Sunday, April 13, 2014

6 days of...FTL!

The best Star-Trek simulator that I've played

There's something about FTL and it's simple interface that makes it honest and pure. There isn't any of the fancy evasion maneuvers that wouldn't likely be possible in space during combat, and it's more of a naval-style space sim where you and the opponent slowly fire large ominous weapons at each other until one of your ships takes too much damage to bear the vacuum of space. It's also mind bogglingly difficult.
Recently the developers even released a DLC that is completely free to anyone who owns the game already. It ads tons of new content and re-works some of the old systems in the game to adapt to the new content. Passing out this new content for free is such a great concept to give back to a community that supports indie studios that it touched me and convinced me to write about all the great things this game does.

You've taken their data, now it's time to RUN!

FTL by developer Subset Games is a space ship simulator that puts you in the rank of captain of a ship and crew to pilot through a series of galactic sectors to escape a pursuing rebel fleet keen on capturing valuable data that you've stolen. You must survive every jump between stars and sectors to get to your allied base. Unfortunately space is unforgiving and you don't have the luxury of a well-fitted spacecraft. You must make due with a basic suite until you can upgrade your craft at small shops along the way.

This may sound like a dungeon crawler in a different setting, because it is. It's a rogue-like game that has a lot of the same elements disguised as different features in-game. Instead of abilities or spells you get weapons for your ship. Instead of levels you can upgrade the stats on your ship at any time at the cost of scrap from ships you destroy. Instead of armor you hire or find new members of your crew to increase your capabilities; depending on their training and the station console that they're at. You're going to need all of these things to survive and even then you most likely won't make it to your destination. 

To be honest, I've never reached the end of a rogue-like game. EVER. It's somewhat depressing to know that I've failed my favorite genre; but the same reason I enjoy the genre so much. The games make me think about how I could have done better and to avoid the mistakes I've just made in my next playthrough. FTL is precisely the same way. It is harsh and cruel, but fun comes consistently when the game shows you that you're capable of surpassing your previous record. It has a local and internet board where scores are posted, and you can see how you stack up to yourself and others so you can show marked improvement.
This is what you'll be dealing with a majority of the time.
It's well set up though, and displays information perfectly.
The difficulty of the game is frustrating sometimes, but every ship and event holds a strict set of causality based rules and is entirely fair even with some of the random number generation. You know what you're facing most of the time when you jump, and can prepare for it in one way or another. The game gives you the opportunity to upgrade at the correct times to meet new progression, and throws that progression at you at a fair pace to keep you interested. There isn't a long boring start-up process (like the rogue-like Don't Starve) to slow the game down in the beginning. This in turn encourages new runs and a better play cycle even though it is repetitive. 

Even though it's as repetitive as any other dungeon-crawler there are enough differences in the situations you can get into, the races of aliens you'll meet, and missions you'll have, to keep game play different and interesting each time. These circumstances play out in the form of text boxes to inform you of what's going on, but that classic text adventure plays into the computer data that you would be pouring over in a ship anyway; so I feel like it's not only adequate, but appropriate as well.

Visually, it follows the dogma of simpler is better. It's not necessarily lacking in the visual department, it's just simple. There are visual cues for everything and they are easily identifiable. It performs as well as any other good rogue-like in that way, though you're not going to be getting anything special. I like this though, since all you need is the vital information. It doesn't allow for anything superficial in the graphics so there aren't any glaringly grotesque mistakes either.

The sounds in-game are a bit simple, and the music isn't anything to die for. The sound effects give audio cues of everything that is happening in clear samples, that are not confusing in the slightest. This adds to the awareness you have of your ship to aid in survival of the journey through space, and definitely helps. However the simple synth tracks that act as background music could have been a bit more varied or interesting. It seems that there are just random computer-generated tones with a consistent baseline always playing in the background. There isn't a real variance in what you're listening to while blowing through pirates. It doesn't detract from the experience but I feel like it's a missed opportunity to have something great stand out. 

When I said that it's the best Star Trek simulator I've played, it's because it follows the same concept as many of the battles that I've seen the Picards and Kirks engaged in growing up. Slow lumbering flotillas charging and discharging weapons at each other. Engaged in a naval-style combat until one metal giant succumbs to another. If anything in science fiction, this is what space combat will be like in the future. Think massive battle fleets from the old naval battles of World War II meeting in space instead of on the high seas. That's what FTL is all about. Putting the force of your crew and ship against the force of the enemy and coming out on top. Or not, in some cases. 

Also, there are SO many mods for this game that you can probably find your favorite space faring vessel for download somewhere. Seriously, SO MANY MODS.
Look, mods like this. SO MANY.
You'll like this game if: You like rogue-likes, space combat, naval battles, or any combination thereof. Also if you want to see more slug, mantis, or rock inspired alien races duking it out in a ship that is on fire while evacuating atmosphere. OPEN ALL THE DOORS!

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