In a year dominated by Kickstarter, the rise of indie development and the consequences both positive and negative of said trend, smaller, more retro-styled games have flourished. One of the best examples of this type of game to have an impact on the market is Matthew Davis and Justin Ma’s FTL; Faster than Light.
Listening to a lot of podcasts, industry and community alike, this game was receiving a lot of buzz well before its’ official release date in September. It has continued to be talked about, as people continue to discover its charms.
Although it looks like an Amiga game, FTL has a dizzying amount of choice and effect contained within its lo-fi trappings. It is essentially a rogue-like, a style of game that creates randomly generated encounters and features the dreaded state of perma-death. You are in charge of a space-ship, whose task it is to get a vital piece of information from one side of the galaxy to the other. The said ship has a set number of power bars, which you distribute to the various systems on your craft, such as weapons, shields, drones and engines. Each time you instigate a jump to a new solar system, your resulting encounter is randomized and you may find yourself defending a friendly space station, scanning a deserted science outpost or being attacked by marauding pirates, amongst a variety of indiscriminate events. You make the decisions that will put your crew in danger, condemn them to their deaths or make heroes out of them.
There is a tremendous amount of depth in the choices you have and this, combined with the randomized nature of each galaxy and star system, means that each individual playthrough feels very different
It isn’t perfect. On repeated returns to the game, some of the missions tend to repeat and genuine surprises come fewer and further between. So the more you play it, the less variety you will see. Also, it’s hard. FTL is extremely punishing and there have been many random encounters that have felt very unbalanced in that there didn’t seem to be any way to prepare for it and the enemy was vastly overpowered. I hold my hands up and say I am yet to ‘finish’ it.
But this game is less about the destination and much more about the journey. It is a game that relies on the imagination of the player, and in doing so, harkens back to those moments in the greatest open-ended games on 8 and 16 bit computers, those that gave you a magical feeling of being transported to another world. FTL won’t be for everyone, but this is another 2012 indie gem that offers more replayability, atmosphere and unique moments than most AAA games this year.