All night long my computer has buzzed at me. It’s partially disabled by malfunctioning software, so can’t hibernate. But the crew of the good spaceship Chronicle have been sitting for a good six hours, in the gaps between the stars, while I rocked and rolled in panic that Windows would download, install another effing update and auto-reset. For FTL is a roguelike spaceship management game. There’s no saves, no continues. Quit and your game is over, your crew dead.
Your aim in FTL is to carry essential data from one end of the galaxy to the other. You do this by jumping across a range of sectors, each comprised of many smaller systems, heading to the ultimate goal of the Federation headquarters. You can’t dawdle though, as the Rebel Fleet is in hot pursuit and will blast you to bits if they catch up.
Each system you jump into has a challenge of some sort; often it involves a range of options; should you let the Mantis ship hunt down the civilian ship or interfere? Beam the slightly addled hermit back to your ship to use as a crewman or abandon him on the planet’s surface? Each mission is characterful and often witty as the writer of Amnesia, Tom Jubert, is on board.
Engage another ship and the combat system starts. You have a variety of weapon types - some of which damage shields, some of which penetrate, some of which cause fires, breach. Each weapon requires power, as do your engines, shields and about ten other subsystems. Having a system manned also increases its efficaciousness, as does upgrading it with collected scrap.
All the way through combat, luck plays a part. A last-second missile from a losing enemy AI drone can cause multiple fires, which spread before you get a chance to open the airlock and de-oxygenate the room. Perhaps your remote door controls get damaged by the fire and you have to send someone to fix them, in vacuum, before the ship runs out of oxygen. The game, from an array of simple combat systems, throws something horribly emergent at you. It can get out of control and your (carefully-named, customised) crew can die in twenty different ways.
It’s still in beta, but FTL is looking very polished and feature complete. We’re looking forward to the launch date announcement, after its successful Kickstarter raised enough cash to finish development. Meanwhile, I need to get back to my crew and deliver that data...