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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Faster Than Light

I was cued on to this game by a friend of mine some time ago on Steam.  It's a fun space-themed strategy game in which you control one spaceship and its crew.  Rather than fly it around like in a sim, you micro-manage the crew and systems in the hopes that you can overcome your obstacles and survive.

FTL has a bit of a reputation as being a brutal game in which you don't "win."  That was partly what encouraged me to try it out.  I love me some Dwarf Fortress every now and then, and trust me: you don't win Dwarf Fortress.  So the idea of a space version of that game seemed kinda awesome.

While not exactly the same, the game still was really fun.  Yes, it is possible to "win" though it took many attempts to get there.  Gradually unlocking different ships to try did a lot to help the replay value, so it didn't feel too much like a slog to make another attempt.

So what's it about?  The motivation goes that you are carrying valuable information and need to deliver it to Federation command.  It's a long journey, and you're constantly tailed by the Rebel fleet, who are looking to intercept.  You don't have a lot of time to explore, as the fleet WILL sweep across each map in time, forcing you to jump to the next sector or die.

A lot of this game is text-based, and quite a few encounters can be avoided without resorting to violence, but eventually the violence will come.

"This is the Captain speaking.  Sensors are showing a hole in the ship near the engine room.  If someone could just take care of it, that'd be great."
This is what a battle looks like.  Your systems and available energy are along the bottom, your crew along the left.  Your opponent is on the right.  You can upgrade systems, trade out weapons, install new systems and hire/acquire crew as you progress.  The screenshot above shows quite a mess going on: several enemies have boarded, and there's a hole in the hull leaking out the oxygen (depicted by a room turning pink).

To play the game, you allocate energy (green bars) to systems you need.  Crew also gain levels in operating certain systems.

"Thanks a lot, Captain.  The whole ship is on fire.  Eat all the dicks."
Your environment can also play a role, offering new hazards sometimes in addition to an enemy.  Too close to a sun, for instance, tends to put you at risk of solar flares setting fire to sections of your ship.

If you're looking for an example of how unforgiving the game can be, check out this episode of Steam Train:

Things to do differently than the game-grumps:
1.  Read the damn text.  This isn't rocket science.
2.  Use your crew.  They continually just had them stand around.  Send crew to man your systems (weapons, engines, shields)
3.  In the upgrade window, upgrade your reactor.  Increasing your system capacity (like the medbay) is cool, but you generally want to upgrade your reactor so you have another bar of energy to power your newly upgraded system.

Once you've picked up the hang of it, the game becomes less survival, and more build-strategy for the Last Stand.  The last sector of the map is the Last Stand, in which you fly around the map trying to destroy the Rebel's capital ship.  You must defeat it three times to win, and each permutation has different abilities.  I've only been able to kill it twice, and never without having purchased and fully upgraded a Stealth System.  Also, I haven't yet destroyed it with an Engi ship.  The default ship has 4 weapon slots, and the Engi ship's maximum of 3 usually ends me up not being able to get through their shields.
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