The lights are on
Commanding your own starship is one of the few fantasies that all science fiction fans share. While it is fun to watch Kirk or Picard command their respective Enterprises though thick and thin, the entire time you’re watching you want that thrill to be yours. That’s where video games have the advantage over other mediums, video games have in one way or another given you the chance to command a ship though the stars. The thrills of fighting off pirates while a star let’s of solar flares that light your ship ablaze or trying to destroy a unmanned scout before it can report your position to your pursuers are just a few of the scenarios that you encounter in FTL. If you are looking for a game to fulfill your commanding desires like I have, FTL is the right game.
The simple premise of FTL is that you control a federation ship on the run with valuable information that will stop your enemies, the rebels. You begin the game with a standard well rounded ship. I continued to use it even after I had unlocked other ships because of how well balanced I found it for the various upgrades you can install on your ship. During a play though you’ll have the chance to upgrade your ship’s weapons, shields and equip different systems such as a teleporter or drone control unit. This is why I found the standard ship the most helpful, as I found it was the easiest to incorporate different systems and weapons into and find the upgrades and systems that I loved the most. You can upgrade and buy systems with scrap you earn from defeating enemy ships, doing little side missions or just random chance.
That said, the game has plenty of ships for you to try out as you make your way though the game. After you unlock a new ship you can also unlock alternate layouts for these ships by completing different objectives during a play through with them. Along with weapons and upgrades, there are different species you can use to crew your ship. Each species has different abilities to utilize: Zoltans provide extra power to help you use more systems, while Mantises, which excel at physical combat, make defending your ship from an enemy boarding attempt easier to defend against or making your attempt to board easier to complete.
The game randomly generates your encounters and the solar systems you progress though. These encounters range from simply encountering a pirate out to attack you at first sight to distressed ships you can decide to aide or ignore. Along with standard encounters sometimes you’ll find your fights more harrowing as asteroids constantly barrage the shields of your ship or you find yourself battling it out while a star pulses an EMP knocking out your weapons (something they added with the new update). Combat isn’t the only thing these random encounters throw out at you, you might be asked if you want to navigate an asteroid field to loot an abandoned ship, whether you succeed or not is decided at random.
This is the game’s biggest problem; the game’s randomness is equal parts good and bad. With the levels and encounters being random you never can expect the same play though twice. After awhile your start to recognize situations and outcomes but they are also inconsistent enough that they don’t get too stale. The real problem with this starts to crop up when your start a play though only to have your first three encounters be mandatory fights that drain your health and don’t reward you with anything other than some scrap, or nothing if have to run away. Of course you could always break even on your next round where you do nothing but stumble upon easy to get upgrades and better weapons. The game’s difficulty can be stifling too. Most of your play though will end before you venture to far in the galaxy and I attribute that to the randomness. You can master the combat all you want but when losing a crew member that’s earned at his max level is decided at random it can set your endgame run back to un beatable territory.
Visually the game has a simple 2D art style. Characters are small sprites that operate their small sprites ships. I did not find any of their designs too compelling, though I did wonder how anyone was supposed to properly operate some of these vessels with the unusual layouts of their systems. But what do I know about starship design anyway? The music it is what you expect from a game about starships. Electronic tones accompany the emptiness of space or excite a battle. The music is fun and always fits the mood of your encounters in the game.
FTL captures that love of commanding a space like few games have. Whether it’s battling a pirate you stumbled upon or looking for that next weapon upgrade to help you get though the endgame there’s plenty to do. The game can be a struggle sometimes, it’s difficult even on normal and a bad draw of random encounters can end your game before it begins. Very few games give you the chance to explore a galaxy and that simple premise, along with the game’s good execution, makes FTL a game you’ll want to play.
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