The Ubsurd Difficulty of FTL

It’s not very often that I decide to play indie games. As a gamer I had wrongfully believed that the best games were the ones that had amazing graphics, great storylines, addictive play, etc. I could never believe that an indie developer could get to that level of nirvana. Before I really got into PC gaming I solely used my computer for League of Legends and Minecraft (which I do not count as an indie game). I was an adamant console gamer, always glued to my TV and xbox360. I won’t be ashamed to say my first foray into PC gaming was because of someone I was trying (and failed) to impress. This girl had just purchased the Humble Indie Bundle and was raving about how great it is to give back to the community. I decided to take a look at the games that the pack was offering at the time. I thought the games looked alright, so I decided to donate and get the games (I donated more than she did). It was here that I first experienced the gameplay of FTL.

FTL, short for Faster than Light is a real time strategy game based in other space. Developed by Justin Ma and Matthew Davis, this game follows your ship’s quests through the stars. The overall storyline is simple. You play as the crew of a single Federation spacecraft that needs to deliver secret rebel information to the Federation Headquarters. Your journey is hurried by the rebel fleet slowly chasing your ship on your journey. Based on this plot alone, this game wouldn’t have warranted more than one play through. However, FTL’s strengths do not lie in the simple story, but the journey itself.

While on the run from rebel fleet, your ship and crew undergo encounters with over 100 different random events. These events can range through distress signals, fuel stations, rebel attacks, derelict ships and many others. It is in these events that makes Faster Than Light truly unique, you could play through this game multiple times without ever encountering the same story and events. The random encounters don’t always occur in the same way, if something works the first time, doesn’t mean it would work the second time. In the beginning of the game you only have one choice of ship and layout, which determines the style of play, but as you continue to play the game you can unlock more ships with more unique options. For instance, your first ship is the Kestrel, a human based cruiser, which is relatively balanced. The Engi ship, unlocked when you enter the fifth sector, focuses on drone warfare, and disabling other ship systems. Unlike other games, Faster Than Light does not unlock all the ships upon completion of the game, the ships can only be unlocked through the random events, most of them taking more than one special event. For example, the crystal ship requires you to, in one play through, hit three different random events, all needing a specific crew member and to be in the correct sector. This game mechanic gives FTL an unbelievable amount of replay value. I still have not unlocked all the ships and will occasionally frustrate myself with attempting to.

A few months before I had actually purchased the game, I had saw a coworker playing FTL at work. From what I saw at the time, it seemed to be a pointless game, just a typical small time exploration game. I was not impressed with what I saw and still ignorant of PC gaming but, seeing as how I had purchased the pack, I decided to give it a try. My initial reaction of the tutorial section led me to the same conclusion that I had come to a few months ago, it was a typically boring game. Being a completionist, I figured that I would beat the game and be done with it. That proved to be a lot more difficult than I could ever imagine.

FTL is one of the most difficult games that I have ever played. This game, utilizes its random events and encounters to disrupt your journey in finishing the game. My first play through resulted in death before sector three, it was then that I realized the unique save feature of the game. Faster Than Light does not allow you to save your journey as you go along, but it does allow you to save and continue later. This mechanic coupled with the random events, makes the game extremely difficult and frustrating. Completing this game requires a precise combination of luck, random events, and skill; actually completing the game will serve as an impressive trophy in your achievements case.

Graphically the Faster than Light is extremely well designed, utilizing simple bit animations to give the game life. Although there isn’t any impressive cut scenes or realistic animation, considering the fact that the game was developed by a team of two, the graphical achievements are pretty impressive. The graphics of the FTL does add to the gameplay in giving players a sense of foreboding and urgency. For instance the rebel fleet crawls along the stars, giving a graphical red hued coverage over where the rebel fleet is. The map also displays where the fleet will be next, thus forcing players to be more economical with their travels. The soundtrack is a relaxing mix of midi tones and electronic beats. The music changes with each sector, some giving the player a rushed sense and others allowing them to relax with low BPMs. The game soundtrack was nominated for IGN’s Best Overall Music and Best PC Sound of 2012. FTL also received the distinction of being one of Kotaku’s Best Video Game Music in 2012.

Overall what truly excels in Faster Than Light, is the unique play-throughs that occur each time you start up the game. You could play the game more than once and still end up with different results each time. I unfortunately have not beat the game legitimately (I copied save files), and look forward to the day that I can unlock all the ships and beat the game for good.

Overall: 8.5

  • Graphics: 8
  • Sound: 8
  • Gameplay: 9
  • Storyline: 9
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