We’re now in August, the moment my eye turns from my beloved, yet moribund New York Yankees, and I start to feel the pull of professional (American) football. While I suppose I could just wait for the next iteration of Madden and plunk down $60 on that, I have a far better way to scratch my football itch until the gridiron games start up. Even though the game is more than a year old, I’ve been spending a lot of my time playing Frozen Cortex.
First, however, I hope you’ll indulge me in a short rant about marketing. Originally, Frozen Cortex was named Frozen Endzone, and that made a ton of sense. The title told me two things: the game was made by the same people who made the acclaimed Frozen Synapse (Mode 7), and it’s a sports game. However, just before release, Mode 7 chose to rename the game to Frozen Cortex which actually… Yeah, no, that’s a disaster.
As the great Nelson Muntz once said, I can think of two things wrong with that title. My guess is that the developers were getting a lot of flack from people who heard “endzone” and expected a full on NFL simulation. [It’s also possible that the fan abbreviation “Friendzone” had something to do with the change in name. -ed.] But you know what? I’d rather have had a case of mistaken identity over no identity at all, and that’s what Frozen Cortex says to me. It’s so bland, so generic – I had been following the game for months up to its release and even I didn’t realize that FC was the game I’d been waiting for. That’s bad. I can’t imagine how many people have missed this little gem because of poor marketing.
OK. Rant over. Let’s move on to the actual game, shall we?
As you might have gleaned from the above, Frozen Cortex is a turn-based sports-ish simulation game. Here’s how it works. Two teams of six robots play against each other for our fleshy amusement, throwing a sphere around an arena in order to score points. The game itself is sort of a mix of rugby, (American) football, and, oddly enough, ultimate frisbee.
Players have no direct control of the robots themselves. Instead, during breaks in the action, you tell your team where to go, then set your orders in stone. Once your opponent has done the same, you see the orders play out simultaneously. Every time the ball changes possession, either between teammates or between teams, the game pauses and each side can give more orders.
The robot with the ball can either throw the ball to a teammate or run with it. The only thing they can’t do is run or throw backwards. So, your job on offense is to move your other players around so they become eligible receivers for the bot that currently holds the ball. You score points by getting the ball into your endzone or by touching the lit-up nodes that are scattered across the field.
On defense you want to try to position your players to grab an interception or to tackle the robot carrying the ball – all you have to do is touch the ‘bot with possession and the ball is yours.
There are some other nuances with blocking, obstacles that need to be avoided, yadda yadda yadda. You get the gist.
I hope I’ve done a good job of describing it here because the actual game is really fun, with just the right amount of brain burn. In many ways, FC feels like the play design part of a Madden game, drawing reciever trees, guessing at where the opponent will go… It’s simple but fun and when you figure it out it is super satisfying.
You can play single player against the AI, which does a creditable job. The game really shines in multiplayer, however. It has a sort of play-by-email feel where you lock in your moves, wait for your opponent to send you theirs, see the results and then do it again over hours or even days. The graphics are good and the soundtrack is great, though a little repetitive after a while. There’s a great sense of humor throughout that lets you know to take things seriously but not too seriously.
So, great game! Go get it! I’m out.
Nah, just kidding.
You see, the longer you play FC, the more you start to wonder at the problems. When I first started playing the game at release, it felt solid but unpolished. And now, with all that time in between, the game feels… Solid. But unpolished.
You might expect that there would be some sort of franchise mode where you can customize your robot team. There’s some of that in the single player mode, but not a lot and it feels like a missed opportunity. For example, if I want to build my team around speed or strength, I can’t really do that. Working hard to customize my team for specific strategic play and then taking them online to see how they do – that seems like it would be a key part of gameplay, but it’s just not there.
In general, the game modes feel very bare-bones – much like placeholders for larger, more interesting systems that, for whatever reason, were just never implemented. Things I’ve come to expect from these sorts of games – team/league customizable options, unique players, tournaments – aren’t in FC and it really does suffer for the lack of features, transforming a true time-sink into more of an occasional time-speed-bump.
Then there’s the actual games themselves. The nature of multiplayer means that a lot of waiting is involved and I recommend having several games going at once to keep your interest while you wait for the puny humans to choose their moves. When you play the AI, waiting shouldn’t be an issue. Except you lock in your turn and then… You wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait some more. We’re talking get up, make a sandwich, eat the sandwich, still waiting for the AI to make its turn kind of time. “Holy **** did the game just freeze?” kinda time. What the hell is the AI doing exactly?
I appreciate that it’s thinking and I like the feeling that my opponent is weighing the options but it just takes too damn long. It takes all the agency and excitement out of the experience. What starts out as a nail-biting, pulse-pounding affair usually ends with me pacing back and forth in front of my computer waiting for the computer to just freaking go so I can move on to the next game. For a title with the word “Frozen” in it, that is distinctly not cool.
So yeah, the unfortunately-named Frozen Cortex... Should you get it? I think if you’re looking for a sports-ish tactical experience and you have a bunch of friends who play it online, you’re in for a treat. If you’re just going to play the AI and you’ve got some patience, it might be worth your while. But in truth, Frozen Cortex these days feels a bit abandoned by the developer, and I can’t blame a player for wanting to do the same.
TL;DR: Frozen Cortex is a turn-based football/rugby robot sports game where you control your team in a futuristic, hyper-violent environment. The games themselves can be a lot of fun, but the other features feel half-baked or simply missing. There’s a fun few hours here, but those looking for more depth will be disappointed.
You might like this game if:
- You like sports games, but you’re tired of the mainstream offerings
- You’re looking for something a little “think-y”
- You enjoy robot-on-robot violence
You might NOT like this game if:
- Madden all the way brah!
- You have the patience of an over-sugared three year old
- You need direct control of everything in a game
Joshua played for 10+ hours on a custom-built Maingear X-Cube with an AMD Phenom II X4 processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM and a Radeon HD 5800.