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Turn-based Counter-Strike: why Frozen Synapse makes me feel like a tactical genius

Eight men, high-powered weapons, close-quarters combat. It's 15 seconds of carnage turned into a 15 minute strategy game.

Imagine playing Counter-Strike not as a gunman, but as an all-knowing overseer looking down on the battlefield from above. You have unlimited time to make your decisions, and you can direct each of your men precisely and without question. Once you've issued your orders, they're executed at the same time as your opponent's - then time halts again and you adapt to what's happened. It lets you execute blisteringly fast gunfights with perfect tactical clarity - or utterly screw them up. Here's a little of both.


I'm in a tight spot. I'm playing against a reader I don't know well, Arsewisely, and he took out one of my snipers in the opening seconds of this match. My remaining three guys holed up in an office to the south: a sniper covering the north, a machinegunner watching his back, and my final sniper pinned down alone below them. I don't think anyone can get to him without me seeing them first, but nothing's certain when you're outnumbered.

I don't have a lot of time: if I hit the turn limit this will count as a loss. So I move my machinegunner out. He just about made it out into the open as the turn ended, and immediately spotted an enemy sniper way across the hall. At this range, I'm dead. But it's not far to the office where his other sniper is hiding, and I could storm him easily if I could make it across the gap. It takes a second for a sniper to take aim - is it enough?


I can't risk it. Instead, I have him double back and hide. But before I execute, I set some more waypoints. The second he gets back into cover, I want him to dash straight back out and make a beeline for the other office. The sniper will have lost his aim and I'll be moving faster this time, and directly across his view.

Meanwhile, my pinned sniper is set to crawl out of cover and straight into the same enemy sniper's line of fire. It's very long range, the enemy has better cover than me, and he's already aiming in my direction. Frozen Synapse decides the winner of a gunfight on factors like that: who's the most ready, steady, and covered up. But it also lets you simulate your turn before you commit to taking it: assuming the enemy are where you think they are, what will happen? And to my surprise, I win. My sniper nails his, and his shot misses completely. It takes a second for me to figure out why.


It's that range thing: it's an advantage for snipers, but we're both snipers. Usually moving while firing is a bad thing, but here it works to my advantage: I'm going slowly enough to headshot the enemy, but fast enough that his bullet - fired at the same time - hits an inch behind me as I scuttle on. It's hard to believe this is how it'll really play out, but every other variation I try ends in my predicted death.

I commit. The exciting thing about Frozen Synapse is that you and your opponent scheme simultaneously. Whether you play it out in one quick session or take a turn or two per day, when you finish your move there's usually a new one waiting for you. The outcome is already decided, all that remains is to watch.


It was textbook. My gunner's feint fooled the sniper, he made it to the opposite office and mowed down the enemy within. My mobile marksman to the south headshotted his rival perfectly from across the building, and moved on before the returning fire struck. I'd gone from one man down to one man up, and the advantage was now mine.

I can't tell you what happened next, because this game is still going on. Frozen Synapse doesn't care when or how you play it, you can be in as many games as you like at once, and take as long as you want over moves. I feel like a chess grand master, dipping into my eight different matches, making a move and dipping back out. Of course, often those moves immediately result in the bloody slaughter of my entire team, but still.

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