September 16th, 2012 | By Alex Wilkinson
You see a missile shoot across your starboard, too close to call with the hull already at critical and fires starting to engulf the engine room you do what any good captain would and unload a full barrage of shots from all your cannons. Decisive shots aimed at the enemies weapons and shield eliminate the threat of the rebel ship, however something is not quite right. You frantically survey the ships systems only to find too late that the O2 unit was destroyed. In a flurried last minute attempt to save the crew you dash to the room only to circum to death, you won the battle but could not win the war.
It has been quite the year for Matthew Davis and Justin Ma from earlier in the year surpassing their very reserved goal on Kickstarter of $10 000 with just over $200 000, to having a huge launch on Friday topping the Steam charts, Faster Than Light (FTL) has become quite the internet sensation. FTL (for the few uninitiated) is a roguelike in a modern sense of the word, following the new generation of roguelikes which include: Dungeons Of Dredmor, The Binding Of Isaac and Spelunky. So is FTL really worth all this hype and what really makes it one of the most formidable indie games of the year?
FTL at its core is a spaceship simulator which lends itself to RPG elements in a roguelike setting with plenty of Strategy over the top, creating a great merriment of the genres. On the outset you pick your ship (after unlocking them by achieving any number of the requirements) and throw yourself into the unrelenting abyss that is space. You then have to plot your course across the many sectors choosing which areas are best to jump to. This is where some strategy comes in as you generally want to move across as much of the galaxy as possible before the rebel fleet catches up to you. Exploration will yield both unexpected combat scenarios along with wreckage to be salvaged making the exploration vital to your success in the mid to late game.
The exploration side is very interesting as all jumps result in events, some meaningless but others ranging from distress calls to hostile forces lurking waiting for you, all being mixed up on each playthrough to some degree. The events are great and constantly allow you to pillage helpless crafts or save civilian ships the choice is yours, however I would like this tied into maybe a bigger picture other than just annoying a few people here and there. Although the consequences do not seem far reaching I have been screwed over countless times by Slugs pretending to want sanctuary, only to turn around and sabotage my ship. The many events unpredictable natures make the game great fun and adds a lot to the replayability of FTL.
A lot of the gameplay in FTL is greatly affected from the way you build up your ship, it is the classic risk reward scenario and being able to balance everything can prove to be very difficult. I found saving for the first sector or two to invest in a cloak or drone system from the shop yielded good results before beefing up my shield, but everyone plays it differently and that is one of its many strengths.
Nothing is foretold and you may have one run where you last a good 40 minutes followed by a shocking run that you get destroyed almost straight away. This is one of the great elements I have come to love from these modern day roguelikes. The way sectors get jumbled up really keeps this game fresh, playthrough after playthrough and believe me there will be many playthroughs.
The real meat of the game is found in the highly engaging combat system that Matthew Davis and Justin Ma have implemented. Using a persistent combat system like many J-RPG’s of the 90’s (no doubt used else where also) with systems requiring time to charge making for a somewhat turn based feel. What really sets the combat apart however is the real time micromanagement side like in any RTS, in FTL you are expected to man all vital systems; repair the damage; coordinate boarding parties; repel intruders; extinguish fires; divert power systems; control drone usage and target your weapons.
Now this makes for a very sizable list of things you have to worry about which is why the ability to pause the game at any point and issue orders is the greatest tool in this game. Without the pause feature the game would spiral out of control very quickly and although it is possible to not pause it makes the game so much more challenging. In order to progress in FTL you really have to get your ship running like a fine oiled machine, rising to the challenge of commander and vanquishing all possible rivals.
The combat is incredibly fun and has some very steep learning curves but it allows you to get better acquainted with everything, and like any roguelike the more you play the better you get (in theory). Always trying to find the perfect strategy to overcome one of the countless hostile forces in deep space.
