Opening Turn: FTL – Faster Than Light

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I had every intention of starting Dishonored this week. I really did. And, to be fair, I did start it, except that an unfortunate quirk in my living room arrangement kept me from getting that far in it (windows + TV + game with dark color palette = NO).  So in the meantime I decided to try out a few games that I had acquired during the Steam Winter Sale, and the one that really stuck with me was this one, FTL. I’d heard about it before, but I will admit I was really going into the game blind. I didn’t know what to expect, really, and I will admit I was quite surprised by what it ended up being.

I think I’ve heard of this game before. What’s the story behind it?: The game is the brainchild of two ex-2K Games employees who wanted to make something inspired by various spaceship-sim strategic board games. It is one of Kickstarter’s great success stories, having obtained something like twenty times what was asked for in order to fund development. That money led to the expansion of the development team, the licensing of middleware libraries, and the ability to fund higher quality music and art assets. The game itself follows the exploits of a single messenger ship that carries vital information for one side of an intergalactic war. The ship must make it from one side of the galaxy to the other, navigating through the opposing force, as well as pirates, hazards, smaller conflicts, and random occurrances.

Okay, so what kind of game /is/ it, exactly?: It is equal parts starship sim, real-time strategy, and roguelike.

What.: Hear me out on this. Each sector of the galaxy is randomly generated, like a roguelike, and your resources are randomly generated as well. You start out with the same loadout based on what ship you select (your ‘class’), but the things you are able to acquire might vary drastically from playthrough to playthrough. Instead of weapons and armor, you get ship systems and crewmen. Instead of magic points, you get missiles and drones, and instead of money you get scrap. Fuel can be considered to be the ‘keys’ that you use to go from planet to planet, and if you run out you are effectively stuck unless someone can help you.

If this looks interesting to you, and it should, I've pretty much already sold you the game, huh.
If this looks interesting to you, and it should, I’ve pretty much already sold you the game, huh.

Okay, so that’s the roguelike part, what about the other stuff?: Well, each planet has the potential for an enemy encounter. To fight the enemy, you use your weapons systems, obviously, but /how/ you do it is different than just ‘point at the guy and shoot’. You have your weapons target specific subsystems on the opposing ship, and they do the same to you. Each hit does damage to a specific system while also dealing overall hull damage. When systems are damaged, you can send crewmen to repair and reinforce them. Your crewmen can take damage from environmental things like fires, lack of oxygen, and hull breaches caused by enemy weapons. Also, you can be boarded, which, for me at least, is an automatic death sentence for my crew since you are almost always outnumbered and it can get pretty hard to manage both the internal and external fights.

"shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitSHIT!" - Me, at this point.
“shitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitshitSHIT!” – Me, at this point.

So what are the high points, for you?: Oddly enough, the world. Sure, there isn’t all that much in terms of plot, but they definitely put some effort into making the world very diverse for what the game is. There are various factions whose space you invade in your quest, and each one feels noticeably different, and employ different tactics. Engi will use EMP weapons, rebels will use missiles and brute force, and Mantis will always try and board you, in which case you’re pretty much fucked. Your crew aren’t just human either, as you find various mercenaries or rescue people who decide to join your crew, each with their own benefits. Slugs, for instance, can give you limited visibility even when your sensors are down (which otherwise renders you completely blind even to what’s going on in your own ship), and Rockmen, while slow, are tough and fireproof, making them wonderful assets for repairing ship damage.

Sorry, not this kind of Rockman.
Sorry, not this kind of Rockman.

Additionally, the tutorial is direct and to the point. It does not waste time. It lets you know exactly what you need to know to get playing, and lets you figure out the little subtleties on your own. There are also a ton of unlockables, which is a definite plus for /me/.

And any negatives?: Actually, very few. It’s hard, but that’s expected, because it’s a cross between a RTS and a roguelike, which are two of the most unforgiving genres of game that’s out there. I think my only real complaint is how completely overpowered boarding parties are.

Still pretty much the worst possible thing that can happen.
Still pretty much the worst possible thing that can happen.

Anything else?: I got the Steam version, which is available for PC, Mac, and Linux. There is no mobile version, though I personally think it would be a very good tablet game.

Final verdict?: I would recommend it to anyone who likes roguelikes, or someone looking for a light strategy game. I would also recommend it to anyone into strategy board games, as there is a lot of similarity there, too. People looking for a straight up starship action game may not find what they’re looking for here, though I really can’t see anyone not finding this game at least interesting!

[This review originally appeared on the gaming website Attack Initiative.]

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