So FTL was very recently released. Unfortunately, it took considerably longer than the speed of light to release, but it doesn’t hurt to have some ambition. FTL happens to be very special for its Kickstarter origins. While there was much jubilation over the thought of games reaching their audiences more directly, there was some trepidation, owing to why traditional project funding worked in the first place.
As the first of the Kickstarter batch, it fell on FTL’s shoulders to prove that actual, good games can be produced under the Kickstarter model. And FTL, in my opinion, does a very admirable job of proving that crowd-sourced videogame development can produce quality games.
I’d basically describe FTL as a cross between a space-sim and a roguelike. You have control over one ship (and its entire crew) as they travel across star systems and such, with a decently extensive level of control you have over your ship. Basically, it kind of feels like you’re the captain of a ship in Star Trek or something. Ever wanted to say “Reroute power to shields”? Well, in FTL, you can do that, and more.
The premise of FTL is quite simple. You control a super secret Federation vessel that has important intelligence on the Rebel fleet (who are actively chasing after you the entire time), and have to deliver that information to the Federation’s front-lines. Along the way, you discover other races in the universe, some of them friendly, and some of them not so friendly, make important decisions befitting a captain, and get into awesome ship engagements.
Essentially, FTL’s plot provides premise enough for you to hop around the galaxy, fight off other ships, upgrade your ship to Xzibit-like levels (okay, maybe not that far), and make some “moral” choices. At the outset of your journey across space, you pick a ship and crew (you can name everyone on your crew), which leaves it up to your imagination to fill in the background, crew dialogue, and plot. More premise, as it were.
Of course, this wouldn’t matter much if the gameplay didn’t hold up. Fortunately for everyone and the speed of light itself, the gameplay does hold up. You have a myriad of actions, but they all start from one place: power. Your system has blocks of power, and you can use the ship’s power as you see fit. Driven by units, you can allocate your ship’s power to one of several ship systems: shields (used for protecting your ship), the drive (used for dodging and warping around systems), oxygen (yes, you actually need to regulate your ship’s O2 levels, or your crew will die), medic bay (used for healing your crew), weapons (you can allocate power to each specific weapon you install on your ship). Later on, you can also obtain drone systems (which are independent from your ship, and perform certain tasks), stealth systems (which prevent enemies from targeting you), and more.
To be quite honest, though it didn’t take me that long to get the hang of things, explaining how it works is a very daunting task. I don’t usually like tutorials, but holy shit is one ever so necessary for this game. You’re not going to learn how to play by just jumping into the game. It’s not overly complex, however: the tutorials do a damned good job of teaching you everything you need to know without spoiling some of the game’s later complexities.
Once you do get up to speed, boy, can the game be ever so satisfying. Picture this. You’re cruising through some system, when you suddenly warp right in front of a sun, and some rebel scum decides to attack you. He has two shield units, so you want to knock out his shields quickly, which would leave their ship open to actual damage. You start off with a missile to his shield system, followed by a laser burst to the same area. Before you get those off, the rebels teleport some soldiers onboard your ship, and you have to fend them off. After the shields are down, and with a helm laser, you manage to destroy their teleportation device, trapping their soldiers on your ship, whom you slaughter through very liberal usage of medbay cycling. However, a solar flare soon goes off, setting fire to your oxygen bay, followed by a missile to your weapon’s bay, which tears a hole in the hull. At this point, with their shields down, you likely have enough firepower to destroy their ship in another salvo, but now you have to fix your ship. I’ll leave the rest to you, though I should probably let you know that you can, in fact, open the airlock, and drawn oxygen from rooms.
At the same time, this game can be very frustrating. As a roguelike, FTL thrives on random events. While you determine, to an extent, how you start off and what you start off with, everything else is entirely determined by some RNG. Layout of the systems and the galaxy? Randomly generated. What weapons and equipment you see in shops? Randomly generated (though thankfully every shop can repair and resupply your ship, and I can guarantee these are much appreciated actions). What enemy encounters you run into? Randomly generated too.
Sometimes FTL gives you many options to deal with random encounters. For instance, you may find yourself being boarded by a couple of Mantis as part of a random encounter. Mantis, as FTL’s resident insect alien species, are tough critters, and have the advantage in personal combat. What you can do, however, is stick all your guys in vital areas, drain the areas of the ship where the critters are, and lock the doors. They’ll eventually either teleport back to their home ship, or die. Alternatively, you can abuse the med bay to keep your guys patched up while you slowly chip away at the boarders.
At other times, you could get screwed by some of the random events without even knowing why. Here’s an example. You encounter a ship lodged between two asteroids. You can either ignore it and move on, or try to break up the asteroids to free the ship. Well, here’s what could happen. You could either help the ship get free (and they’ll either reward you or proceed to get the fuck out of there), or you could accidentally send parts of the asteroid you blew up hurtling towards both your ship and the stuck ship. Your ship would take damage, and the stuck ship would be destroyed. You have no way of knowing what would wind up happening.
Granted, you also have a third option if you have pretty decent laser weaponry (peel off some layers of the asteroid, just enough for the stuck ship to slip through). And I guess the game wants you to make an important judgment call. However, I very much don’t like making judgment calls on blind faith alone. I actually did die once to this very event, and not being able to prevent it is very very annoying. Perhaps I’m complaining about aspects of roguelikes, in general. FTL campaigns are also none too long; though failure sends you back to the main menu, runs will probably take around an hour to complete.
There are options for literally every situation you can run across (even if they’re not very evident at first, or at all, for that matter). After all, the game constantly checks how crazy prepared you are, in addition to how efficiently you react to different situations. Aside from some other complaints I had (like the final boss’s second form; holy shit, is it cheap), FTL is a pretty simple and engaging space-sim roguelike. I suppose it could be a little more robust (being able to build your own ship would’ve been nice), but FTL is already pretty great. You’ll find yourself with quite a number of stories to tell after only a few hours of the game. Unfortunately, most of these stories don’t have you actually going faster than the speed of light.
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