Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

Space... The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Doohickey. It's continuing mission, to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. And blow the crap out of  anything that gets in our way.

At it's core, FTL is a mechanically simple, real-time space simulation game. This does not mean that the game is inherently simple but rather the actions you carry out on an individual basis aren't complex. To clarify further, FTL isn't a hardcore sim in the way that Eve Online is  mechanically dense. The game is easy for anyone to pick up and play after doing the tutorial, which does a sufficient job of explaining on the on screen controls and indicators. More emphasis on your ship's reliance on consumable items, such as missiles and fuel, would have been well spent. Stressing the importance on upgrades and their relative impact on the end of the game would have been an improvement as well.

The gameplay in FTL centers around engaging a variety of ships of different types manned by different space-faring races and usually try to blow them up before they blow you up. Doing so, requires monitoring all your ship's systems as they take damage and diverting power to said systems in order to gain an advantage over your opponent. Targeting the enemies' specific ship systems to either stop a barrage of weapons upon your ship or weakening their own can turn the tide of a battle. For instance, while you may want to initially just take out their weapons systems to stop the damage against your ship, you may want to disable their shields in order to do more hull damage. On the other hand, if you destroy their oxygen creation you can watch the whole crew die off or at the very least divert their attention from other offensive measures.

All these mechanics are in play while making sure your own ship isn't blowing up in a variety of ways. Enemy ships will frequently target different ship systems; sometimes causing fires that will spread if not dealt with immediately  Venting your airlocks to extinguish fires before they severely damages critical systems is easy. Making sure nobody asphyxiates in the process is the hard part. Luckily, the game allows you to pause at any time to queue up actions ala Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic so there is time to think. This intentional addition turns what could have been a adrenaline fueled frantic click-fest into a slower, thinking-man's game. Whether the pause option is a plus for you or not is really about what type of game you want. I can respect either point of view.

New crew members can be acquired through a variety of means and put to good use. Some slaver ships will try to bargain with you by trading a slave that you can add to your crew in exchange for not getting blown into pieces. Different races have different attributes that you can use to your advantage as well. For instance  the rock people are immune to fire damage, which is helpful as fires on your ship are frequent and damaging to deal with.

The average game of FTL seems to take about three to four hours, which sounds short, but the game is clearly meant to be played through multiple times. Ships you encounter get progressively more difficult to deal with due to their increasing raw power (more shield levels to get through) as well as new technologies and mechanics. Opposing ships start sending bad guys onto your ship which you then have to deal with lest they damage critical ship systems or kill crew members outright.

Playing through the game unlocks a variety of ships with different starting equipment that allow for very different playstyles. Starting with your own offensive drones out of the gate, for example, makes for a very different type of experience. So far no ships seem to be necessarily "better" than you first one but simply different in the way that Call of Duty unlocks are intended to be.

The story in FTL is stereo-typically simple for an indie game of this small scale. Only conveyed through some quick text, you are informed that your ship has critical Intel it needs to get to the rest of the Federation and you are being chased by Space Rebels. Unsure if this is a subtle Star Wars reference, but there you have it. Along your travels you will encounter civilian vessels and traders that you can assist. Sometimes they need guiding out of an area of space, sometimes they need materials and sometimes they just need to have some Rebel scum blown to bits. All these interactions are presented in simple text with usual Help Them/Don't Help them binary choice. While not exactly inventive, these instances help break up the constant barrage of enemy ships you must destroy every time you jump to a new sector of space.

FTL has a delightfully old school aesthetic that pulls on my nostalgia of playing games on my old x486 PC. The graphics are a nice throwback and serve the mechanics well. I never had the hankering for better, current-gen 3D graphics or anything like that. The real show piece; however, is the amazing soundtrack. I would highly recommend anyone interested in electronic music of any type to give the game a listen on YouTube  Not only is the music fantastic in it's own right but perfectly compliments the gameplay during both battle sequences and more passive time upgrading your ship.

Technically, FTL doesn't offer much in terms of graphical options but really, what were you expecting? The game got off the ground via Kickstarter funding that was originally only asking for $10,000 dollars. While they still ended up getting over $200,000, as far as game budgets go, that's pretty minuscule.

My philosophy for reviews goes as follows. Is the game fun and is it worth your money? And, perhaps most importantly, I judge the game for what the experience is intended to be and not what I'm hoping it will be. If the Developer tries and fails to execute, that's one thing but if it's a small indie title that aims to provide a simple but fun experience, I'm not going to knock them for a lack of high resolution textures or bump mapping. This may seem a bit off-topic in this review but I wanted to be clear about why I am scoring the game like I am.

FTL both succeeds in what it aims to accomplish as well as surpasses my expectations for what $5 dollars of no nonsense graphics, phenomenal music and simplistic meters can mean to me. Not only is the game fun from start to finish but it seems incredibly repayable. In a broader sense, FTL is the game that proves to me that Kickstarter can really work in the right circumstances. They didn't just meet their goal, they surpassed it and then released a real product that is as advertised during their Kickstarter campaign.

FTL is great for people like myself that are getting older. Not only is it short enough for us to squeeze into our busy lives and enjoyable the whole way through but has fantastic replay value with a variety of unlockables. I got a silly sense of delight in renaming my crew-mates to my close friends. Really, the whole thing just scratches that itch of being in charge of your own Star Trek ship, which again, serves my age demographic. FTL is a delight from start to finish and if you can catch it for five dollars, it's a steal. I high recommend you purchase it at your first opportunity.


If you are interested in watching one of my entire playthroughs, you are more than welcome to do so below.

1 comment:

  1. I truly thank you for the profitable information on this awesome subject and anticipate more incredible posts. Much obliged for getting a charge out of this excellence article with me. I am valuing it all that much! Anticipating another awesome article. Good fortunes to the creator! All the best! motu patlu games