PREVIEW: FTL: Faster Than Light

I funded Faster Than Light (FTL) when it was featured in the second “In the Teeth” article, and one of the rewards for backers was access to the game’s closed Beta. A couple of months later, the game was added to Steam, and since then I’ve been playing it, well, rather a lot. FTL is best described (after some discussion with friends) as a ‘real time strategic RPG with procedurally generated content and permadeath’, or as the team has only half jokingly described it, a ‘spaceship simulation real-time rogue-like-like’.

You command a spaceship and a crew, armed with important information for your cause – the Federation – desperate to outrun the Rebel fleet in pursuit. You start in a system with a number of possible points to jump to – ‘beacons’, which are essentially rooms for randomised encounters – with an exit ‘beacon’ on the far side of the system marked as your ultimate destination.

As you progress through a system, the Rebel fleet appears and starts to close in. You’re forced to find, if not the quickest, then the most efficient route through the system to the exit point. You want as much loot as possible – more fuel and ammunition, or new weapons and additional crewmembers – and ‘scrap’ (currency of a sort, required for upgrades and purchases), but if the fleet catches up, you’ll face a lot more trouble and get no loot at all.

Once at the end of a system, you jump to the next. FTL gives you some interesting choices to make here, too. There’s a branching map of systems to jump between which, while of a static shape, is always randomly populated. Choose between a ‘civilian’ sector or a ‘pirate’ one. Or between a friendly alien race and a hostile one. This simple choice allows players to decide how they get where they’re going – and allows them to set their own difficulty level – but still creates a directed, designed experience that the developers can build around.

Ultimately, you reach the final system – if you’re lucky – and then it gets hard. Hard-er, really.

I should mention, I still haven’t finished the game, and it’s not for lack of trying. FTL is a fantastically unforgiving game. I feel that – being a beta – there might be one or two lingering balance issues, but when you don’t get smacked down and destroyed in a freak encounter, the difficulty curve across the systems feels very smooth.

FTL in fact has two difficulty settings – normal and easy. I’m not decided on whether this is necessary, but I did progress much further when I finally gave in and switched to easy. I was able to experiment with different strategies and unlocked more of the game’s content. I had more resources to burn, more time to explore and I wasn’t always struggling to save my last crew member from a particularly vicious alien, or from a rather gaping hole in the side of my ship.

[img_big]center,10105,2012-08-21/FTLGame_2012-06-28_17-03-11-23.png,FTL: Faster Than Light[/img_big]

When first playing FTL, you only have access to one ship, which dictates your base weapons, your crew’s race and your strengths: The general tactics you will use in each fight. New ships are unlocked by finishing the game, finding an alien race, performing quests that randomly appear in certain systems and in other ways I’ve yet to discover. What frustrates me is that these unlock very slowly. My time played has so far unlocked three ships, with the third only appearing in the last few hours of play (currently upwards of 30 hours). I do wonder if players less intent on getting the most out of the game will have that much patience, but by the same token, this speaks volumes on FTL’s replayability.

It has been fantastic seeing the game develop over the course of the beta. Justin and Matthew – who make up Subset Games – have been great in engaging with the community of backers and testers. The forums are lively with discussion: Everything from strategies and tactics, to tales of experiences and discussions on improvements and changes that could be made. All of the regularly appearing patches have also been announced and detailed in the forum.

Changes have ranged from bug fixes, to new content, to new features. The best of these is a save system added quite recently. My playtime, to be honest, hasn’t been pure play. As FTL is quite a small game, I’ve often started it while waiting in a queue for Dota 2 or the like, which works great. However, FTL, as a rogue-like-like, features permadeath. I haven’t fancied throwing away any progress, and so it has sat paused while I play my other game. The addition of a save system has been much requested and is a great addition.

[img_big]center,10105,2012-08-21/FTLGame_2012-06-28_16-04-49-99.jpg,FTL: Faster Than Light[/img_big]

Ultimately, I can’t imagine a better first experience with a project I backed on Kickstarter. The devs have stuck to their word, and aren’t letting feature creep occur. Sticking closely to goals and deadlines, FTL has a projected release date listed as sometime in September. The attitude taken by Matthew and Justin toward the Kickstarter project and their beta testers has been fantastic. Alongside the amazing game they’ve created, all the backers I know are in raptures. The positive word of mouth will be the greatest outcome for their Kickstarter after the money itself. I can’t wait for the final product to see the light of day, but thankfully, I don’t have to! If you’ll excuse me…

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