Bargain Gaming – FTL Review

Posted on Jan 03 2013

I think it’s safe to say that Indie games are a hit or miss bunch. Love them or hate them, there is just as good of a chance that an “Indie” title will end up being a waste of time as there is that it will have any quality in its execution. This makes it somewhat surprising that this year has seen such a boon within the Indie gaming scene. For the first time in as long as I can remember there have been more than five Indie games that I would be willing to recommend to my fellow gamers without first having to launch into a series of conditionals. As such I’d like to celebrate with my favorite Indie game of 2012, FTL.

Standing for Faster Than Light, FTL is a unique take on the theme of space faring survival. You have a ship and a basic crew and must utilize these resources in order to quickly navigate through 8 separate sectors before the encroaching Rebel Fleet catches up to you. What seems like a simple premise quickly takes on a life of its own as the game’s roguelike element comes into play. The paths that you can choose to take, the enemies that lay between you and your final objective, and even the weapons and system parts that are available for purchase; these are all random during each play through.

On top of this the game has no save/load system outside of allowing the player to save and quit the game. This means that there are no take backs. Every decision you make during your play through has a direct consequence that you need to deal with in order to proceed through the game. Do you choose to help the ship broadcasting a distress signal when you know it could be a pirate lying in ambush? Should you risk your limited crew to assist an infected space station for the chance at gaining additional resources? It’s this decision making aspect that makes the game come to life for me, as it makes you the player feel directly responsible for your crew’s success and, more likely, failure. And in turn brings you back again and again.

As I more or less already stated, the game’s story is pretty straightforward. You must fly your ship back to the Federation fleet before the pursuing Rebel fleet catches up to you. This is because you have information that is vital to the survival of the Federation. Unfortunately your ship is not properly outfitted for the harsh conditions and enemy ships that lie between you and your destination. Through a combination of clever crew management, upgrading your ships systems and scrapping together what you can, you will have to try your best to survive long enough to make it to the final sector.

The game’s interface is a top down grid view of your ship, with the different ship types having different layouts. Different room types such as Shields and Weapons are responsible for said key systems and can be boosted by posting a crew member to man those stations. These crew members can be moved around the ship at the player’s discretion on the fly, allowing you to designate proiority system assignment as needed. Secondary systems like Drone Control and the Med Bay can operate just as well without a crew member, making crew assignment fairly critical to long term success. The game also takes place in real time, albeit with the ability to pause the action at any time, making some combat situations fairly tense as you are forced to juggle crew members between repairs or evacuate sections of the ship that have been exposed to space’s vacuum (or any other number of scenarios). Combine this with having to juggle power to your weapons and other systems while fighting off an enemy ship and the game can become pretty frantic even with the ability to pause the action. It’s a really fun dynamic that forces the player to think on their feet and adapt as different enemy groups and events play out in different ways both internally and externally.

As for the game’s aesthetics, I am actually really into the game’s style. The simple bit graphics are colorful and really standout in the dark backdrops that are natural to a space based environment. All of the crew and alien designs are distinguishable from each other at a glance, and the different ships all have their own unique style, making it a joy to try and collect them. But the real gem here is the game’s audio, with its unique soundtrack making a huge impression on me. I still get chills when the game starts up and that intro theme plays. This, when coupled with the distinct sound design for the various weapon systems and effects created a fun yet tense atmosphere for me to game in that I really appreciated.

It’s difficult to explain what really makes this game special in just a few words. The combination of random chance combined with the game’s tense game play and interesting atmosphere all combine to create a situation which draws you back again and again. Tie this to unlockable content in the form of achievements and additional ships for you to try and beat the game with and you have a recipe for a great time sink of a game. The fact that it’s a bit of a challenge doesn’t hurt either. I highly recommend this game to all game enthusiasts (especially fans of roguelikes), regardless of whether or not you have any appreciation for the indie scene. For under ten bucks you really can’t go wrong for one of my top games of the last year.

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