Thursday, September 11, 2014

FTL: Faster than Light (PC)

Reviewed on PC, available on PC, Mac, and Linux

FTL: Faster than Light is a wonderful but difficult adventure.

It's hard to be a member of the PC gaming community without hearing of the indie upstart game, FTL: Faster than Light. As someone who is highly skeptical of both AAA titles and indie titles alike, I put off purchasing FTL for quite some time. Eventually, a Humble Bundle came along which included FTL, and being the sucker I am for Humble Bundles, I bought the bundle and installed FTL shortly after. After all, the worst that could happen is I end up wasting a few bucks.

FTL takes place in a sci-fi future deep in space. The most dominant faction is called the Federation; a space military faction that consists of multiple different races and attempts to bring order to the galaxy. Opposite of the Federation is the Rebellion; a largely human faction that believes the Federation is evil, and is attempting to overthrow it via war. You play the role of a Federation scout ship that has just discovered the Rebellion is launching a massive sneak attack, large enough to win the war, and are rushing to warn the Federation fleet. As an interesting story element, it is never stated which faction is the "good" or "bad" guys, which comes into play when the player makes moral decisions throughout the game.

Each ship comes with a unique crew, weapon loadout, and installed systems.

Before starting the game, you are given the option to choose which ship you will control. Initially, you start with a single ship with a very basic and balanced loadout. As you complete special missions or achievements during the game, you will unlock new ships to play with during your next play-through. And there will be a next play-through because this game is hard, and even on the easy difficulty setting, you will likely lose and restart several times before defeating the boss at the end. For some games this can be a negative remark, but for FTL the difficulty adds to the weight of every decision made in the game.

Once a ship has been selected, you are set onto your path with a very Oregon Trail feeling event system. You are given the option to select a planet to fly to, but with very limited information, it is impossible to determine what awaits you at each destination. And since each playthrough is randomized, there is no way to intentionally set your path to the best possible outcome. Will that homing beacon lead to stranded civilians, or a trap set by raiders?

Battle against a foe requires great attention to both side's strengths, and the amount of risk vs. reward.

When you do find yourself in a combat situation, the fights require full attention and careful planning. Depending on your ship`s strengths and your opponent`s weakness, battles can be over very quickly or drag on for several minutes. You can target the enemy`s oxygen supply and attempt to sufficate their crew, or send over a boarding party to fight them directly without damaging their ship. Regardless of the action taken, the player must be careful with his crew, as their deaths are permanent, and replacements are found mostly with luck.

Which leads me to my only gripe with the game: there is too much reliance on the randomness of the game to truly master it. It is possible to make all the right moves throughout the game and still lose. On one hand, it makes for a more realistic and stressful game, but on the other, it creates mass frustration when trying to achieve a specific goal during the game. Some ships can only be unlocked with very specific triggers that happen entirely at random (and may not happen at all) during each playthrough. 

No matter how well equipped you are, defeat can be just around the corner.

Gameplay - 9/10
There is a lot of challenge and frustration to be had playing FTL, but it all adds to the satisfaction once you finally achieve your goal. The simplicity and fair learning curve encourages players to keep trying different layouts and approaches. Too much reliance on the randomness of the events can cause this game to be overly unfair and frustrating at times.

Design - 8/10
Visually there is much improvement to be had. The 2D sprites will turn off many gamers who would otherwise enjoy the game. Sound effects and music are top notch, however, and really draw the player in. The interface needs a bit of work, but is capable of getting the job done.

Replay - 10/10
You will die and start over, many times, but each time learning more and becoming a better captain. There are tons of ships to unlock, with different layouts that can offer vastly different playthroughs. If cooperative multiplayer of some sort was added, this rating would go through the roof.

Final - 27/30 Amazing
FTL was made by persons with a great idea that chose not to take the easy route and make an easy game. They made a game that will continue to challenge beginners and experts alike, with new stories being built each play. This is a game that is a stone throw away from becoming legendary, and if an FTL2 is ever made with better graphics, fewer no-win situations, and cooperative multiplayer, it will be game of the year without contest.

Recommended Buying Price: Even at the full 10$ price, this game is a steal.