster and the shotgun will probably shoot them dead. If something pops up outside the cone of awareness, shotgun guy probably won't notice until it's too late.
Aiming. It's dangerous.
You'll frequently use the ability to play out the current set of actions in order to really have a sense of what's going on. That's great for your own units, but you'll see another use for it here shortly.
The minigun doesn't automatically respond to attacks or targets. It has to be manually fired by using its aiming diamond, creates a zone of damage when it's fired, and then takes time to reload. We'll take it around the north side of the building and see if we can catch anyone coming out that exit. The range is only moderate, so it may take a little bit of luck.
The scoped rifle has a nice, long range and if we come in behind the car and aim toward the window, we should have both cover in case someone pops out and a good line of sight on anyone moving around inside through a very narrow keyhole. While not as long ranged as the sniper which is truly ridiculous, the scoped rifle has a higher rate of fire and a slightly larger wedge of awareness when aiming.
We run another pass to make sure our moves pass muster, and everything looks okay at the moment.
Then comes something unique to the Frozen Synapse system: we put moves in for the enemy.
Until the move is locked with Prime, we can continue adjusting paths, aiming points, and everything else. Here is where you will spend a ton of time playing FS2, because the thrust and cut of the game is trying to outthink your opponent. To that end, experimenting with what they may do, where they may aim, what they're trying to achieve, and how you can counter that before it happens is the meat.
Our first test with the current moves looks good, so let's Prime it!
Turn 2 Looms
We don't control the enemy, the AI does. Let's see what happens.
This – could be bad. Contrary to our expectation, the computer, having the same vision as we do, decides that the best thing was to pour everyone out the south door and head for the guy with the shotgun. It is certainly possible to overwhelm a guy with a shotgun with multiple guys with pistols if you catch them at the right time at the right range.
The scoped rifle and the minigun are doing their best to control access to the north.
Instead of following our original plan, we will clear the moves for the minigun, stick him in the window, and see if he can't play a little cleanup on the inside of the building.
The scope rifle really doesn't have a good shot at anyone but he does have a commanding overwatch of the north side, so he will stay in place. Let's take a look at the current projected outcome.
It's a pretty nasty killing field. As desired.
We'll make it worse by clearing the aim point for the shotgun, moving him forward, and setting a new one as he comes around the corner aiming into the doorway. Maybe we can clear the rest of the pistol guys on the south side in one simple sweep. The minigun firing through the north window looks like it will catch one of the pistols just inside the door before he charges out. It's an ugly way to die.
The shotgun should probably continue walking on even when it spots a target, which is a new option in FS2, so I give it that command at the beginning of the moves for the turn and you can see it get inserted into the move timeline.
Eh. Maybe we don't need that after all. Being able to change your plans dynamically before they're committed is one of the advantages of this system.
The scoped rifle is doing no good back at the car, so let's pull him up to the window to cover while the minigun moves next turn. We have to be careful not to have him step in front of the minigun while it's firing because collateral damage is a terrible thing and friendly fire isn't terribly friendly.
Turn 3, Target Set
The shotgun gets overwhelmed by guys with pistols and simply can't fire fast enough to take them all out. One pistol heads out the north door while the minigun are is reloading and the scoped rifle isn't fully in place.
Oops. New plan. The minigun is going to try to fire on the guy to the south before he can duck into a door or get into good pistol range while the scoped rifle moves north around the top of the building, using the trees for cover and carefully advancing while aiming in case the pistols move north to intercept him.
Turn 4, More More
In the midnight hour, she cried more, more, more gun. The minigun manages to fend off the one guy to the north while the rifle circles around and the pistols stand covering, just in case. Good.
Let's continue being smart and careful by moving the rifle further to the southeast, carefully aiming as we go in case there's somebody ahead of us, while the minigun makes anyone standing outside the window on the south wish they weren't and goes to follow the rifle.
I am not putting in predictive moves for the pistols. This is probably immensely unwise and against a human being would probably get you killed very, very quickly. Luckily, we are not against a human being right now and should have the advantage.
Turn 5, Turn Turn Turn
See, if I hadn't been cocky and tested what happened if any of the pistols ran back into the building, I might have kept the minigun firing into the building and caught all of them as they came through the door. Instead, I moved out of position, left an avenue of approach completely open, and now have three pistol guys set to come up behind me. The poor rifleman has no targets anywhere near him.
What do you do? New plan! Let's clear the current plan from the rifleman, tell him to stop whenever he sees a target to speed his acquisition, get him into a position near that southern window, and hope that we can catch the pistols in a crossfire of some sort.
Let's also pull the minigun west and try to get a shot through the window on one of the pistols. It's a long shot, but the beaten zone covers everything down to the south wall so if they walk into it – we've got them.
Turn 6, Go Go Go
It turns out the brown cow sometimes gets lucky. All three of the remaining pistols try to push west to get an angle on the minigun. Unfortunately for them, that's exactly where the minigun swath is being laid down. I wasn't expecting to get three kills, but I will take three kills.
And that's how everyone in that building died.
It's a good thing that we had technological supremacy because FS2 is not particularly forgiving of lazy strategy. Sheer numbers can overwhelm a superior weapon. A failure to predict what the enemy could do and protect against it can definitely lead you to make bad decisions about lines of approach. A good area denial weapon is a joy forever.
If you happen any questions about FS2, including the One Turn multiplayer mode, the strategic map layer, or the viability of just getting in and playing missions against other human beings, let me know. I would be more than happy to keep you in the loop. Don't let your vatforms get too wiggly!