The lights are on
It's every nerd's dream - to command your very own spaceship through the vastness of space. Who doesn't want to step into the shoes of galactic space faring heroes such as Captain Kirk or Han Solo, making split second decisions, fighting in epic space battles against pirates and discovering new worlds. It's part of the romance of science fiction and one indie game, Faster Than Light, captures the feeling - and intensity - of commanding a lone space craft through uncharted space perfectly.
Describing FTL as a Star Trek simulator wouldn't be far from the truth. The story is simple. Your ship has been assigned by the Federation to deliver critical data to the Federation fleet on the very edge of space. The only catch is that the entire Rebel Fleet, enemy of the federation, is hot on your heels. Just about every randomly generated encounter could be (or probably is) an episode of Star Trek.
From a top down perspective players must manage their crew and ships systems, making simple choices and battling hostile forces as the ship jumps from one star system to the next. Upon entering a sector players choose which star clusters to explore. Players will discover new life forms on foreign worlds, encounter shady merchant ships that can be bartered with for supplies, and stumble upon academic research stations. And what to do with each is up to the player. However, the trip is far from a relaxing vacation through space. Often times players will have to flex their ships muscle and engage in some good ol' fashion space battles in order to help others or simply defend one's self. Space pirates, hostile alien vessels, and the rebels all have a bone to pick with your humble spacecraft.
Exploring the universe is great fun and crazy addictive. I was always anxious to see what awaited me and my brave crew around the corner and would explore every nook and cranny of the star map if I could. Thankfully, the game forces players to progress. The rebel fleet slowly but surely gains ground after every jump, forcing players to keep moving forward and picking destinations carefully as to not be caught and destroyed by the much more powerful Rebel cruisers.
Everything is done from a top down perspective. From above players can see every room in their ship, see how much power is being used by the ship's systems, such as shields, as well as manage crew members. Some ship systems require crew members to be present in order for them to function, while others simply receive bonuses. In battle crew members can be commanded to put out fires, repair critical systems, battle enemy boarders or even teleport aboard enemy spacecraft to wreak havoc themselves. Combat consists of players targeting the enemy ship's critical systems and choosing the right weapon for the job. Missiles can cut right through shields, and are particularly effective early on. Soon enemy ships begin using automated drones that will shoot down your missiles before arrival, forcing you to adapt your strategy. The pace is frantic as you target the enemy vessel's shield generators while at the same time rally your crew to make repairs or put out fires while under enemy fire.
Defeating enemy ships or completing mission's grants players scrap, which is used as currency. With scrap players can modify their ship with a variety of upgrades, from stronger shields to weapon drones or even cloaking devices.
The fun of the game comes from carefully managing your resources. Should I upgrade my shields? Can I buy this new laser weapon? Do I have enough fuel to explore this distress signal? Every time the ship jumps from one system to the next it consumes fuel. Without fuel, your ship is stranded and unable to move. Players can activate a distress beacon and potentially be rescued, but more often than not a hostile vessel will find you and attack first. Along with purchasing upgrades, scrap can be used for ship essentials - mostly missiles, crew members, repairs and fuel. It's this delicate balance, and the intense combat, that makes FTL so much fun.
Perhaps what is most impressive about FTL is its simplicity. I would imagine single handedly running the U.S.S. Enterprise would be tough and confusing work, but you wouldn't know it from playing FTL. A simple to the point tutorial runs players through the basics, but the user interface and controls are so simple and refined that it might not even be needed. Rerouting your ships power from the medical bay to your shields is easily done in two clicks. Crew members perform many actions, such as repairs, automatically as long as you put them in the right place. The games simplicity lets you focus on the important and fun aspects of the game while eliminating potentially annoying micromanaging systems. This is incredible, because you are going to need all of your brain power, skill and a whole lot of luck to make it to the end and save the galaxy. FTL features an unrelenting difficulty, even on easy, but it's part of the fun. Restarting your galaxy spanning adventure after numerous defeats gives you more insight into the right strategies and the risks that are, and are not, worth taking on along the journey. The great looking sprite work used in the game is simple but effective and the stellar soundtrack gives a lost in space feel that sets the perfect tone for your adventures through the universe.
It's been tried in game form before, but this little indie game captures the mood, the intensity, and the mystery of piloting a spaceship through uncharted space better than any game before it. Running at only $10 on Steam, or even cheaper if you catch it on sale, FTL is a sci-fi love letter that is too great to pass up.
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