I’ve never been one to watch televised sports, and I especially don’t care for “American” football (a distinction I always have to make because we’re too unoriginal to think of a name that wasn’t already taken). At the most, you only get to watch twelve minutes of pure action; the rest of the multi-hour event is padded with lethargic tiptoes down a lengthy field and frequent breaks to worship at the feet of commercial overlords. I’ve seen many writers wax poetically about bowling down defenders to escape from a fourth down or making a ridiculously long game-winning punt at the last minute, but every time I sit down to watch for myself, the ugly cruft surrounding these magic moments sends me digging for my smartphone in record time.
Mode7 seems to get where I’m coming from better than anyone else; with Frozen Endzone, they’ve taken the miniature turn-based gunfights of Frozen Synapse and applied it to the American pigskin. Instead of using a 100-yard field and stretching itself over miserable quarters, everything is condensed into a tiny field, with each team permitted one play per possession and two rounds to a match. Metallic crates of various heights are randomly stacked across the area to create blocking lanes for defenders, and as soon as the offense decides to run the ball, they can no longer pass. It took me a few humiliating matches before I learned how to construct a non-porous defensive line, but before long, I ended a foe’s offensive drive with a satisfying thud.
But as with Frozen Synapse, even the best-laid plans can fall apart if my opponents zigged instead of zagged. Each play is broken up into several corresponding turns, which start and stop during significant moments like catching the ball or running for a certain amount of time. These turns allow each player to change their strategies on the fly, adjusting based on the previous moves of the other team and where they might move next. By breaking the action into several pieces, there’s an increased chance that either side will make a colossal mistake, further ratcheting up the tension as time passes and unexpected moves are created out of the new offensive/defensive positions.
There IS an option to rearrange your opponents’ teammates and run what-if scenarios before issuing your own commands, but mapping out every possible strategy only adds to the second-guessing. Seeing every variation of every play helped me understand the sheer number of ways my opponent could get to the endzone, which often led to a paralyzing fear of defeat before gritting my teeth and confirming my moves.
Endzone certainly feels like a sport from the future, with its robot players and bizarre locations (at one point, I could have sworn I was playing a match inside some sort of volcano/furnace). The shift to broadcast-like camera angles adds an “oomph” factor as you watch the robo-players follow your instructions, but everything else feels so clean-cut and sterile. Mode7 seem interested in giving stats to individual players and the like in the future, but for now, it’s just faceless blank team vs. faceless blank team. The most personality shines through the excellent soundtrack, which
As it exists right now, warts and all, an addictive core of Frozen Endzone shines through the bits that need improvement or will be added at a later date. By cutting away the brutal lollygagging of American handegg, the art of outwitting the other team rises emerges. It’s what sportscasters refer to as “the sweet science” of the game, and given Mode7’s excellent track record with Frozen Synapse, I look forward to seeing Frozen Endzone’s sweet science tweaked and perfected over the coming months.
At the time of this writing, Frozen Endzone is currently in early beta, which can be accessed by buying the full game from their website for $25. Beta codes were provided by the developer.