Monday, August 12, 2013

#17: FTL: Faster Than Light - Boldly Go Where You'll Go Many Times Again

In FTL: Faster Than Light, you captain a starship on a secret mission. You carry information critical to the success of the last stand of the Federation fleet. As you can imagine, the "Federation" isn't doing too well if they're having a last stand. Outer space is full of people that want to shoot missiles, lasers, and people into your spaceship until it blows up. Once it blows up, it's game over, and it will blow up. And you will start over. But that's how the game works.

You see, FTL is randomly generated each time. As you jump from waypoint to waypoint across the stars evading the advancing rebel fleet, unpredictable encounters with enemies and conditional-friends will help you collect fuel, missiles, weapons and scrap with which to upgrade your ship. Upgrading is essential: the opposing ships rapidly increase in power and will leave you in the dust unless you use every trick in the book to stay alive and make your ship battle ready.

The UI is initially overwhelming, but you'll quickly be rerouting power from healing bay to shielding like a pro.
A typical game sees me starting out in my bare-bones ship, sending my crew members to their stations and warping to the nearest point of interest. I encounter a basic automated drone; because knocking out the oxygen will do nothing, I opt for the simple and direct approach of blasting at its shield generator until it explodes in a shower of debris, awarding me with some scrap.

Next, I find a slave ship. It offers to sell me a slave for a sum of scrap I cannot afford. My other two options are to fight it or leave. I opt to fight it; after beating their ship within a few seconds of death, they offer me terms of surrender: I take a slave for free, or else they will all die. Acknowledging my need for another crew member more than scrap, I agree to their terms. My crew member is not human, though; he's a rock-person, with 50% more HP, fire resistance, and half speed.

Jumping to the next waypoint, I encounter a planet of strange, six-legged, doe-eyed creatures. I am given the option of harvesting them to sell or attempting to communicate with them peacefully. In my greed, I opt to harvest them for money, only to have them turn aggressive and kill one of my crew members.

The best part is that eventually, your ship will be unprepared. You'll be boarded and your crew overpowered, your ship obliterated by overwhelming firepower, or simply gimped by an opposing ship that knocks out your engines and has defenses you can't penetrate in time.

"That's the best part?" you might be justified in asking. "Dying?" 

Of course it's impervious to heat. I mean, why wouldn't it be?

Yes. It is the knowledge that your ship is woefully unprepared that makes the run when the stars align and you power your way through the universe that much sweeter. For those who have ever played The Binding of Isaac or another rogue-like, it's the blistering difficulty and element of the unknown combined with permanent death that makes every attempt intense and enjoyable.

If it was not already obvious, I've enjoyed my time with FTL. I admit it was improved by my appreciation of sci-fi TV shows like Star Trek and Firefly, but I think that's more of a cherry on top than anything. However, the game has a few snafus.

After a few runs, it starts to feel like there are too many ship fighting events and not enough of everything else. The way ship shielding works can create a brick wall for players that, through sheer luck, are unable to properly equip themselves with appropriate weaponry in time, and this can be frustrating when it puts an end to an otherwise flawless run. And lastly, without revealing too much, you may very well never fully complete the game, and I would not blame you.

Despite its flaws, I think FTL is one of the most bold. inventive, and lets not forget fun indie games around. I recommend it sincerely and particularly because it is only $15 even at full price.

4.5 out of 5

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