Monday, January 21, 2013

FTL: Faster Than Light (Review)

September 14, 2012
Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

Developed and Published
by Subset Games

Try to command a ship in deep space and survive in FTL.

Do you like dying in video games? Having your stuff blown up? Watching as your character slowly burn to death or asphyxiate (or both)? Well FTL may just change your mind about that because as they say, "Dying is half the fun! No...really."

If you've never played a roguelike, this is a great game to get the feel for what they are.  FTL: Faster Than Light sets you on a mission to explore and survive 8 different space zones as you flee a rebel armada and ultimately face down the most powerful ship in their fleet. You first get to choose your ship, its name, and your crew members' names before setting off.  I must say, it is great fun piloting a ship called "The Blue Ocelot" with Captain Depp at the helm.  At first only one ship is available but as you play more ships and layouts for each ship rapidly unlock.

Gameplay is like a real-time strategy with several levels.  The most micro is the crew.  You must assign crew members to different areas of the ship to either man stations, fix things, put out fires, fight invaders, or stand there doing their best mannequin impersonation.  The perspective is top down so that you can see all the rooms on the ship and the whole crew.  Each room is either empty or holds a station.  There are stations for shields, weapons, and the helm to name a few.  Some can be manned, which gives the station a small bonus. These bonuses factor into the next step up in gameplay: the ship.  As you play, you will run into other ships that you must fight.  You then have to allocate power to your equipment and decide which weapons to charge, how much power to give to shields or the engine, and when to run for your life.  A very fun and interesting part of this gameplay is the ability to designate where you shoot an enemy.  Do you take out his weapons so that he can't fight back or do you shoot the helm so he can't escape or dodge?  You decide what is top priority for surviving and act accordingly.

When you fight, you have to think fast, make tough calls, and deal with disasters.  Fires can break out that will quickly wreck your ship if you don't put them out.  You can either send a crew member to put it out or open the exterior doors and let out all the oxygen, killing the fire.  Enemies might board your ship and start blowing up your shields while the enemy ship destroys your weapons.  You have to micro manage your crew effectively in order to survive and it makes for fun and intense gameplay.

"See, we'll get rid of all the oxygen to put out the fires.  Nothing wrong with that plan." FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)
Aside from fighting, the other main aspect of gameplay is exploring.  You get a star map and choose which station to jump to next, assuming you are in range.  You start on the left and are trying to reach the exit on the right to the next sector, but it pays to explore a bit on the way.  Shops are available for equipment and repairs.  Distress signals blare out that could give side quests or add a new crew member, but be warned.  They could be pirate traps.  You may also run into suns and asteroid fields which make combat very perilous.  Each new fight can damage your hull leaving you closer and closer to death.  And of course, the whole time you have to stay ahead of the slowly approaching rebel armada.

The slowly approaching red wall of death.  Fear it's power! FTL: Faster Than Light (2012)
So why explore? One word: scrap.  Scrap equals money and without it you won't survive.  You can use scrap to either buy better weapons, fuel up, make repairs, get crew, and other such things at shops you come across, or you can upgrade your ships systems such as making your shields stronger, your engine faster, your doors sturdier, and so on.  You get scrap by destroying enemy ships, meeting friendly stations, doing side quests, and selling unwanted equipment.  Every sector require a certain amount of "grinding" for scrap or else you will quickly find yourself outmatched in later sectors.

As you explore, you may also run into situations that require choices.  Do you save a space station from giant spiders or flip them the bird?  Do you accept a pirate's bribe or be a hero?  Do you side with the fleeing fugitive or give him up to his pursuers for a reward?  Each choice can have good or bad consequences that change with each game.  Upgrading the correct system or having the correct species on board will also allow a third, usually better, option to become available.

The final level of gamplay is the sector map.  Once you reach an exit, you choose which next sector to go to.  Should you go to the friendly Zoltan sector or risk the Pirate sector for more booty?  Up to you, but you've got to try and survive all 7 sectors to make it to the final 8th sector and the end boss.

What makes exploration so entertaining is that every game is randomly generated so each playthrough is new.  You might have a great run one game only to go out in a solar flare blaze of glory in sector 3 in the next.  You never know what surprise the next station will have in store for you.  In addition, there are achievements to get for each ship that unlock new layouts and achievements for the game as whole so have fun trying to get them.

All that being said, I should warn you that the game is hard.  I mean, really hard.  Friends don't let friends start on normal.  Start on easy, get a feel for the game, then try normal.  You will die more often than you beat the end boss and complete the game, but like the developers said, that is half the fun.  The difficulty may turn off some people and I did get frustrated at times, but after a few games, you get a feel for the flow of it and it becomes very enjoyable.  

This game may not be for everyone and may be difficult, but anyone who enjoys space, rougelikes, or real-time strategies will find a nice charm from this game.  It's an inexpensive game that offers dozens of hours of fun gameplay.  Just don't get too frustrated when you die for the fifth time in a row.


Words by Joshua Matern