Tuesday, 4 June 2013

21st Century Gaming: FTL: Faster Than Light

I have not played many "Roguelike" games. The only one I have spent any reasonable amount of time on (and what is a reasonable amount of time to spend on a roguelike?) is Nethack. I guess this is because Roguelikes can seem so unforgiving, so random, so unfair. They tend to throw you in at the deep end, with the very act of learning their processes and methods being the meat of the gameplay. In Nethack, it is highly encouraged for you to explore the game without referring to a guide of any kind. There is a fabulous wiki, but it should be reserved for the absolute last resort. Otherwise you lose some of the joy that is to be found by experimentation. Even after all of that preamble, and the tag on this post, I'm not even sure FTL is a proper Roguelike. But it bears a hell of a lot of similarity.

The Kestrel, the starting ship design
FTL, or Faster Than Light, puts you in charge of a Federation ship running from an ever-advancing Rebel fleet. Your aim is to get back to the Federation home base, deliver vital information about the Rebels and save the galaxy (or something). You start with one ship, the Kestrel, with a fixed loadout and crew (Through playing the game you can unlock the other ships and alternate designs). From there on, you're on your own.

The Rebel fleet advances, slowly catching up to you
Your job is to travel from star system to star system, building up your ships systems and defences in preparation for the final battle. At all times, the Rebel fleet is moving towards you, so you become quickly limited as to how many star systems you can visit in each sector. All of the sectors (and indeed the pathways you follow from your first to last sector) are procedurally generated, so you have a different experience each time.

Opening the airlock to starve the fire of oxygen
This "randomisation", can lead to a feeling of unfairness quite often, especially after you meet your third or fourth hostile ship in a row without finding vital space station stores for supplies. What this sometimes punishing difficulty does is teach you (through repeated playthroughs) how to best upgrade and maintain your ship. Only with time and experience in battle will you find out how best to use your weapons and defence systems against the different enemy types and build towards the final battle against the Rebel fleet.

Standard Rebel ship, fighting in a nebula
Once you have begun to master the battles and learned how many jumps you can make per sector without the Rebel fleet catching up to you, the game becomes amazingly engaging. Each victory in battle is a small step towards the full victory of conquering the game completely. My frustrations have always been tempered by that desire to go one step further, the feeling that next time I will be victorious.

Defeating a Rebel automated scout ship
It's also impossible to see and do everything with a single playthrough. For each attempt, you get a slightly different experience, and perhaps stumble on some of the game's little secrets. You also get to experience different sectors of space, which can include the various different species found in the game. Some of these special encounters can unlock new ships for further playthroughs or just might be ways to obtain free weapons and crew members.

The stores are often a life-saver!

Finally, I couldn't talk about FTL without mentioning modding. The game has a solid modding community, producing everything from alternative ship designs to total conversions and the tools required to do some modding yourself. A good modding community can easily shift a game from being good to being great, giving you the ability to change the game in small or significant ways to truly enhance the longevity of the game. One of the more popular mods is for increased difficulty - something I doubt I will ever be using!

Game over man, game over!
As I write this, I have yet to complete the game. I have made it to the last sector several times, but that final boss is a real killer. Wish me luck folks, and I leave you with a quote from Captain Jean-Luc Picard: "It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; that is life.".

No comments:

Post a Comment