Frozen Cortex Is Finally Out, Definitely Isn’t Gridiron

The new project from Frozen Synapse developers Mode 7 Games is finally here, although it’s had a few changes made. It’s Frozen Cortex now — and happily, all the changes were good ones.

When one looked at the game formerly known as Frozen Endzone, one would be forgiven for thinking it’s a gridiron game. But below its sportsball veneer is a rich tactical game not dissimilar from the indie hit Frozen Synapse. To solve this image problem, Mode 7 Games has swapped Endzones for Cortexes and made the ball more spherical. Same great game, slightly less alienating to the sports-averse.

But for anyone witnessing the progress since early beta, far bigger changes have been made — and it has become somewhat of an example of listening to player feedback. Rather than rigidly sticking to the idea of using half the… erm… “field” (is that term too sportsy?), Mode 7 switched the primary and secondary modes of the game, to prioritise a mode that encompassed a full match.

It’s rather ironic that Frozen Cortex ran from the gridiron image while mechanically becoming more like gridiron, but it was the right move all ‘round.

Back when the secondary “Full Match” mode was broken and buggy, players on the Mode 7 forums were saying “I think this mode has a lot of potential… I think this could even be the real game.” It’s good practice to not be married to a design and try to “discover” what the game’s design should truly be, but I’ve never seen such a drastic change made at such a late stage, and I applaud the agile indie team for making it.

Throwing speed has been added as a robot attribute, and decides whether or not you’ll get that throw away as a would-be tackler comes bearing down. Too large a throw speed and you’ll be forced to forfeit some of your three forward passes and start a run early on. Then again, sacrificing throw speed could free up attribute points in other areas…

My one criticism of the game is there are often 50/50 situations in which better players can’t leverage skill for better odds. Maps are designed to have slightly more lanes than can be covered, and thus – to use a simple example – going left or right decides the play. Ideally, you’d form a plan that accounts for everything. A 100% chance of victory. But there are less opportunities to do that.

In its simultaneous turn structure, when two units run into each other, the stationary unit has priority and “blocks” the other, stunning it. There are two states of being, and it’s a simple system of stationary robots beating moving ones. This is as opposed to Frozen Synapse’s four-state hierarchy of who gets priority in a firefight. Players have more opportunities to manipulate that more complex system to their advantage, which is why in Frozen Synapse I didn’t often feel like the play came down to the flip of a coin.

But there’s elegance to Cortex’s simplicity, and I was still able to make blocking an art form, as well as master a technique of slipping past a block. It’s got enough depth for me to want to start a league among friends, once that feature is added. It also happens to be a great game to play while working, as you can take your turn whenever it’s convenient.

Other notable inclusions are a full story mode and a rogue-like league in which you see how far you can get without losing. I’m a multiplayer man, so I’ll be spending my time on the ladder. There’s still no rating decay on the ladder it seems, which is consistent with its design — even on the ladder, stationary beats non-stationary.

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