With the big name successes on Kickstarter of companies like Doublefine and Uber Entertainment, it can be easy to forget the smaller projects that have had success. Today’s game: Faster Than Light or FTL is one of those titles: Making over 2000% of what they needed to fund the game. With the game finally out we can see if that money was worth it.
FTL is billed as a spaceship simulator roguelike. Your mission is to cross 8 sectors of space to reach the federation armada with plans on how to defeat the rebels. The rebels are by the way, chasing you with their entire fleet to destroy you before you can accomplish your goal.
At the start of the game you choose your ship which determines room placements, weapon systems and what crew is aboard. From there the game generates a galaxy on new game start, making no two trips the same.
Your ship is made up of various rooms with major systems (engines, shields, cockpit, etc) set up. In order for a system to run you need to allocate power to it, with upgraded systems needing more power to run efficiently.
Some systems like the cockpit require a crew member to man them for them to work, while others receive bonuses if they are manned. Crew members also level up based on what section they are manning, allowing them to apply further bonuses to their respective sections.
At anytime you can redistribute power to any of your major systems which becomes important if you need to change your strategy. Systems like weapons have their power usage determined by what is equipped and you won’t be able to power everything without upgrading (more on that in a minute.)
Combat plays out in real time in one on one ship battles. Ships that have shields can absorb laser fire to a point, while missiles will go straight through to hit the ship. During combat you can target any part of the enemy ship and can cause fire, hull breech or system damage in the process.
Meanwhile the enemy is trying to do the same to you. Some of FTL’s most challenging moments occur when you have to decide who to take off their posts to make emergency repairs while fires are breaking out; your O2 is almost gone, and just for the heck of it, invaders attacking.
Traveling is done by selecting nodes on a map. When you enter a new area you can either be attacked, nothing, or find an event. Each sector has one exit point and the longer you stay in a sector, the rebel army will move in. The rebel ships are always a higher class then the rest of the sector, making escaping the best option if you get caught by one.
Defeating enemies or surviving certain events will earn you scrap, which is the game’s currency. Scrap can be used to upgrade the systems on your ship, including your reactor which gives you more energy reserves. The other use is at trade stations in each sector where you can buy new weapons, crew members or systems to augment your ship.
One interesting dynamic in FTL is the Meta progression for unlocking new ships or ship layouts. The game has multiple in game achievements with some of them used to unlock new content that can be access for future games. There are also in game quests that unlock other specie’s ships to use. The Meta progression definitely adds more to the experience and seeing how this is a roguelike, it’s good to have new content unlocked over time.
FTL’s combat system is definitely something else. For anyone who watched Star Trek and wanted to say the phrase “divert power to shields and brace for impact” FTL is the game for you. Your combat situation can change at a moment’s notice based on who you are fighting and where.
One minute you’re having an easy fight taking apart an enemy ship. The next, the enemy caused a hull-breach and took out your Oxygen supply and there is a fire in your engine room, forcing you to scramble your crew while trying to finish off the enemy ship.
Not everything is great in the cold vacuum of space. FTL is a hard game; even playing on the easy setting will not guarantee your safety. One wrong event, unlucky attack or dead crew member can mean the end of you. While the game is easy to pickup, FTL lacks the accessibility seen in The Binding of Isaac, in which someone who is good at the game can get around being unlucky.
The various ship upgrades all lend themselves into turning your ship into an overpowered monster, but with each new subsystem or weapon means more power needed. Requiring you to balance out buying new equipment and using scrap to upgrade what you currently have.
All the upgrades and crew members you accumulated comes to a head with the final boss fight. Who is guaranteed to kill you on your first try thanks to requiring certain combinations of equipment to even stand a chance against it.
If you can’t find suitable upgrades for doing damage (and mitigating it) either through traders or events, there is no hope for you to beat the game, or come close to finishing due to how the mechanics are set. As you get further into the game, enemy shields become stronger and running out of missiles without having an anti shield backup can leave you in an un-winnable state.
And even pumping your scrap into your ship’s systems will not be able to overcome a lack of weapons. In this regard, FTL is more in line with Dungeons of Dredmor: where that one really good item can turn everything around, giving it that “one more game” feel.
Overall, I like FTL, but not coming from a background of hardcore rogue-likes does temper my enthusiasm. I’m not a huge fan of having so many factors of player success left up to the random number generator. Having an entire run fail because of one hit, or a battle taking place in a dangerous environment becomes annoying after awhile.
The Meta progression system while it helps to keep you motivated, doesn’t come anywhere near the same level as The Binding of Isaac. In Isaac, the rate that new items are added to the randomization is high enough that the game continues to feel fresh.
But in FTL, since only a few of the player’s actions will have an effect, it can be a crap-shoot of whether or not you get new content. Or if you’ll spend several dozen games using the same ship and hoping for the best. With so many achievements built into the game, personally I would have preferred unlocking new content be based on the # of achievements instead of on a select few.
In the end for $10, FTL definitely offers a lot of bang for your buck. The ship battles are tense and the whole game (win or lose) can be played in about an hour, but I would avoid FTL if uncontrollable constant failure frustrates you. More importantly I hope the success of FTL gives the designers a reason to work on a sequel, as the thought of seeing this type of game in an open world setting has me drooling.