Wednesday, February 1, 2017

FTL: Faster Than Light

Wait, I'm reviewing a game without an in-depth story? Or narrative? Or characters? What? What is this madness? What am I even going to talk about?

Well, a lot, actually. The basic premise of FTL is simply: outrun the rebel fleet and bring invaluable intelligence to the Federation. Along the way, you have to upgrade your ship and your crew as you face hordes of enemies and difficult decisions.

The graphics are alright. The static backgrounds are repeated often, which can make the galaxy feel a little cold and empty. But there is something charming about the 2D ships and character models. While I hesitate to call them retro, they do harken back to years of gaming past. As does the music. I'm rather neutral when it comes to the music; like the backgrounds, it gets rather repetitive. But it's not horrible by any means.

The combat is really the meat of this rougelite. You need to blow up the enemy ship - whether they be rebels, pirates, or hostile aliens, before they blow yours up. Each ship, including yours, has the same basic systems. So, you have to protect your systems (like the one that supplies your crew with oxygen), while destroying theirs. It's intuitive, but surprisingly difficult to master. Each decision you make can end up backfiring on you. Thankfully, there is a pause mechanic, so you can take as much time as you need to strategize.

And you will abuse this mechanic, because this game is pretty difficult. Every encounter is randomly generated. So, depending on your relationship with the Random Dice Gods, your perfect run can turn into chaos and mayhem in one jump. And death is permanent. You can't restart the encounter to save half of your crew. You simply must trudge on and hope that you can find replacements.

The Random Dice Gods have a heavy hand in this game. Besides randomizing your combat encounters, FTL also randomizes the outcomes of our narrative choices. What little narrative this game has is given to you in the form of text based decisions. You may be asked to rescue some miners from quarantine, or be given the choice to attack a Rebel ship hovering above a civilian outpost. And no matter how many times you play this game, you have no idea what selecting each outcome will result in. If you do decide to attack the Rebel ship, the outpost might be thankful, and give you some necessary supplies. But they are also just as likely to be angry with you, and give you nothing. And there's no way to know going in what the outcome is going to be.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It heightens the tension in the game, makes you stop and think before you make a decision. But it also means that you can be completely screwed over through no fault of your own. At times, this game is far more dependent on luck than on skill.

At it's best FTL makes you feel like Captain Kirk or Han Solo. You fly on by the skin of your teeth, defeating obstacles with a mixture of cunning, daring, and Hail Mary decisions. And this is when it's really fun. There are few things more rewarding than destroying a ship twice as strong as you are because you cut the power to your oxygen supply and engine room in order to make one, last, desperate attack with your sole remaining crewman.

But at it's worst, FTL can be a bit like banging your head against a brick wall. No matter what you do, no matter how safe you think you are, it can all be rendered meaningless in seconds. And some people like this in games. Some people actively seek this out. Your milage may vary.

Random Thoughts

You can name your crew and customize their appearance. In case you want to get more attached to them before they're brutally killed in a hail of fire and lasers. 

Make sure you explore the galaxy! Don't just go straight for the end point. You want to collect and horde supplies like they're made of gold. 

This game has made me rage quit twice: once when I lost my advanced weapons expert to a horde of cannibals one jump before the final fight, and once when rebels boarded my ship and proceeded to slaughter all of the crew but one. She ended up dying due to a lack of oxygen caused by an accidental, self-inflicted hull breach. 

I'll admit, FTL is usually not the kind of game that I like. But it's fun, charming, difficult, and hooks you on the promise that you'll do better next time. 

8.2 out of 10

~An Honest Fangirl 

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