Tuesday, July 01, 2014

FTL Mini-Review: 8 Things I Like About FTL

I don’t play a lot of computer games; The Combat Mission series of squad-level tactical simulators are practically the only computer games I have regularly played in the past decade. I do try and keep up on games, mostly so I can keep my fuddy-duddy index low. As part of that I often buy the Humble Bundles, the DRM free nature of the games means that I can install to both of the boys PCs as well as my own. A while back I bought a bundle that had a game called “FTL” included. I really don’t recall the chain of events that led me to trying it out, I frequently never install or play any of the Humble Bundle games (a few exceptions: Ticket To Ride, Dear Esther) but somehow I ended up installing FTL and giving it a try. In hindsight that was probably a mistake.

It turns out that for my particular brain chemistry a game such as FTL neatly engages me in the same sort of addictive behaviour as crack cocaine use or breathing. I have never written a game review before, and I don’t think I’ll try and cover all the bases of this game. A simple Google search will net far better reviews, videos and such, but let me list a few things I enjoy about the game:

1) It’s real time, but “pausable” real time, so that you can at any point stop all the action and think about what you’ll do next, and issue orders to that effect. It shares this property with the Combat Mission games, and I think I enjoy both for this reason. I don’t have the reflexes of my younger "Tom Sawyer" era self.

2) It is a “rogue-like-like” game, which is a stupid way of saying that it’s like games that are sort of like the game Rogue, in the respect that when you die, you die and have to start the game all over again. You can save a game, but only one save game exists. Achievements and ship unlocks carry over of course.
What this means is that you can spend an hour playing and be undone in a few seconds. It’s frustrating and amazing as it focuses your mind on playing well, knowing that there are no take-backs. You can of course cheat around this, but why? I did copy over my profile with all the ships unlocked to the computer I have at my treadmill desk, so I can play it there.

3) The game, at least each play through, is pretty short. You can play a complete run in an hour or three, depending on your style. The nature of being pursued by the enemy fleet keeps you always moving forwards to the final battle.

4) It reminds me of the RPG Traveller; I loved Traveller. It’s a feeling more than anything, the moral vacuum perhaps. It also has a lot in common with Starfleet Battles. The game could be a board game, and really should be.

5) When the game is over, it’s over. You start again from square one with another ship and another crew. Sort of like life, if you get reincarnated as a spaceship. Did I mention that you’re really playing as the ship, not as the crew?

6) The game is extremely simple. Just click and learn a couple of hotkeys if you must.

7) The game is really hard. It has three hardness levels: Easy, Normal and Hard. Normal is extremely difficult. Hard is almost impossible. But I’m starting to win more often on Hard. Of the 763 games I’ve played to date, I’ve won 106. Of course many of those 763 were aborted within the first few turns when trying to play with some of the more “challenging” ships.

8) The game is inexpensive, was updated to the “Advanced Edition” for free, and has no purchasable content.

So those are 8 things I like about the game, here are some screenshots of a run I just did that ended somewhat prematurely:

ftlae21 Navigating in Sector 1. There are 7 sectors like this and sector 8 which has the boss battle.

ftlae22 An event.

ftlae23 A nice outcome.

ftlae24 A ship encounter.

ftlae25 My mantises board the enemy and start murdering the crew.

ftlae27  Almost done

ftlae28 You get slightly more stuff when you murder the crew. The mantis ship I’m playing uses that as a strategy.

ftlae29 Whoops, looks like a fire started on board. This ship has no internal sensors so I didn’t notice.

ftlae30So I opened up some of the airlocks and vented the ship.

ftlae32 At a store. Notice that the fleet keeps coming closer. It’s a good idea to get to the sector exit beacon before the fleet catches up with you.

ftlae31Some useless stuff for sale.

ftlae34  This isn’t good.

ftlae35 And I explode in Sector 2.

ftlae19 Proof that I do win.

ftlae20Even in Hard mode.

          ftlae13 I have killed the flagship many times.

ftlae14With many ships

   ftlae17 Of many configurations.

ftlae18 But this happens too…

So pick it up and play it, it’s a good game.

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