FTL’s visuals are solid they are by no means basic however they are not over complex and feel they add a lot to the great aesthetics of this game. The ships have been shaded fantastically making for great looking ships along with very smooth animations consistently. The visuals as far as I can tell are consistent and really nice looking giving FTL a great feel. Overall with the many different areas you jump to being quite diverse from asteroid fields to suns the visual quality remains top largely notch. Really the only issue I have seen with the visuals overall is in the nebulas, the nebulas cloud looks very pixelated which is a slight draw back.
The colour schemes used is great, it allows you to easily start to identify the different races by the type of ship they have along with the colours used which can give you a little bit more of a heads up on whether to attack or avoid them.
What I found to really put this game out there was the soundtrack that has been lovingly created by Ben Prunty. I really like how the developers ended up picking up Ben Prunty for the music in FTL because the soundtrack is awesome. In many indie games the soundtrack is often just glossed over due to money and time restrictions however after the funding boom on Kickstarter it was possible to do it right. I feel the soundtrack does add a lot to the overall game, it can really set to mood changing between ambient to fast fighting music. Of course the soundtrack is available to buy alongside the game.
No matter how meticulous you are with your game there is always going to be small things that seep through the cracks and FTL although very solid has a few shortcomings. The first one that became apparent was the lack of the ability to customize the ship load out in a bit more of an RPG sense prior to the start of the game. What I mean by this is be able to move rooms around to provide tactical advantages along with ways to unlock weapons, upgrades and perks which can be placed on the ship using some point system whilst setting your ship up in the hanger. As it stands the load out screen feels like it wants to offer this environment but maybe due to time constraints it was not included.
Still looking at the hanger menu when you setup your ship name and crew in the load out it currently it has no option to save the names for future use. This prevents you easily loading back the “Firefly” and battle the might of the galaxy with “Malcolm Reynolds” at your helm. What also feeds into this is new crew members cannot be renamed either, yes these are little things but they can impact on the more personalized elements of gaming in FTL.
The lack of modding, which the developers did address on the site is again a shortcoming that I feel would’ve added a nice extra dimension to the game. They did however state it may be implemented post release so I am still hopeful.
FTL does have built in achievements, however in this day and age it would be nice to have integrated Steam achievements to flaunt over your friends. I have never been overly obsessed with achievements, this said I found that the The Binding of Isaac’s achievements did add quite a lot of replayability and feel this is slightly lost on FTL at current. On the notion of Steam integration the save data is also not stored on the Steam cloud, a small point but it can be a little annoying when switching between laptop and desktop.
Finally I would like to bring up the lack of multiplayer, yes it is true that FTL holds up on its own easily as a single player game. This said extra functionality is always a good thing and the overall style of FTL could lend itself to a very fun multiplayer side. Either with a cat and mouse styled game with one player controlling the Rebels pursuing the Federation or just a straight up 1v1 it would be great to see.
Yes I get it FTL was pretty much made by a two man team and really these shortfalls are for the most part expected and largely do not detract from the game overall. I am just stating extra functionality which i do hope the dev’s put into DLC preferably free, though paying a nominal fee for these ideas to be implemented would not stop me from getting it. Over time I think that the game can be added on and developed to keep it feeling fresh without detracting from what already makes FTL one of the best indie games around.
I have played around 10 hours so far of FTL and I have really loved every minute so far, it really puts you through your paces as far as gameplay is concerned. I have still got to beat sector eight as last time I came close but fell at the last hurdle, though this is what makes you come back for more. Though I do see myself coming back to FTL continually for many months to come still trying to unlock new ships (the tasks for these seem like they will take a good length of time) and beat the game in general making this the best $9.99 you will spend this year.
FTL is not an easy game, so if you are looking for a relaxing title this is probably not the one for you. It is difficult but feels very rewarding and a must for anyone a fan of the new movement in roguelikes.
FTL is available for $9 (sale price) from the official site, where you will obtain a Steam key along with a DRM free version. Though if you just want the Steam version you can get it directly via Steam. Along with Good Old Games giving you access to a DRM free version as well found here.