Immersion can be a strange thing. Often it doesn’t come down to how real the game looks or how well fleshed out the character are, but how real it “feels”. How freely it allows you to forge your own path in the universe and tell your own story without being railroaded in almost any sense - Limited only by how you can die, a few random events and with as unintrusive a story as possible.
It’s a quality which has kept many games being played long after they should have been otherwise regulated to bargain bins and it’s one FTL: Faster Than Light has all but perfected.
The plot for this one is very simplistic and largely serves as an amalgamation of a good dozen science fiction franchises. A rebellion has smashed the forces of the peaceful Federation and the scattered remnants are regrouping on the other side of the galaxy (Andromeda?). As a small Federation corvette carrying vital information for the war effort (hello Star Wars) you need to repeatedly jump from system to system. Moving ahead of the relentlessly advancing rebel fleet and doing all you can to stay alive even as your undermanned badly equipped warship finds itself outgunned at every turn (Ah Battlestar Galactica, was wondering when you’d show up.)
It’s effectively an excuse more than anything else. It provides a backdrop to the threats and gives you motivation to your actions and why the rebellion wants you dead, but it’s no great work of literature. Most of the actual story elements and interesting aspects from the journey itself rather than your end goal or directly combating the rebels.
With each jump you find yourself facing a random encounter, ones either beneficial or designed to completely rip you a new one. From each of them you can create your own tale for what is happening and despite being somewhat repetitious by the end you can easily roleplay through them.
Let’s say that you jump into a system and find a rebel scout in the process of destroying an unarmed transport. Do you risk your ship and the lives of your crew in an act which will most likely kill you and lose the Federation vital data? Or do you allow people to die screaming with no hope of their own survival. Knowing that you could have tried to save them at any time and understand you’re allowing for a dangerous vessel to prowl the surrounding systems for more targets?
It’s what you’d expect from a roguelike game but it does allow for a good balance between appealing to those who want a good story and those who just want good gameplay. Speaking of which, this is quite possibly the only title in a very long time I would call a proper starship combat simulator. The semi-turn based combat it sets up and the top down view of your ship is a complete change from the traditional problems many series have of treating capital ships as a one person starfighter. Rather than pulling off loops and rushing to guns you’re the captain, you’re ordering people to do their jobs and strategising how to stop yourself from being blown out of the sky.
This role also extends to simply keeping your ship working as everything has a cost. If your hull will take a pounding you’ll need to find a way to fix it. You shoot off missiles to blow something up? You’re going to need to buy new ones. You have to get almost everything down to finding fuel, and you’re constantly running low on something. The fact there’s few surefire ways to secure new supplies long term or even ensure that you’ll have enough ammunition to survive your next encounter adds a tangible sense of desperation. Something only enhanced by the prospect of death.
To put it simply if your ship is turned into a disintegrating fireball pinwheeling across space there’s no coming back from it. You won’t be able to reload an old save, won’t be able to be brought back from the depths of hades, you’re permanently dead and will have to start a new game right from the beginning. The same goes for your individual crewmen, if you lose one you’re not going to be able to resuscitate them resulting in even more problems for you. You could end up dying because you don’t have someone specialised enough in one area to take out a ship beating the snot out of you. At the same time you could also end up shooting yourself in the foot by relying too heavily upon one crewman in an already undermanned ship if he/she gets killed and you’re left with no one remotely competent to perform their task.
If you’ve not guessed this isn’t a leisurely game. It’s by no means Dwarf Fortress with spaceships but any loss will have a serious impact upon you and you’ll often be surviving by the skin of your teeth. This, the genre, and potentially the basic if clean looking graphics set are likely to be the only things which might drive people away. Otherwise I’d quite happily recommend this to practically anyone. No, really, if you’ve enjoyed any sort of tactical gameplay where you’ve given orders and understand the excitement of being on the absolute brink of losing but are still going you’ll enjoy this one.
FTL: Faster Than Light is available on Steam and GoG.com at under $10.00. It’s also got a 10% off deal for its opening weekend, AKA this one, so if you are planning on getting it I’d suggest doing so now.
FTL: Faster Than Light and all related characters and media are owned by Subset Games.