Mode 7 Games are back with another “Frozen” game, this time titled Frozen Endzone, of which a beta version goes live today. Not one to rest on their laurels, the growing UK indie developer have opted for a different setting for their sophomore release, leaving behind the shooter mechanics of the highly praised Frozen Synapse for a future-sport robo-battling hybrid. The turn-based tactics are still present but it’s clear this project is far more ambitious than the last with improvements in graphics, presentation, and the overall scope.
Frozen Endzone – or Frozone, or possibly Frendzone – takes turn based strategy and applies it to a futuristic football arena played by robots. That’s NFL football by the way, not actual football, you know, the one people actually play with their feet. The action takes place on a randomly generated terrain with blocks and barriers that greatly influence the play. The rules are a bit complicated but the ultimate goal is to get the ball into the (not actually frozen) endzone. There’s a tutorial included in the beta which guides you through the ins and outs of the game but after completing it I found I still didn’t quite fully understand the game.
It’s the kind of game that you learn by playing, but before you head online to get your endzone handed to you, it’s a good idea to hit up the single player and hone your skills against the AI. There are 4 modes in the beta: Endzone, where players face off in a randomly-generated situation with one team attempting to score and the other attempting to defend; One Play, which is the same but with only one play (duh); Handball, which is a more free-form mode allowing multiple tackles and changes of possession; and Handball Easy, that removes certain rules from Handball allowing for the most freedom of play.
The basic gameplay is as follows: you have a certain number of plays to score. In each play you assign your players a move, whether to run, pass, receive, or block. After choosing a set of moves, you can run the play to see it in action. If you’re happy, you commit to the play and the turn is over. The kicker is that you can’t preview the opposing team’s actions, so planning will only take you so far. There is, of course, much more to it. For example, you can not run and pass, you cannot pass over high blocks, the randomly generated playing field limits paths, and a few other rules and intricacies that you’ll pick up along the way.
You’ll quickly realise that is isn’t really a sports game, it’s a strategy/puzzler about finding the correct sequence of moves to get object A to point B, which is probably a good thing because although sports games, and in the case of this specifically NFL games, are quite popular globally, the genre is avoided altogether by some gamers, like myself. It’s obvious when you play the game for longer than five minutes that it is more that it looks, but at a glance the game could be dismissed by some based on sport angle alone.
The multiplayer is where Frozen Endzone will win or lose. And Mode 7 have big ideas for the online component with plans to introduce public leagues, custom leagues with friends and more game modes. I had a little time with the multiplayer and it was much livelier experience than the single player. It was infinitely more satisfying to beat a rival player than the AI and from what I could tell, the single player mechanics transferred well to the multiplayer. If the planned implementation of leagues is done properly as well as adding stats and customizability, then it could develop into a very strong e-sport with a loyal fan-base. It’s hard to tell for sure right now, but the building blocks are very much there.
The neon Tron-esque visuals are similar to those seen in Frozen Synapse but are more advanced. Although suitable to the game, they’re a bit boring and lack a bit of polish in the beta, but this is something that can be addressed before the final release. In its current form it looks a little too like an Metal Gear Solid VR mission, but again, as it’s a beta, we can forgive that – the aesthetics could use a bit of life in general to escape the clinical look. The dynamic views when running a play are very nice and add a bit of excitement after spending extended periods of time in the planning stage, and the sound design is adequate but nothing noteworthy.
Frozen Endzone shows promise even in this early form. Mode 7 have lofty goals for the game and some excellent ideas for new features. More team armour, stadiums, lots of new animations and extensive customisation options are all on the cards over the next few months. The developer has stated the game will not see a final release for a while yet so there’s plenty of time to build on this solid foundation. The current iteration is most certainly worth checking out, and it will be interesting to see how it will develop over time. There’s a lot work ahead for Mode 7 but they have the talent and skill to make this game a future winner.