Monday, September 17, 2012

FTL: Faster Than Light Review

All right, so I'm pretty excited here. When I saw the Kickstarter pitch for FTL: Faster Than Light I immediately knew that it was going to be a game I liked. I impulsively backed it for $10 and sat back and watched as it got funded. It was also one of the first kicks I've started, and now that it has officially been released I think it's also the first for me to see the fruits of my investment. And what glorious fruits they are.

I downloaded my DRM-free copy of game (in the background while playing Minecraft - sometimes I absolutely love technology) I got as a Kickstarter backer and fired it up to try it out. The tutorial was easy to learn and informative, and I was able to jump right into the game after a very short time. The game starts with a single ship design (more are unlocked the more you play - something about being tied to achievements and the areas you explore) and three crew members, each of which was named. If I recall correctly I had Williams, Lunnig, and Merkel. I immediately sent them to engineering, weapons, and the helm respectively, and eventually they leveled up to be a superior engineer, weapons officer, and pilot - but for now they were just names at stations. I started my first FTL jump, not really knowing what I was doing or the best way to do it, and just figured I'd see how far I could get.

The game is fast-paced and fun. I would jump to a system under attack by pirates, where I could choose to fight the pirates or ignore them (I was generally always spoiling for a fight - not the best idea all the time, but such is the nature of experience), then to an abandoned colony where I salvaged some scrap, then to a planet with a lone survivor I added to my crew (named Charlie - he eventually became my Shield technician and main repairman), then to a merchant where I could trade goods...and as I looked at the sector map, an ominous red line was approaching me. This (I later learned) was the rebel fleet, searching for me and the vital data I was carrying vital to the preservation of the Federation. Staying one step ahead of the fleet would be vital.

And I was generally able to do that. I made it through 3 big sectors (there is an end point in each sector that allows you to jump to the next sector - but exploring the sector first is important, as it will yield parts crucial to your survival in the future sector, which increase notably in difficulty) and I upgraded my ship quite a bit. I picked up another crewman (also named Charlie, who I started specializing as my repairman, to let Charlie 1 stay at his shield console more regularly), I upgraded my shields, I bought a teleporter pad (so my crew could board enemy ships), and a story began to emerge. Perhaps the best part of the game was right near the end (of this session), where the rebel fleet was closing in and I made a long-range gambit to avoid them, trying to cut through a system with a red giant star. There was an enemy ship there firing on me, my ship was already damaged, and the sun was slowly heating up my ship. I needed to hold off until my FTL drive could spin up and I could jump away. The fight went badly, the enemy ship knocked out my Oxygen supply and started fires throughout much of my ship, most of my crew was damaged, and my hull was getting very damaged. Once my drive spun up I went to make the jump - only to realize that the system I was in was too far away from the exit system. I would have to backtrack several systems to be able to get there. Which would put me directly in contact with the forward scouts of the rebel fleet. Well, no other option right now...I jumped back to a previously explored (and currently safe) system. The fires were raging, having spread to much of the rear and port sides of the ship now, but I had gotten my crew out of there and into the med bay (where they were healing their injuries). I sealed all the doors on the ship, opened all the doors in the rooms full of fire, and then opened the rear and port airlocks, dramatically aware of the fact that without my Oxygen system up and running I was blowing most of my remaining air into space. The gambit put out the fires, I sealed all the airlocks and then opened all the interior doors to let what air was left fill the back of the ship, then sent every available (and freshly healed) crewman to the back to start fixing the Oxygen, engines, and the gaping hull breach in the engine room that was venting even more air. The crew fixed the Oxygen, sealed the breach, got the ship repaired, and it was time to go. The hull was badly damaged, I wouldn't be able to last long in a fight, and there would be 2-3 systems I would have ahead of me that would be swarming with rebels.

I made the jump, found a rebel patrol ship waiting, and began the process of fending them off until the FTL spun up. It went badly, and by the time I was able to jump again I was one hit away from destruction. The next jump wasn't just a forward scout - it was the vanguard of the rebel fleet. Their fighters began harrying me and I hoped to spin up the FTL before the cruisers could open fire - but a lucky missile shot from a fighter ended that hope and my game.

For 1.5-2 hours of gameplay, I had a ton of fun. I got oddly attached to the named sprites that had become valuable crew members. I always made sure to have them at their respective stations - with the pilot and engineer working together my Dodge chance went up considerably, my tactical officer notably reduced the cooldown of my weapon systems, and my shield tech kept those shields fully charged and able to weather considerable firepower. There was an emergent story that was the result of a string of random encounters, yet it was compelling and thrilling to the end. I unlocked another ship design, I learned a lot about the game and what good choices to make, and I learned that when they recommend to start on "easy" mode if you're not familiar with the game to listen to them. The game gets plenty hard, trust me. Easy will help you actually see the end of the game (hopefully) and unlock more items to start you off better in the future.

I strongly advise anyone who's interested in this game to get it. It's not to justify a $10 purchase for something that can give so many hours of replayable content.

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