Frozen Cortex – Review
Mode 7 Games
Platform – PC/Steam
In the future, the sport of Cortex is clearly a big deal. It exists in a time where traditional sports have been deemed too dangerous for human participation. So instead, they decided to some how hook up the minds of robots to the brain of the coach (nothing bad could happen there right?) and let the robots have at it on the field of battle. Sounds fun yes?
Derived heavily from American Football, the sport of Cortex is played on a square field covered with blockages, point zones and a goal area at either end. The basic premise is relatively simple, however the complexity ramps up the deeper in you go. It gets hard to explain but here goes nothing.
Gameplay itself takes place over different phases, with one team starting on offense, the other on defense. The offense will attempt to get the ball across their goal line utilising a maximum of four plays; they can be either a running play or a forward pass play. No passing or running backwards! The defense gets to try and stop them from scoring either by intercepting a pass, tackling a runner and stealing the ball or picking up a loose pass. If successful, depending on game type, the defense will either take possesion of the ball and try to head back in the opposite direction, or the phase ends, both teams switch sides and the defensive team now becomes offense (all to the fantastic, thumping, synth soaked soundtrack by Mode 7’s very own Paul Taylor, other wise known as nervous_testpilot.)
Make sense? If it doesn’t, fear not, as Frozen Cortex offers assistance at every turn with a handy help menu available at all times, as well as the myriads of tutorial videos on YouTube. Not only that, but the game encourages you to take your time and check out how everything works thanks to its excellent replay mechanic.
Let’s say you’re on offense, ball in hand. Two defenders are rushing your ball carrier, but between the defenders you spot an opening. What can you do? Do you hurl the ball through the gap and hope they don’t intercept? Do you aim long and look for a gap in the corner of the field? What if the defenders were to stop charging at you, what would happen then? All of these questions can be answered by taking a little time to think about the consequences of your next move. In a lot of ways, Frozen Cortex is about managing risk; knowing when to play it conservative versus hurling the ball downfield on the first play.
When planning your next move, be it offensive or defensive, you have the ability to punch in moves for your and your opponents teams and try them out. Perhaps you’ve spotted a certain running path that could result in a score, but don’t know if a defender can get to you on time. Plot the waypoint of your ball carrier, then plot a few waypoints for the defense and see if they will catch you or not. You are afforded every opportunity to explore how to best play the game of Cortex in any given scenario. This, in part, is what makes Frozen Cortex so utterly brilliant and engaging.
Multiplayer can be played live or over time thanks to the simultaneous turn by turn play. Once you prime your choices, you can both watch the outcome and enjoy the pain, or glory, of each pass or rush towards the goal line. Defensively, it feels like it’s mostly guess work; the aim being to cover as many attacking options as possible.
The AI themselves can be quite satisfying as opponents, even if they do occasionally take their time over making certain decisions. I don’t mind that to be honest. The written commentary trio chat away amongst themselves as you or your opponent take their time over what to do next.
And fair enough that you should take the time. Cortex, in itself, is quite a unique amalgamation of different parts, as most sports are. Figuring out it’s intricacies takes some time, and you will be beaten (on a regular basis in my case). But you can always go back and see where you went wrong, as well as pick up on moves that you may not have though of. The AI can actually teach you a thing or two, so pay attention!
The season play mode adds a bit more to the equation. You can check out the Robot Market to pick yourself up some new robot team mates to replace the poorly rated ones you start the game with. Though you’ll need to make some cash first, either by winning matches, or successfully betting on the outcome of games. It is possible
If the standard knockout and league modes start to wear off, or just aren’t your cup of tea, there are a whole host of customisable options and rules that can be tweaked to change up the experience. Everything from team names and colours down to the speed of the ball and number of passes allowed per possession are changeable. Expanded possibilities can never frowned upon, particularly when they are this in-depth and easy to play with. It leads to a properly unique experience.
It’s got a decent learning curve, but not so much to make it confusing or inaccessible. Whether or not you’re into sports titles is a different thing, but Frozen Cortex feels more like a combined game of chess and sportsball to me. Add the ultra cool replays, ability to upload single moves – or entire games, even – to YouTube at the click of a button, all the customisable options, the stellar soundtrack and the perfect hint of back story makes Frozen Cortex, frankly, one of the coolest and most unique games you are likely to play in 2015, possibly ever.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.