This post is from the now defunct website “A GameDev Plays…”, copied here for posterity
You know how snack firms create a huge number of small variations on their core products? That is what Frozen Synapse Prime is to the original Frozen Synapse, they are the same game, just this new version is in 3D. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not considering the amazingly great original.
In Frozen Synapse Prime the player is fighting against the tyrannical ruler of the sci-fi dystopian city Markov Geist. Battles are fought between small squads of “vat-form” (so not real people) soldiers, differentiated solely by the weapon they wield (machine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, grenades, etc). These dumb fighters are commanded by Tactics, which is the player’s mute cyberspace avatar. The game plays as asynchronous turn-based tactical squad combat. The player gives their soldiers a battle plan - “move through these waypoints”, and can then place further commands on waypoints: aim, duck, wait, and more. When complete, click Prime and everyone’s plans play out simultaneously for a few seconds. If no one has won, then back to planning with the survivors.
Shooting occurs automatically when an enemy is in line of sight and in range. The vat-form that is doing least, shoots first. So if there is a soldier sitting aiming at a doorway which an enemy walks through, it is likely that enemy will be shot before being able to return fire. There is no health, all soldiers will “die” from a single hit. The turns can be rewound and rewatched back to the start of the mission, although historical plans can not be modified. Still it is nice to be able to see how the current situation developed. Interestingly, this feature was quite prominent in Frozen Synapse, but is slightly hidden in Prime’s UI - maybe few players use it? Missions are usually a dozen or less turns long and played on procedurally generated map. Thus most take 5-10 minutes if rushing (or you can take as long as desired). The missions are well-designed, but can be incredibly hard.
There is a single-player campaign with a story. Apparently there are 55 missions, but I have only managed to reach just over the halfway mark. It gets hard! There are also generated skirmishes based on a number of player parameters and online duels of various types.
So far everything said applies to both games: so what is different? Frozen Synapse Prime is played in 3D. That is the main and obvious difference. The change looks nice, but feels more gruesome especially given the “kill-cams” that now accompany each death. Most of the time 3D effects are wasted, as the game is played top-down zoomed out to see the whole map - then it becomes a slightly less abstract version of the original. There are also slightly better tactical commands available, like sweep and targeting. These seemed to make the game easier, but maybe it was just experience. The UI has also been moved around so that commands are permanently positioned at the screen corners, rather than as pop-ups anchored to the current selected squad member. This makes the mouse movement slower as the controls are further away (how important is that in a turn-based game?), but the player quickly learns where all the commands are located.
What is the same? Everything else. Gameplay, music (excellent), storyline, even the missions - all are exactly the same. Prime is really just a 3D remake. Maybe I’m biased as Frozen Synapse is a huge influence and one of my favourite games, so I don’t see this as a necessarily bad thing. For me the changes largely balance out, so I can’t say one is definitely better than the other. Although I can say if you have played one, then the other is redundant and there is no need to play it. However, if you haven’t played any, then definitely getting one of these games is a must. It doesn’t matter too much which one. Also there is Frozen Cortex for sports game fans - it is the same game mechanics again, but set in a robot football context, with a sports league system (and no story). All three games are just small variations on the core idea, definitely play one of them, but only collectors need to play more than that.
Frozen Synapse Prime is US$24.99 on Steam for PC, although it is also available for iOS and Android. It has been bundled.