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I love FTL

2012.10.26.23.59 · No Comments

I’m unemployed. I refuse to spend money on games while this is the case. Hearing that, a friend stepped up and bought me a game he was loving, FTL. I can’t thank him enough, because it’s awesome.

Does FTL make you a space-faring bringer of death, or a kamikaze pilot flying a rickety death trap? Yes. Is it worth playing? Absolutely. Dying hasn’t been this fun since Dwarf Fortress. Killing hasn’t been this surgical since Fallout 3’s VATS system, this easy since you first picked up the BFG, or this difficult since you spec’d completely opposite the way you should have for a RPG boss fight. Each play has the potential to serve up a wildly different game due to the game’s elements being so randomly generated, that each play will bring many stories of harrowing success and escape, telling friends how you barely did this, and almost got killed while doing that, and each story will almost certainly punctuated by the full stop of your death. It’s billed as a “a spaceship simulation real-time rogue-like”, but what does that mean? Let’s start with the basics.

The Salad (Before the game.)
In Subset Games’ FTL (yes, it means Faster Than Light,) you fight for the Federation against rebel forces and other nefarious tropes amassing weapons and crew for the big showdown. This is done by plotting your own course through eight sectors full of nodes as a wave of enemies chase you. Each node providing an event. Events range from battle, a social opportunity, an environmental threat, a store, to empty space. Sometimes you’ll even get combination of those things, or they’re made more intricate as the game reacts to your crew, your ship upgrades, or some of the (simple) quest lines you’ve previously opened. As if those combinations didn’t offer enough replay, the nodes of each sector, and the available paths between sectors, are generated freshly with each play through. Each event allows a chance to gain resources along the way.

The Potatoes (The good.)
Ship management shines. It’s what every RPG wishes its management was, simple and robust. It’s so intuitive you can become good at it by accident. You start with one ship available, but more begin to open quickly. You acquire a crew of up to eight from the seven different races, each with special abilities. You choose from six different weapon types, each with strengths/strategies. There are also five different automated drone types you can deploy, not to mention the option to board your enemies’ ships. And on top of it all as you progress you can equip your ship with up to three of twenty-one augmentations that vary wildly in effect.

Upgrading your ship in FTL is micromanagement heaven as you spend scrap (the in-game currency) upgrade your ship. All ships have a reactor. As you spend money to upgrade it, more energy is produced. It’s from this common pool that most of your ship’s systems are powered. Each ship has several systems (weapons, shields, medical bay, life support, etc.) which can be upgraded, and extras that can be purchased. As you upgrade a system, it opens a slot in which you can route an extra cell of energy. It gets frantic when you realize that energy is hot-swappable, meaning you can power and de-power items as needed. So while you’ll likely always want your life support system working, if you don’t plant to run from a fight, you can take energy from your engine and fight your battle with stronger weapons, shields, or what have you!

The Steak (The great.)
Battle is superb for a player like me. FTL offers the perfect amount of control. In most games either the developer has very stupid AI and is too easy, the game cheats to make things interesting, or the player simply can’t match the AI in accuracy/quickness and things are too hard. This is a known problem in nearly any game from Madden to Tetris. This is not the case here. Enemies operate at maximum efficiency (minus a little dumb AI in asphyxiation created by simple logic, not cheating or intentional dumbing down,) because FTL lets the player pause the game at any time with a tap of the space bar.

This makes every meaningful choice available at any time, and you can change strategy instantly on a whim. Pausing time, issuing commands, changing attack patterns, and resuming the battle in a single moment allows you to match the AI move for move. Earlier I mentioned VATS, Fallout 3’s method of giving players a refined control in battle, but it was limited in making the player wait until your endurance was recharged. Captaining your own ship in FTL, giving out orders is expected to come instantly, and pausing time works perfectly to that effect.

Just Desserts (The self-indulgent run-through.)
I load up on offensive slots, going light on reactor energy, and rerouting power from my meager engine and medical bay and give that extra bump to weaponry. Toss a few Zoltan crew members (who add energy to the ship systems they’re assigned to) and you’re boxing above your weight class. My starting ship is the Red-Tail (Kestral B), which comes with one Zoltan (who add one energy to your reactor), one Mantis (excellent fighters), and two humans. It also starts with four single shot lasers.

The first thing I do is invest in blast doors to asphyxiate boarding enemies, expand my crew with as many Zoltans as possible, and invest heavily in laser weapons. Soon I’ve got an opening volley of lasers that rips through enemy shields and begins taking apart a system of my choice. Worst case scenario, I use the lasers to tear at an enemy’s shield and then use a beam weapon to do my damage in a line drawn across the enemy ship with my mouse. Either way, I have a good chance of jetting straight to the final sector in no time as long as things go decently well for me, but I only really get a chance of beating the final boss if I’m lucky and a certain few augments and the right weaponry come my way. To ensure that, I take my time, scouring as many nodes as I can in each sector. I’m a man on a mission, people!

But before I leave the second sector, I die. That happens often. You’ll have bad luck, you’ll not get awesome items by the time you expect to. You’ll need to spend your scrap repairing your ship, instead of buying upgrades. You will die very often in this game. Here, let me go back and underline that for silly comedic effect. And you’ll quit the game, and you’ll start something else, and you’ll instantly want to start it back up and play again. I actually wrote all of this in a relatively short time, I just kept starting the damn game back up and playing again… In fact, I think I’ll go play it now!

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