Faster Than Light – First Impressions

Faster Than Light – First Impressions

Emily has had a rather bad year. After finding herself stranded on an isolated planet for months, she thought her luck had finally changed when a passing ship came to her rescue. Now that same ship is on fire, oxygen is slowly venting into space via a number of worryingly large cracks in the hull, and the rest of the crew is rather inconveniently dead. All Emily has to do is fix the ship by herself, get the heavily damaged engines operational again, then limp to the nearest store for repairs. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, she’s a giant grasshopper with claws for hands.

Faster Than Light is described by its two-strong development team as “a spaceship simulation real-time roguelike-like”. From start to finish you’re flying blind into the unknown. Each hyperjump could land you in empty space, in the middle of an asteroid field, or in close proximity to a deadly star. Pirates and rebels stalk you at every turn, and it only takes a few lucky hits to turn your ship to a blazing inferno.

But that’s just the beginning of your problems. Whilst most space-sims would automate repair functions, in FTL it’s up to you to fix it. When a fire breaks out aboard, you can either send in the crew to fight it or open the external airlocks to try and starve it of oxygen. In theory it sounds simple enough, but when your ship is still taking hits from a pirate vessel your attempts to repair it can seem somewhat futile. It’s a game of juggling priorities – do you attempt to restart the oxygen generator now, or do you spend your time getting your reactor online so you can make an escape, risking the asphyxiation of the crew?

There’s no saving; missions last generally around twenty minutes before some inevitable catastrophe brings about the ultimate demise of everyone aboard your ship. Solar flares, asteroid impacts, boarding parties, all combine to form far more tension than any episode of Star Trek.

With all that in mind and access to the beta generously provided by FTL developer Justin Ma, I set off into the unknown with full confidence in my ship and crew. With rebel forces hot on my tail, my mission was to travel across eight sectors of randomly generated space to deliver vital intelligence to friendly forces. I can’t spend too long playing Kirk; the rebels will soon catch up to me, eager to wipe me out of the stars. I’ll have to balance spending time reinforcing my ship and crew with staying one step ahead of the enemy’s unstoppable advance.

Our first jump took us straight to a store. Cursing the gods of random generation, I was forced to stare in the window at all the powerful weapons on offer like a poor child at Christmas, knowing I had no chance of buying any of them at such an early stage of the game. I took a moment to increase my shield strength before moving on, thinking it probably wouldn’t be long before I saw combat.

I was right. No sooner had I dropped out of hyper-space into the next system when a pirate vessel hoved into view. Having spliced the mainbrace and shivered our timbers, he proceeded to bring his weapons to bear on the Kestrel. Re-routing power from the medical bay to the weapons, we returned fire and entered combat.

Within less than a minute the battle was over. Luckily for us, the pirates were a poor threat, now nothing more than chunks of debris drifting in space. My valiant crew paused momentarily to reflect on the tragic waste of life, before high-fiving each-other on kicking some pirate ass.

A dozen or so jumps later, the Kestrel presented a far more formidable ship. With the scrap recovered from various burning rebel ships, I’d managed to upgrade the shields and engines, not to mention finally purchasing an advanced laser system from a deep space merchant. We were getting over-confident in our abilities, and it’s about this time that FTL kicks you in the teeth.

That’s when I stumbled across Emily, marooned on a back-water planet far from stellar civilization. The charitable captain that I am took her aboard without first checking her CV,  leaving me rather surprised to find that she was actually a giant sentient preying mantis. The Mantis race, although technically inferior to humans, make formidable warriors. In the event of a boarding party she would be a useful addition to the crew, so I welcomed her aboard, despite some concerns about her fitting in to our all-human crew.

We jumped again, and that’s when things started to go wrong.

As far as I can tell, FTL doesn’t have a difficulty curve. Things are either going well, or everyone is about to die. Our last FTL jump had dropped the Kestrel firmly into the latter category, facing off against a powerful Mantis vessel.  Outmatched and outgunned, the Kestrel’s valiant crew struggled to keep the damage to a minimum and weapons firing as the destroyer tore our fragile ship apart piece by piece. Finally managing to get the hyperdrive fully charged,  we figured anywhere was better than here and hit the road, tail between our legs.

Our brave escape plan took us out of the metaphorical frying pan and into the literal fire. Our already damaged ship had dropped into the middle of a solar storm, possibly the most terrifying situation FTL can offer. Bursts of solar energy repeatedly battered against the  flimsy ship, smashing vital systems and igniting fires throughout.

Willow died first. A valiant pilot to the end, when the hyper-drive went off-line following a vicious solar flare she headed aft to repair the damage. As fire engulfed the engine room moments later, she bravely took it on alone with a fire-extinguisher before succumbing to the fumes. Next to go was Markus, Sam only seconds behind. Raging out of control, the fires rapidly spread throughout the ship, the deadly heat turning the Kestrel into a furnace. As they struggled desperately to bring the engines back on line, they both died to the rapidly spreading flames.

So that’s how Emily ended up in such a ridiculous situation. Alone, in danger, and a giant space-grasshopper. Scrabbling in desperation, she finally managed to bring the oxygen system back on-line, before plugging a few holes in the hull with toilet-roll. Finally, a warning flashed up on the screen. ‘Solar flare incoming.’

Yes, Emily figured. That sounded about par for the course.

The Kestrel exploded, chunks of the hull drifting apart, scattering Emily’s remains across the universe. Everyone was dead, my ship had been destroyed, and my mission was a failure.

I couldn’t wait to try again.

FTL is due for release in Autumn 2012 across Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

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