Saturday, 13 September 2014

FTL (Faster Than Light)

Things are not going well for this ship

I love stories in all their formats, not just books. Give me a good film and I'll be lost for two hours. Give me a good computer game and I can be lost for far longer. For that reason I sometimes avoid games that I know I'll love, particularly perma-death roguelikes. I recently gave in and tried FTL (Faster Than Light). It is a big mistake for productivity! It is one of those "Just one more game!" specials, because when you die you always feel you can do better, that it won't take long to play one more game, and suddenly you are lost again, being the captain of a small space ship on a tense race against time.

The game captures the atmosphere of a cross between a cut-down Star Trek and Firefly. Be a goodie. Be a baddie. No game takes too long to play, each one tells its own story. You can rename your ship and crew to make things more personal (use the names from your favourite sci-fi show or film, or those of your friends, neighbours and loved ones; it's a lovely personal touch which makes each crew member more memorable). Forget the USS Enterprise - my most successful mission so far was in the supership known around the universe as The Kitchen Sink. (I was low on inspiration that day).



There are lots of lovely details, such as new crew appearing next to the captain/pilot, waiting to be assigned to a post. You can save everyone's positions, then can send them back to their posts just by pressing enter. There's enough randomness to make each game unique. And as you unlock different ships you find you adopt different strategies.

All the things you'd want to be present are:

  • You can board enemy ships. And the flipside is that some enemies can board your ship, leading to close-quarters fighting before they destroy systems; or you could try and lock them into a section and vent the air, get rid of them that way.
  • Target the systems on the enemy. Knock out their shields with a missile or ion blast so that your laser blasts can then disable their weapon systems, and move on to life-support systems, forcing a surrender (it is up to you if you accept their surrender or not).
  • Cloaking systems.
  • Deal with fires and exploding machinery, hull breaches and so on.
  • Redistribute limited power to where you need it at the time. Feel free to shout "The engines canna take it, Captain!" Can you risk dropping power from the oxygen pumps in order to give more to the shields? (Warning - it is easy to forget that you did this in the heat of a battle, vent air from a section of the ship in order to put out some fires, then realise your crew are suffocating because you forgot to pump oxygen back in...)
  • Upgrade your ship in many different ways to match your tactics and play-style.
I have been playing it for a while and have not unlocked a fraction of the ship designs, and not even turned on the expansion pack with new missions, ships, races - this really is like a toybox, with so much in it for big nerdy kids. I recommend buying it from GOG, because it is DRM-free and is currently only £1.89! A ridiculously low price for so much fun, it would be a bargain at £10. Or consider buying it for that geek in your life who loves spaceships in sci-fi. Games with emergent stories really are the best.
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