FTL - Faster Than Light Hands-On
FTL - Faster Than Light Hands-On
Itís a situation we all know only too well: the beat up old ship youíre piloting is on its last legs. Your engineer just repaired the main drive core on the fly, the hull is doing an impersonation of swiss cheese itís been hit so many times, youíre out of missiles, itís three parsecs to the nearest trading outpost and this dangerous mission isnít going to finish itself.
Whether it was prompted by Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, one of a smattering of books, animes or TV shows (but most likely a combination of all of those) - I donít think thereís a person out there who hasnít dreamt of running his or her own beat up old starship across the galaxy.
So, really, the surprising thing is that so few games have actually done that. Sure, thereís been Elite, Privateer, Freelancer and such, but those are really space flight sims with trading / economics engines attached - what they didnít do was let you play out the whole space-piracy romance of ordering your crew about, choosing whether to repair your missile launchers or oxygen systems in a desperate bid to survive the latest pirate attack... in short, they werenít about the ship.
FTL (Faster Than Light) is an independently developed video game (and the result of a very successful kickstarter campaign) where you pilot one of a number of hugely varied ships on a dangerous mission to deliver delicate information before a massive fleet thatís chasing you from sector to sector pulverises your little ship into space-dust.
The big twist is that instead of piloting your ship directly, the game is more like a cross between a Rogue-like and a real-time strategy game. Pausing every so often, you issue orders to your crew as they move about the inside of your ship - repairing systems, manning weapons batteries, repelling boarders or even just lying in med-bay, getting healed up for the next fight.
In each system youíll find random events - sometimes pirate ship will attack you, other times you get small episodic adventures where you must choose what to do.
Your hull is damaged, youíre low on fuel and have no missiles left. You pick up a distress signal from inside an asteroid field. Do you enter, and attempt to help out the ship? Or do you simply jump away, and not risk your life?
The encounters you find are randomized, and vary each time - sometimes the result of helping out stricken ship might be scrap metal, supplies or even a new crewmember - other times you may find the distress call simply a trap so that a pirate ship can ambush you and blast you apart with pulse cannons.
After each event, you can stay to repair or jump to another sector and which one you go to is up to you. In short: each game (which tends to be quite short, as the game is VERY difficult) is your own Star Trek / Star Wars adventure, involving episodic battles, exploration and tough decisions about what to risk and what not to.
The decision-making in the game is made all the more intense by a complete lack of save game functionality. This isnít an oversight - this is quite by design, and while it may change in the final version, for now, it remains an amazingly powerful feature of the game. When youíre making these decisions about where to go and what to do or how to respond to a given event without the ability to simply load game if you find youíve chosen poorly, the game gets even more tense than it might otherwise. More than once Iíve paused game when confronted with a particularly difficult call and gone off to have tea and think it over.
Your decisions have consequences in FTL, and ones that can utterly ruin or save you.
Even the longest game I played came in at about 70 minutes - and that had me about half way through to the end of the game. Itís one of those games youíll play multiple games of in one sitting, sometimes doing well and other times doing poorly. Every time you get just that little bit further than before without being ripped apart by the gravitational pull of a supergiant or blown up arachnid boarding parties... you canít help yourself but click Ďnew gameí and start afresh, using your increased experience to (hopefully) do better the next time.
Visually, the game is inspired by classic games from decades ago - itís all pixel-art. The ships vary wildly depending on the maker - in all the universe is a perfect blend of the best parts of Star Trek, Star Wars and Alien(s).
In terms of gameplay and tone itís a little bit X-COM, a little bit Elite, a little bit Lightspeed... and a whole lot of fun.
This is one game that Iíll be pushing all my friends to check out on release, especially if theyíre the kind of person who has a model of the Millenium Falcon on their top shelf.
And now back to that pirate battle in the nebula I paused to write this...
Disclaimer: this preview was written after days of playing a nearly feature-complete beta of FTL. That said, the beta was extremely stable and bug-free - even more so than some final copies this writer has reviewed.
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