Things weren’t going well. The rebel fleet were closing in, and the last jump had put the UNS Scruttocks perilously close to a rather active star that was currently enjoying a period of intense flares. Pete, best pilot in the remnants of the Federation (which wasn’t saying much) frantically struggled to power up the Scruttocks’ FTL engines as the ship was rocked by the explosions of the overly-joyful sun.
It turned out that wasn’t the only problem, though. A pirate ship, seemingly undeterred by the solar activity, stood staunchly in the path of the Scruttocks, matching its every move and doing its best to ensure that this would be the end of the intrepid crew’s journey.
Andie ran from the bridge to her station at the weapons console at the rear of the ship. Lara followed her, splitting off at a rear bulkhead to head for the engine room. The undermanned Scruttocks was going to need every ounce of power she could give them if they were going to get out of this alive.
“Fire! Go for the shields!”
Andie didn’t need to be told twice. She diverted power from non-essential systems, powered up the ship’s missile launcher and laser cannon and took aim for the pirate ship’s shield systems. The first missile sailed harmlessly past, while the first volley of laser fire was absorbed by their assailant’s shields; the second struck true, the missile penetrating the shields and knocking out the shield generators, the cannon fire now free to inflict damage directly on to the enemy’s hull.
The pirates weren’t going down without a fight, though.
“No, seriously, FIRE! Get out of there!”
Lara came running through the aft section, severe burns over one side of her body. Andie watched in astonishment as her determined crewmate headed for the medical bay. She smelled smoke, and knew that trouble was ahead. But if she could just hang on a little longer…
The air started to become thin; it became harder to breathe. Andie knew that Pete was trying to put the fire out by venting the oxygen out of the affected sections, but it seemed like the ship’s oxygen distribution system had been damaged by the fire, as even though the weapons room was firmly enclosed, she was definitely starting to feel light-headed.
Lara came charging back through. “Come on!” she cried. “Help!”
Andie left the weapons controls on automatic and followed her companion through the aft sections of the ship. Sure enough, the fire had gutted the ship’s oxygen distribution room, but the damage wasn’t so severe it couldn’t be repaired. The pair set about their important work, doing their best as the ship was continually rocked by impact after impact.
Finally, through the window they saw the debris of the destroyed pirate ship drifting sliently past. They had done it. The Scruttocks had survived another day, for now — all they had to do was get this oxygen tank back up and running before–
A loud bleep confirmed to the rapidly-weakening Andie and Lara that their efforts to repair the oxygen tanks had been successful. As they heard the air distribution system start up again, they breathed in heavily, gulping down the precious, life-giving air.
“Preparing for jump to lightspeed,” came Pete’s voice over the comm system. “Ready in 3… 2…”
At that moment, a solar flare erupted. The Scruttocks’ hull, weakened from the protracted battle, tore apart like a snail shell beneath a wellington boot. Its crew’s last thoughts as they were suddenly cast into the silent vacuum of space?
That’s a typical day in the life of the crew of FTL: Faster Than Light, a new independently-developed game that officially came out today. In it, players oversee the crew of a starship frantically running from the mysterious “Rebels” as they attempt to deliver important secrets to the remains of the “Federation”. Little more context than this is given, and little more is needed, because FTL is a game about the struggle that is the journey rather than its beginning or its conclusion.
The most apt descriptions of FTL would draw comparisons to the board games Space Alert and Battlestar Galactica. Like those games, FTL gives its players a small number of crew members and a sprawling ship in which to deploy them, then continually bombards them with increasingly-unreasonable challenges until they explode, die, asphyxiate or reach one of a variety of other sticky ends. It is possible to “finish” the game by beating a final boss, but for your first few playthroughs at the very least, you’ll be dead within half an hour.
FTL strikes a great balance between simple mechanics and depth, and presents its unfolding emergent narrative in a manner that is abstract enough to allow the player to use their imagination, yet explicit enough to make it clear to understand exactly what is going on at any given moment. Players can route power to different parts of their ship, fire weapons on specific systems of enemy ships, move crew members around to man stations, deal with intruders and put out fires, and even faff around with doors. Doors are very important. You might not think that they are, but the moment your remote door control systems get blown out and you’re unable to vent your engine section that is currently on fire, you’ll come to appreciate the power of being able to sit in the driver’s seat and open the back doors without running the risk of asphyxiation.
FTL describes itself as a form of roguelike and there’s certainly plenty of resemblance there — a randomly-generated challenge at the start of each new game, permadeath and a wonderful sense of unfolding, unscripted narrative — but it has a unique identity that is all its own. It’s not trying to be Star Control or Master of Orion or anything like that, nor is it trying to be Angband in space — it’s the personal story of a few brave men, women and slugs who want to make a difference in a turbulent galaxy. Whether they do so, or whether they end up suffocating as they run around panicking at the fact that half the ship is on fire and the pilot is in the process of being eaten by a praying mantis? That’s entirely up to the player’s skill and/or sense of sadism.