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Faster Than Light - Review

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Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Genre: Spaceflight Simulation roguelike
Release Date: 14.9.2012
Official Site: http://www.ftlgame.com/

 

In a nutshell, Faster than Light (FTL) is a roguelike game set in space. The player controls a single spaceship that has been tasked with delivering vital information regarding the advance of a rebel fleet. To do this, the player must travel through vast stretches of space against all odds, encountering aliens, pirates, asteroid fields and deadly plagues which all threaten to disrupt the mission. There‘s little point in detailing the story further than that, as it serves only to set the stage for what is a turn-based, „death around each corner“ style of game.

For those of you not familiar with the term roguelike means, go to wikipedia and educate yourselves. No, that‘s all right I‘ll explain it for you. Roguelike has come to mean a type of game where the player makes his way through some sort of level (a dungeon or in this case a network of warp-beacons in space), where pretty much everything is randomized. Inside the next room (or jump beacons) could be practically anything, the player is left in the dark and must simply take the chance to explore whatever danger lurks therein. Will the player run into a deadly pirate with whom he must deal with in order to survive or will he be lucky and encounter a friendly vessel that offers to give the player some scrap metal (the game‘s currency) before parting ways?
The player starts with just one spaceship to begin his journey, but through gameplay can unlock more ships which feature different equipment, crews and items and can therefore provide completely different playstyles. The starting vessel for example is a pretty simple and straightforward combat vessel that features shields, guns and a missile launcher which mean that from the get-go this ship will be able to handle itself fairly well during combat. Completing certain missions within the game itself however may unlock other vessels that place emphasis on drone combat or even stealth.
 
Choosing a ship does not mean that you are stuck with its style of gameplay however. As mentioned before, the player can receive bits of scrap metal which he uses at trading posts to purchase modifications to his vessel. The previously mentioned starter ship could for example further enhance its killing power or it could branch into an entirely new category of equipment to complement its existing abilities.
 
Scrap metal is not only used at trade posts however as it is also the game‘s form of experience points. Using scrap metal, the player can decide to upgrade the basic systems of the ship such as energy output, shields, life support and so forth. Upgrading each of these systems carries a unique benefit and given the scarcity of resources in the game, the player will have to choose which systems to upgrade wisely, lest he find himself coming up short in the next fight.
 
The player also has to keep track of his ship‘s crew. The crew varies in number from one person to about 6 at most. Each crew member can be assigned to work in a particular room in the spaceship, enhancing its abilities. Placing a crew member in the shield room f.ex will boost the rate at which the shields regenerate during combat while placing a crew member in the engine room will increase the ship‘s ability to dodge incoming fire. The crew can consist of many different types of alien species and each species has unique abilities. Humans are the most generic of the species, possessing no particular abilities and make good all-rounders but a crew member that is from the Engi species is much better at making repairs to the ship‘s systems (which often get damaged during combat) but deal only half damage in combat when the ship gets boarded by invaders. Your crew will gain experience from doing certain tasks over time, making them even better at boosting your ship. You‘ll also have to make sure your crew doesn‘t die during boarding or from lack of oxygen because when you run out of crew, you lose the game.
 
 
Combat in the game pits your ship against another ship where your decisions and skill may alter the outcome greatly. You must ensure that power is diverted to the right systems and that each post is manned by the right person. You and the enemy ship will exchange fire, choosing which sub-systems to hit, hoping to knock out certain features and abilities. Targeting the enemy‘s shield room f.ex may destroy his shields, meaning that he‘ll not regenerate them until his crew is able to fix the shields. Targetting his weapons will obviously knock out his weapons, meaning that you are relatively safe from harm. You can also board the enemy ship or be boarded and must engage in hand to hand combat until the invaders flee or are slain. Sometimes during combat, fires will start in your ships rooms and you must put them out or risk the fire spreading and eventually destroying your rooms.
 
The point of the game is to make it across the treacherous stretches of space between the entry point in a sector and the exit point leading to the next sector. The player has to be quick about it and selective about which jump points to visit as the rebel fleet begins to occupy the jump nodes from left to right on the map, which makes visiting those jump nodes extremely dangerous and packed with tough to beat ships.
 
As the player progresses through jump nodes from one star cluster to the next, he‘ll be able to select what type of starcluster to visit next which influences what sort of encounters he will find therein to some degree. Choosing a hostile sector f.ex guarantees that the player will run into lots of pirates to fight whereas choosing a civilian sector means he‘ll possibly run into less combat encounters.
 
At the end of all this beacon jumping comes the final challenge. The final sector features the enemy mothership, which the player must fight and defeat in order to win the game. Defeating the mothership however is no easy task and will require much luck and planning.
Playing FTL is often nerve-wracking. Each new game is a new adventure and the roguelike element of the game ensures that the game usually manages to surprise the player in some way. Just when you think you have the best ship in the world, the game pulls the rug from out under you and throws a new challenge your way. You‘ll probably grow quite attached to your little ship and its crew and if you‘re anything like me, you‘ll scream and curse and hate the game when they meet their inevitable doom at the hands of a challenge that proved just too tough for them.
 
I‘ve had a love-hate relationship with this game so far. As I stated before, each new game is a new adventure that is exciting and enjoyable, but then again, the difficulty and randomness of the game also tends to kick you in the face... repeatedly, causing much angst. Some playthroughs go so smoothly that you‘ll reach the end boss in no time and promptly give him a proper butt kicking whereas other games will see you dead in the very first jump beacon. Of course the majority of the playthroughs will go somewhere in the middle, with the player building up a decent vessel which falls short in one encounter or another and forces you to watch as your entire crew suffocates or burns alive horribly as you cry and eat ice-cream to soothe the pain.
 
People will either love this game or stay clear of it entirely. The retro-graphics and turn based gameplay will probably cause a lot of people to look this one over, but if you‘re willing to scrape past the surface you‘re in for a treat that will give you many hours of addictive fun. 
 

We liked Enjoyable setting. Great replay valueand Simple learning curve.

We disliked Frustrating and unforgiving at times, and some broken features.

 

Arni Odinsson

Contributing Author

 

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