Thanks to Gamespot.com, I've recently discovered another Indie gem in Subset Games' FTL: Faster Than Light. The game is a mix of Serenity and Star Trek with your motley band of space farers fighting pirates, collecting scrap and surviving through the battles and text encounters you face.
The game consists of choosing a starting ship, naming it and your crew and setting off with a message of vital importance to the federation. What the message is, I have no idea, but it's vitally important so me and my crew better get moving. When you start the game (and in each subsequent system) you are confronted with a collection of stars you can jump to. Each jump leads to a text based message and often a choice of help, fight or flee as you approach the exit to the next system. This is combined with a system of upgrading your ship and improving your weaponry and an improving crew which leads to an engaging brand of short burst gameplay. The graphics are presented in a blocky 16-bit style and most of your time will be spent looking at a plan view of your ship as your crew get to work.
This is a simplistic explanation of a deceptively difficult game. Death means a restart of the whole journey, not just a return to an earlier save which, whilst frustrating at times, adds tension in a world of infinite respawns and no lose gaming. An average game lasts anything from 10 minutes to an hour or so and restarts are quick after a long journey through space ending in a terrible disaster because of an angry mercenary or a broken oxygen creator.
The game does at times get a little samey and, in spite of the developers arguments about 25000 lines of text, I found most of the mini-stories basically the same. This is a little trite though, like saying Tetris was a bit repetitive. Of course it was but something about the core gameplay is compelling with enough choice and new upgrades to make you feel like a commander of a starship.
I was driven to think of some of the most enjoyable times I had in Mass Effect whilst simply interacting with my crew (no, not like that you with your dirty mind). I found the characters in Mass Effect often engaging and enjoyed building the time spend building relationships with the ship and the games cast some of the more engaging sections. FTL manages to capture much of that heart in an indie way. Sure your little self-named crew are given less character by the writers as they run around the little ship but the story you can build is an often compelling one.
There is a bit of me that wonders if this sort of gameplay could work in a AAA or perhaps Live Arcade/PSN quality title. With a bigger team and a few tweaks could this have mass appeal or would it simply be lost in a world of big budget titles.
I've wanted a game that is more about the journey than the goal for quite some time and FTL manages to go a little way to doing that. After all, life isn't about where you end up, it's about how you get there.
- A bargain price tag of £6.99 (UK) or $9.99 (US)
- Compelling core gameplay that keeps you coming back for more.
- No game has made you feel more like Captain Kirk or Mal Reynolds.
- Slightly repetitive scenarios.
- Would benefit from a bigger storyline or more longer quests.