FTL: Faster-Than-Light

FTL game is one the best games I have played in a very long time.

FTL is a space combat survival game. Its made in the style of many indie games of late, 16-bit graphics and sprites. For those fans of pixel art, FTL is a prime example of pixel art done right. There are a few scaling issues with text, but unless you are looking for such problems they are unnoticed. Visually it looks great. The 2d overhead view of your ships and its crew lets you see everything you need to. The game’s survival element comes into effect in a few different ways. The core mechanic will resonate with fans of the Battlestar Galactica series, the player takes control of starship that hails from a civilization who has just suffered a catastrophic attack. The player’s vessel is tasked with  traversing the galaxy to reach a rendezvous point where the remnants of their Federation will rally. Your ship is carrying information vital to the war effort. However the evil aggressors are hot on your tail, so the player must push through the galaxy will continually FTL jumping away as the enemies just enter the sector (see BSG  Season 1 Episode 1 “33”). The player must also micromanage the systems and subsystems of the ship. They can diverting and forward power to the different systems (which can be upgraded over time from resources gathered in-game). These systems include: Engines, Shields, Weapons, Life Support (Oxygen), Flight Control, even Door Controls and Sensor arrays. The micromanagement of systems provides intense gameplay where you can reroute power away from oxygen just to squeeze a few more seconds out of your shields to prevent total destruction; or divert all power from thrusters, leaving you dead in the water, to the guns to pummel the enemy before they can hit you. The leveling up of different systems and crew (who man the systems and gain skills for the systems they use the most) is an engaging progression that keeps you hooked. It also attaches you to the crew.

If you want more background on the game feel free to check out the numerous review floating around the web.

The main elements survival here are crew management, ship integrity, and travel. You need fuel to keep doing FTL jumps (1 fuel per jump). You need crew to operate your ship. You need hull integrity  because you can’t damn well play the game without a ship. These survival keys come into play a few different ways that are really intriguing and it is actually why I became so enthralled with the game.

FTL surreptitiously teaches you about what kind of person you are. At first you start the game out. Everything is peachy, relatively safe and stable. You have a clear mission, and a direction. You are the valiant commander of a Federation ship who is tasked with saving an entire civilization. You can do no wrong. You jump through a few systems and come across survivors, you lend them aid as you are flush with supplies and resistance in minimal. You encounter a few rebel pickets, they put up a fight but soon surrender as your superior firepower withers their shields. Being an upstanding captain, whose primary directive is to save lives, you grant the rebels their lives and allow them to surrender. As the game progresses though, it changes pace and forces you to make choices that you never expected to make. Soon you are facing down enemy vessels with technology you don’t know how to combat. After surmounting these obstacles, you go further into uncharted space. You encounter deceitful pirates, slavers and rebels. It becomes unclear which distress beacon is trap and which is not. You grow more suspicious of every vessel hailing you with peaceful intentions. Eventually you lose one of your crew to a stray missile, or a hull breach. You mourn and move on. Then your supplies begin to dwindle, you have enough fuel for a jump or two, but the rebels are closing in. Finally you expend your last bit of fuel to keep yourself just one jump ahead of the Rebels. You drop out of FTL and see a civilian trader floating harmlessly in space. Desperately you ask for them to give you some fuel, but they have none to spare. You now have only one option, you have to get your data to the fleet. Surely the lives of the entire Federation outweigh one crew. You fire on the ship and strip it for fuel and parts. You heave a sigh of relief as you jump through the next few systems with the gather fuel. Looking back in horror you realize that you have done the unspeakable, you have taken an innocent life to further your own. It was with good reason, you assure yourself, but it doesn’t make you any less of a murderer. The next system drops you into heated combat with the insect-like Mantis. You send one of your crew to fight off the boarding party, but a fire is spreading through your ship and he is losing fight. You need to keep the ship afloat, you’re forced to vent the ship killing the fire, the attackers, and your crewman. You’ve save the ship, but at what cost? The lines between right and survival get blurrier every jump you make. The slow degradation of your morality and the vicious survivor FTL turns you into is a great way to show the player just how deluded they are.

FTL loves fucking with you. The randomly generated galaxy throws twists and traps at you with joyful abandon. However, it delights at the fact that: When you die, it’s usually your fault. You will die in a number of ways: ship fires, hull breaches suffocating your crew, boarding parties tearing through your ship, enemy vessels blowing you up, asteroids destroying your hull, and the Rebel fleet descending upon you. However, at almost every loss, you can find an error in your ways. If you had jumped to a different system, you wouldn’t have encounter this ship. If you had built up your shields a bit more, that laser wouldn’t have shredded the hull. If you had just paid more attention when you vented the ship, you would have noticed the boarding party attacking the door control and depriving you of your only way to close the airlocks. Every time, the blame for failure rests on your shoulders.

To be fair there’s a decent amount of chance to the procedural generation of events, this makes for some difficult game setups. But the ultimate player control and finality of the game is consistent. The experience is something to be appreciated.

I recommend this game to any and everyone one who enjoys strategy games, or rogue-likes, or space games, or RPGs, or just about anything Sci-Fi related.

I kept a ship log of one of my playthroughs. Take a peek to see the type of shit you run into in the game. And the type of crazed internal monologue of someone who really loves space sci-fi. The entire account is what happened in my game, with a bit of embellishment for dramatic effect.

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