Friday, January 11, 2013

The Friday Review: FTL (PC)

-review by CJ

After hearing much hype and praise about this little indie title, I finally gave it a try. I immediately fell in love with it. Soon afterwards my heart was broken, and I went into a bit of a decline, despising the game and angrily griping about the unapologetic difficulty and archaic design choices. Four hours later I found myself still playing, and continuing on that roller coaster that is a love-hate relationship.

I find myself in an awkward position with FTL. It's abusive and unstable, yet satisfies my gaming needs on so many levels that I find myself making excuses for it, and loving it despite the fact that it clearly doesn't love me. Because of FTL's unique play style, I'm having difficulty defining pros and cons, so instead I'm going to just list features. You decide if they are good or bad. I certainly can't decide.


-Real time space battles. With the ability to pause. The spacebar (pause) will become your best friend in this game. At first battles are completely manageable in real time, but that will likely change as you progress. Assuming you are able to.

-Feel like a real star-ship captain. You order your crew around, assign them jobs, and watch as they level up and get better at their jobs. Then get killed by boarding enemies, and lament their permanent loss. Manage power levels to increase your shields, charge your weapons, boost engines, power up teleporters, stabilize oxygen levels, upgrade cloaking, or... watch as the local ion storm depletes your power reserves and forces you to make impossible choices. Weapons or shields? Engines or oxygen?

-So many ways to win (or lose) a fight! Seriously, I have put dozens of hours into this game and there are still strategies I haven't tried (but I'm anxious to do so); however, here are just a few that I have successfully pulled off: Wear away at their shields and hull with laser guns until you win (boring, but effective); Bombard their ship with ion cannons, deactivating their shields, engines, and oxygen supply, then watch them slowly die from asphyxiation (slow, but very effective); Max to shields and engines (which gives extra dodge percent), and everybody but the pilot board the enemy vessel and attack their crew (exciting, but difficult to pull off). Shoot their shields down, then use fire-beams to set half their ship on fire, then repeat with the other half (cruel, hilarious, and very effective).

-Randomized...everything. What enemies will you run into? What items will be for sale at shops? What results will you get from aiding a civilian ship being overrun by giant spiders? What crew members will be available for hire? Will you fly through friendly territory, enemy territory, vast nebulae, or long forgotten sectors of the galaxy? What weapons will you find? Will you ever get a cloaking device? I don't know, and neither will you until it happens.

-Save and quit. Or just quit. Or restart. No save slots, checkpoints, or retrying the last battle. If you die, that's it, game over. Try again. Not only does your crew suffer permadeath, so does your spaceship, and you can only load the last game you quit from the main menu, which save is then deleted as soon as you load it. This is what gives the game it's excruciating difficulty, and is in my opinion an archaic design choice. The one time I was close to the end and my game crashed (effectively killing me and forcing a restart) I got very sulky and angry and wouldn't play again for a whole day. But I still went back... I always go back.

-Unlockable ships. As you play through the game you may run into special encounters which, if properly handled (assuming you have gotten the correct randomized equipment/crew members to be properly equipped ARG), you can unlock additional ships. These ships all offer different starting equipment, weapons, and crew members, which means a completely different experience. This adds massive replay potential to the game.

-Unimpressive story-line, but great experiences. Don't expect anything out of the overarching story-line, just enjoy each encounter and the real story that unfolds as your crew journeys through the stars, battling constantly for survival, and making tough choices along the way.

-Simple graphics. 'Nuff said.

-Music is odd. It is at times almost silly, but rather catchy. I often find FTL's tunes still stuck in my head hours after playing, but I would prefer something with more sense of suspense and action.

-Mods. There are quite a few fan-made mods out there that can make the experience much less frustrating, and I'm not ashamed to say that I have at times taken advantage of these. I do still enjoy the original game, however, and respect it as one of the few truly challenging modern games.

-And more. Like any decent game you have to play it to get the full experience.

SUMMARY: I would have a hard time recommending FTL to anyone, knowing what terrible fates await them, except that at the same time I feel like it is a unique experience that every gamer should have, and few games will give you as much sense of accomplishment with success. The most important thing to note is that, win or lose, FTL is fun.