Modern Classics – FTL: Faster Than Light
A perilous journey often makes for a good story. With FLT: Faster Than Light it makes for a great game!
Something about the unforgiving vastness of space captivates us. Perhaps it’s because that glittering backdrop of planets and stars also doubles as a harsh proving ground. What FTL: Faster Than Light does so cleverly is to make us feel constantly on edge. Every. Decision. Counts. The game has tuned its risk/reward structure perfectly, mirroring the tension/release pattern of the best suspense films.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves, which not advisable in FTL’s universe. So the basics:
The game is a stylish 2D micro-management sim. Piloting a spaceship with a small crew, the player gets a cross-section view of the craft, with the various rooms (engine, med-bay, etc) and crewmembers all visible. Certain stations gain a bonus when manned and the ship runs on a power system driven by the reactor. All core systems get power from the reactor.
So if you haven’t yet got enough power to use your fancy new shields (all systems can be upgraded) but you really need them, you can divert power away from oxygen and hope you make it through the fight before your crew turns an unsightly shade of blue.
Choices like this occur throughout the game. Enemy pirates have teleported to your ship. How many crew do you take off essential systems like weapons and shields to combat the boarding party? Remember, the enemy ship is still firing at you!
Looking after your crew becomes of paramount importance. Either on purpose or by accident, the game’s charming graphics make you feel attached to those little people. Scurrying about the ship, putting out fires and carrying out your commands, they look so tiny and helpless. You want to make the right decisions to keep them safe.
It’s not just sentiment that drives you to keep the crew alive. Practically, it’s a good idea as crewmembers stationed on individual systems start earning experience, which in turn increases system efficiency (faster shield/weapon recharge, greater dodging ability for the ship etc). In short – it matters if you lose someone.
The plot is a pleasing underdog tale of a Federation ship (you) stranded behind enemy lines. Although the game is not what you’d call story-heavy, the basic scenario of escape against the odds provides you with sufficient motivation.
Everything in FTL has a pleasing sense of balance and consequence. A fine example of this are the random text based events. They add another layer of choice to the game.
You come across a space station overrun by giant space spiders. Do you come to their aid or avoid any risk and keep on going? Events don’t always have the same outcome so you might end up saving the station and picking up the reward without any hassle, or you might lose a crew member. It’s your call – how much do you need that scrap?
By focusing in such detail on the balance of the gameplay, FTL achieves something close to gaming nirvana; the perfect risk/reward structure. If you fail, you might end up cursing the game, but it will never be the game’s fault.
Throw into the mix an array of weaponry, (missiles, defensive/offensive drones, lasers and beam weapons) several races with their own attributes and distinct personalities and you have a nuanced game where no single approach will see you through. You will have to adapt to survive.
FTL is a challenging game in the best sense. The first time you take down the end boss you will feel a sense of genuine achievement. It is very much in the old skool when it comes to difficulty and is all the better for it. With multiple ships and ship layouts unlockable and different random events possible in each play through, FTL has a high degree of replayability and is well worth investing your time in.
All of which sounds a bit dry so I should just mention that this game is FUN! FTL absorbs you in it’s universe and is probably the closest you will get to piloting your own spaceship. It can make you fall in love with gaming all over again. Take the jump today, you won’t be disappointed.
FTL is available to buy now on steam.