Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Game Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

Faster Than Light isn't your average strategy game, it's much simpler than that. You only have a handful of units to command and less than half as many systems. The cool electronic music drumming away in the background adds to the experience; you're having fun. But, sooner or later, you realize what's about to happen; you're going to die... again.

The ship's on fire, you've got the airlock doors open in an effort to starve the fire of oxygen but now your crew can't breathe either. Weapon systems are offline, your pilot is dead - escape isn't an option any more. The last hope you have is for second engineer Jacobs to keep the shields up long enough for your automatic attack drone to finish what you misguidedly started. It's too late, you see one of their weapon systems come back on-line; a moment later a Hermes missile launches – your shields are useless. You swear, and then it's over. The ship breaks apart and second engineer Jacobs’ scream is immediately silenced by the vacuum of space.
"And BOOM! goes the dynamite"
Did I mention that when your ship is destroyed you have to start over? There’s no saving; this game is hardcore, and it ends in permadeath. Why would someone want to play such a game? Why wouldn't they?! I grew up playing Magicland Dizzy (1990) and The Hobbit (1982) on a ZX Spectrum +2, before moving on to the more forgiving Sonic theHedgehog (1991) on a Sega Master System II - you still had to start over if you lost all your lives, but lives could be replenished and were only lost if you were thoughtless enough to be caught without rings, and even then you could pick them right back up again after you got hit.
Risk made the games more exciting, the player was severely punished for their mistakes, and the achievement was so much greater when you finally reached the end. And so it goes with FTL: Faster Than Light.

So, what do I actually think of the game? I like it. It’s addictive. The gameplay mechanics are easy to learn: start a new game, pick a ship (there’s only one in the beginning but you unlock more somehow, not dying I assume. I’ll give that a shot and let you know how it goes); it’s a roguelike experience with real-time space combat jammed into the mix, you need to direct power and crew members to systems to keep everything working. The story is simple: your ship contains valuable information and you’re being chased across the galaxy by a rebel fleet, keep them behind you and don’t hang about. FTL features some beautiful electronic music, if you’re the sort who appreciates that kind of thing*The graphics are adequate and there’s some good variation in the artwork for ships and backdrops, but there are no fancy cutscenes, just simple dialogue boxes:

FTL: Faster Than Light is a hard game, it’s a frustrating game, it’s a lovely game. The pair of ex-2K-Games developers exceeded their humble $10,000 Kickstarter goal (did I mention this was a Kickstarter project?) by $190,000. Needless to say, I expect great things from their next endeavour too.

"The ship, the ship, the ship is on fire!"


  1. Nifty. I may try this one out.

    Did you ever play a game called "Starflight" back in the late 80's? I get the sense that you would have loved it.

    Unfortunately, if you were to try it today, the graphics and interface are so tremendously clunky by modern standards that it would probably be too frustrating. I proved that to myself when I found it on GOG.com for $3. The heartwarming nostalgia was worth the $3, even if I only played it for 20 minutes.

    1. The real question is, will you like the music in the game?

    2. You know what, I was thinking about that and I remember really digging the old demoscene music from the early to mid 1990's. That was entirely composed on computers using software like Screamtracker (which was built by Future Crew, the same group of Finnish nerds who built the Unreal engine). I dug it because it had things like melody and phrases and wasn't super-repetitive. Some electronica game music still has that feel, and I'm cool with that.

      If not, I can just mute the music.

  2. I hadn't heard of Starflight before, but reading the wikipedia article...

    "one of the earliest games to use procedurally generated content", "roguelike environment", "one of the earliest examples of a sandbox game design".

    Pretty heavy stuff. So then I went on to investigate who was responsible for this genre defining masterpiece: Greg Johnson. I didn't recognize the name, but it turns out he created ToeJam & Earl.

    What a guy.