New England Gamer
Faster than Light
With a flash of light my ship exits in hyperspace. Immediately upon completing the
jump, the game informs me of a nearby battle. A pirate ship is attacking a civilian
freighter. If I don't intervene the freighter will be destroyed and the pirate will
escape to continue preying on the innocent. The pirate, sensing the presence of my
Federation warship, offers me some resources to leave him be. It's early in the
game, but his bribe is substantial and could help me buy supplies and upgrades to
keep me alive as the game becomes more difficult.
Even so, the idea of striking a deal with such a villain doesn't sit well with me. I
refuse his offer and power up my guns. The pirate wastes no time, countering my
hostility with some of his own. Before I can get off a shot he fires off a salvo. His
lasers bounce off my defenses, but his missile passes right through, scoring a direct
hit that knocks out my shields. I send one of my crew to repair the damage, but the
battle doesn't stop and wait while he works. Our ships trade blows. I'm able to
whittle away his shields and health, but I'm taking damage the whole time. By the
battle's end my armor is reduced to fifty percent and I've lost one of my three crew
members fighting fires. The civilian freighter contacts me to thank me for my
assistance, but their gratitude is small solace for what I've lost. It will take most of
the resources I've gathered to repair my ship and the loss to my crew will haunt me
for a long time to come.
One might say that FTL is a difficult game. Putting you in the shoes of a ship
captain on the losing side of war, you're tasked with delivering critical information
to your headquarters on the other side of the galaxy. The game follows you as you
work your way across sectors, struggling to survive against enemy forces trying to
hunt you down. The universe built by the game is one that is either openly hostile
or indifferent to your plight.
Your goal isn't to be a hero, it's to survive; ignoring this quintessential fact is the
surest way to get yourself killed. It was something I had to learn the hard way.
When I first began playing, I jumped into battle whenever the opportunity
presented itself. I was the bane of pirates and never ducked an opportunity to pop
my Rebel pursuers in the proverbial nose.
As cool as I felt leaving heaps of space wreckage in my wake though, I kept losing.
I would make it to the game's halfway point and find myself underpowered and
outclassed. My constant combat had the side effect of leaving my ship almost
perpetually wrecked. I would gather resources just to spend them on repairs,
leaving nothing left to upgrade my ship to match my increasingly more powerful
opponents. Something had to change.
I began playing more strategically. Whereas my early playthroughs would see me
speeding forward, blasting my way through space as quickly as the game allowed,
I began to take a slower, more nuanced approach to the game. I would take time to
explore each sector, staying just ahead of the forces chasing me in an attempt to
gather as much intelligence and resources as I could. I began to pour my money
into upgrading my ship and hiring crew members to keep my ship running
smoothly and up to par with the opposition.
With my resources siphoned off to other areas, the task of keeping my ship alive
often fell to my skills as a decision maker. This was, at times, my downfall. While
fairly meek in life, I can often be overly aggressive as a gamer. My number one
cause of death in many of the games I play is tendency to charge in with guns
blazing. And if this is death in other games, it's suicide in FTL. My hardest lesson
was simply learning when to cut and run. I'd come across those nasty pirates
preying on the weak and need to be smart enough to know when I could fight and
when I couldn't. I had to become a survivalist, keeping my own well being at the
forefront my thoughts at every turn.
I kept failing, but with each defeat I got better and I began to slowly creep my way
further and further across the universe map. Even as I made progress, it did little to
abate the constant tension I felt at every new waypoint. As I made my way to the
most difficult echelons of the game, each action and choice seemed to take on
monumental weight. It didn't matter that I'd upgraded my ship with the best
weapons and shields or that my crew roster was now more than double the
beginning three. Just like in a good game of chess, a single ill-placed pawn, one
small mistake, could lead me to a doom I hadn't even discovered yet.
And then, finally, victory, at least in a matter of speaking. Truth be told, my goal
had been just to reach the other side of the map. I never gave much thought to what
would happen after that. You can imagine my delight then when I finally made it
there. I'd won! I'd made it to the . . . what? There's a final boss? Nobody had told
me about that!
But indeed, in the last sector there awaited a final, terrible enemy. The Rebel
Mothership, so mighty and powerful that my first engagement with the beast ended
almost as swiftly as it began (hint: I lost). It felt like the game was taunting me,
trivializing my accomplishment and all the work I had put into getting so far. It
was as if it was saying "You might have made it this far, but you'll never beat this
After a few moments of consternation, it almost made me smile. It was as fitting
an end for FTL as I could imagine. A frustration sundae topped with a cherry of
cruelty. I had reached the promise land, now I just needed to conquer it. Staring at
one final Game Over screen I clicked out of the game, but my mind was racing.
There had to be a way to bring the Mothership down. It was going to take some
practice to find out how and I welcomed the challenge.
Read more by Stewart Shearer