So I picked up FTL on Steam (as of this moment, it’s on sale! Nine bucks!) on the strength of a couple of reviews (yes, that latter review is from Ben Kuchera, the guy who not only said that he enjoyed the Mass Effect 3 ending (no accounting for taste, after all) but went on to say that I should have enjoyed it… but I paid attention to his review of gameplay rather than story/theme). (“Jaybird, are you still bitter about Mass Effect 3?” “Lemme check… yep.”)
I digress. I picked up FTL on Steam.
I’ve spent three hours with it. Maybe four. First off, let me just say that this game is not particularly spoilable. The plot, such as it is, is fairly straightforward. You’re a crew of three on a fairly small standard ship. You’ve got the usual rooms on the ship: engines, shields, weapons, life support, piloting, medical. Shields protect against lazers but not missiles, but lazers are unlimited and you have to buy more missiles to shoot more missiles. You’ve got the usual mission: you’re part of the federation and you’ve got to get a message from hither to yon. All you have to do is get from here… to there. Easy peasy, right?
Well, it’s a Roguelike. That is to say: randomly generated maps, no saved games, brutal learning curve, and nothing is ever as simple as it appears. You never have enough currency, you always feel in want of repairs, you’re constantly looking at how quickly your oxygen levels count down and how slowly your weapons charge up, how your engines never seem to generate enough power to generate your shields *AND* power your lazers *AND* keep life support running, how you only have this much fuel left or this many missiles left or this many crew left and the Federation is never around when you need them.
It’s inventory management, and dice rolling (for example, you never know whether the distress beacon you respond to will be a ship that will totally reward you for helping or a pirate who will make you wish you had just minded your own business) and minimalist storytelling that paints more compelling stories with a few sentences than I’ve seen in most of the full motion video graphics from some of the more cutting edge games. (You go down to the moon and find a crashed ship with a single survivor who has obviously been here years… he seems healthy but his mental state is off. Do you ask him on board your ship?)
The difficulty is, as I’ve said, high. You’re going to die the first twenty times you play (even on easy). The first fifty. You’re going to get to the fourth star system and then help a merchant because you’re running low on fuel and you’re going to end up dead. Or you’re going to be riding high after helping a bunch of merchants and get in a fight with some slavers and end up dead. Or you’re just going to be caught by the rebels and end up dead.
And then you’ll say “well, just one more try. I think I’m getting the hang of it this time.”