Let me share with you a recent moment of failure.
I was recently tasked by our dear editor to review Frozen Synapse, a strategy game I was quite fond of (as was its original reviewer, Travis Fahs in his excellent write-up). While basking in the afterglow of another article finished (afterglow in this instance meaning cheap beer, and lots of it) I was gently reminded the game I was tasked to review was not Frozen Synapse, but its enhanced follow-up; Frozen Synapse: Prime.
It was what we refer to in the industry as: “A really dumb mistake.”
I share this moment of stupidity with you to emphasize the point that details do matter, which is a pretty good summary of my feelings towards Frozen Synapse: Prime. A game that, for all intents and purposes, is Frozen Synapse with a graphical overhaul.
It’s actually about as substantial of a graphical overhaul as the title could undergo, without converting to more of an X-COM: Enemy Unknown type experience. Gone are the minimalist looks of the original game, and in is a pretty highly detailed, and quite sleek, modern graphical paint job. There are some similarities to the original design of Frozen Synapse (particularly in the icons and general menu layout), but everything else was fair game for an upgrade.
This is particularly noticeable with the destructible environments. In the original game, destructible environments were present, but you never really considered them beyond a strategic perspective. Here, a post-battle scene does truly resemble a warzone, and it does add an extra bit of satisfaction to a game that already left you feeling pretty accomplished when things went according to plan.
That one aspect, combined with the new particle effects, character models and somewhat out of place (yet still fairly awesome) “kill-cam” sequences, actually does add to the game beyond a superficial level. They make the experience feel more visceral, which addresses one of my larger complaints with the original game, which sometimes felt more like a concept demo that saw a retail release. Prime addresses this issue, and because of that feels like it was made in a decade where cinematic quality in gaming was limited to re-watching Tron at the local theater.
But I must say that while the updated visuals do add a level of intensity, from a purely artistic standpoint I find that I prefer the looks of the original Frozen Synapse. It lended the game a certain quality of character, and while that quality didn’t always shine through as often as it could have, it made the experience unique, aesthetically speaking. The visuals fit the tone of the cyberpunk universe quite well, and also allowed the player to inject a healthy dose of imagination into their experience.
The new look, on the other hand, feels too cold and industrial. There’s no charm to the visuals. They lost that indie spirit and heart. Everything that was great about the original game is here, and some things are even better, but the personality of the experience has taken a hit.
It actually produces something of a conundrum, wherein better graphics lend more to the gameplay than they do the overall visual appeal of the game. Playing Prime feels more satisfying in the heat of the moment, but from an afar I find myself really appreciating the style of the original.
It’s also worth mentioning that the graphics of Prime do call for a more powerful device. It runs well enough on its compatible platforms, but for the smoothest experience possible, I don’t hesitate to recommend Frozen Synapse for most smaller, or less powerful phones, whereas Prime is more of a candidate for tablets and your more gaming oriented Android phones.
Frozen Synapse was always a strategy game that emphasized the details. Prime adds to that focus with the inclusion of detailed graphics, that fundamentally alter the experience on a level I wasn’t quite expecting. Prime’s new looks make Frozen Synapse a more rounded experience, but surprisingly I wouldn’t say they make it a more visually exciting one.
An interesting example of what exactly higher-end graphics can contribute and detract from a game, Frozen Synapse: Prime feels like a more complete experience, but objectively so.