Published on January 16th, 2013 | by geoff_bee1
Warp Drive Engage!
Hyperspace, warp drive, lightspeed, whatever you want to call it, being able to travel faster than the speed of light has long been a staple of science fiction. It’s a useful way for whatever captain and crew to visit planets at the farthest reaches of space without the inconvenience of the million-year long journeys and subsequent aging to death. For one thing it would play havoc with the budget for a series.
In games faster than light travel is mainly used as a way from getting one level to the next – in X-Wing for example you travel to the mission zone, shoot down enemy ships, defend friendly ships then travel back home at the end of the day. In other cases it’s a story event – your fleet will spend some time in one area then move to another area. Most of the time it’s treated as an incidental mechanic rather than the core of a game.
FTL (standing for Faster Than Light if you hadn’t already guessed), developed by Subset Games and released in September 2012, places you in the role of a captain of a starship. The Federation (read: generic space government) is at war with the rebels (read: rebels). Your mission is to carry information vital to the Federation’s survival across the galaxy, sector by sector. You do this by travelling faster than light. Well it wasn’t like you were going to go the slow way was it?
Gameplay is simple. You begin in a star system, which usually consists of one giant planet as background, and you are told about an event – traders want to sell you stuff or there’s a planet under attack. Sometimes you’ll be attacked directly by pirates or (ominous tone) The Rebels. Once the event has been dealt with you can choose where to travel next via a map of the sector, with labels such as “store” or “distress” (which usually turn out to be anything but).
Of course it’s not as simple as that. Your ship has individual systems – engines, shields, weapons etc – which need to be powered. So there is minute by minute balancing and micro-management. Do you move power to shields to make them stronger in combat, potentially sacrificing weapon effectiveness and/or manoeuvrability? Or do you put everything into weapons and blow up the enemy ships before they blow you up? The ship can also be upgraded with new systems and extra power units as the game goes on. Provided you have enough scrap metal to pay for it.
If and when you find yourself in combat with an enemy ship it is a matter of ensuring that your weapons have power, targeting enemy ship systems and waiting for your lasers or missiles to charge and fire. Normally the main priority will be the enemy’s shields, which most of the time are located in a room at the side of the ship. Why such an important system wouldn’t be more central and thus hard to get to is beyond me. Once the shields are down – and you’ve said “shields down captain” in a suitably Spock-like voice – you can then start targeting another vital system. Usually the engines. Of course while you’re doing this the other ship is doing the same to you so it becomes a game of who can charge their weapons fastest.
As you crawl across the sector map towards the “Exit” node, you will see the Rebel fleet in hot pursuit. If you’re the sort of person who likes to explore every last little nook and cranny you’ll be disappointed as half of the map turns red, representing the Rebel’s advance. Seriously, where are the Federation? I’ve got a whole armada chasing just my single ship! Come on guys, if this data is that important you could at least send someone out to meet me! Then once you reach the exit you choose another sector to travel to and repeat the process again, slowly crawling your way to the end.
This game doesn’t strike me as the sort you can spend hours playing. Instead it seems to be more of a pick-up-and-play affair designed for short bursts. As you play more you can unlock new ships and components, whether by story events or by achieving specific goals. These are then available when you start a new game. The replay value is therefore fairly high, even if an individual game itself can take mere minutes. And it looks kind of cute as well.