Indie games are one of the best things about the video games industry and it’s becoming easier and easier for an Independent company to be able to develop and sell games, especially with the popularity of the Humble Bundle. Whenever I feel disappointed by a big mainstream title, the Indie market is where I go to remind me that not all games require millions of pounds just to be average and, in fact, some fantastic games have been developed by just one or two people. So, as GTA 5 continues to dominate all the gaming charts, I thought it would be a good time to have a look back on an Indie game from last year that changed my very perception of the industry; the astonishingly good FTL: Faster Than Light. Developed by Subset studious last year after a successful Kickstarter campaign, it has since received enormous success and for good reason.
I find it kind of hard to classify. The main mechanics are definitely real time strategy, but there’s also a hint of turn based as well. The story is unique in that it is barely there and told exclusively through text boxes and yet is also one of the most compellingly told I’ve seen. You play as a member of the Federation, once a galaxy sized superpower, now smashed down to just a handful of ships after a rebellion destroyed most of the Federation loyalists. You find yourself deep behind enemy lines in possession of just three things: a ship, a crew and a single piece of intel that could change the course of the war. But to use it, you have to fight through eight sectors of space to rejoin with your few remaining allies with the rebel fleet hot on your heels.
All of this is explained in a single box of text before you start, but the story doesn’t tell you anything. It lets you figure it out for yourself. The game never even tells you if the Federation are the good guys in the war. Could the Rebels have revolted for good reason? Were they trying to overthrow an evil dictatorship? Maybe they have some kind of main aim for peace and the Federation are just too egotistical to listen. It doesn’t answer any of these questions and lets you come to your own decision as events pop up through your game.
When it comes to the gameplay, combat is fantastically fun. Your ship has a selection of subsystems, much like your enemy and you must lock onto these systems to disable them with lasers or missiles. However, most ships also have some sort of shield that will mitigate laser damage. Sometimes fights can go on for ten minutes or so as you try and whittle down the shields to reach the exposed underbelly. But at the same time, the enemy is doing exactly the same to you, so you’ve got to have your focus split between taking down the enemy’s main systems and repairing yours. Every time your ship gets hit it takes hull damage and should your hull reach zero, it’s game over. Should your entire crew get wiped out, it’s also game over and once one of your crew dies, that’s it. There’s no getting him back. It makes for intense stand offs and difficult decisions. Should you send your crew member with only half life into the room with no oxygen to repair it, knowing you can’t win without it? Or do you wait until he’s healed wasting precious seconds and risking taking more hull damage?
Once you have defeated the enemy ship, the turn based aspect comes along. You are given as much time as you need to repair your ship and crew, although hull damage cannot be repaired except at a store. The Rebel fleet only move when you move, so you can jump around the sector and explore freely as long as you keep an eye on how close your enemy’s are getting. While getting caught doesn’t result in a game over, it pits you against an incredibly tough Rebel ship that will almost certainly take off a few more points of crucial hull. Or an event will pop up out of the blue giving you a choice between two actions, one of which could endanger a crew member while the other could massively reduce hull damage. It gives a dynamic choice system that games like Mass Effect would be jealous of. There’s never a wrong or a right option, but you will always get that feeling of guilt should your choice result in the death of one of your crew.
The graphics are much as you would expect for an Indie game made by just a few people. They decided to take an artistic, almost retro pixilated approach allowing the loading times to be just about non existent. It doesn’t really feel like an Indie game as it’s been so lovingly constructed and, along with some of the backgrounds, actually looks really good despite the small budget. It does a great job of making space feel big and empty and your ship feel small and insignificant, escalated superbly by the astounding soundtrack, which has quickly become one of my favorites ever.
Once you get bored of playing through with the same ship, although personally I have no idea how you could with the randomly generated areas, interesting events and fantastic boss fight, then you have various other ships you can unlock as you play through the game. You can also recruit various alien races to aid you, either by paying them or saving them from slavers, all of which have their own little strengths and weaknesses that adds a little bit of strategy to your micromanagement as well. The amount of content in the game adds to the re-playability and, with the super quick loading times, this is the worse case of ‘one more try’ I have ever encountered.
So, that’s Faster Than Light, a game in which I am genuinely struggling to come up with criticisms for. Sure, it can be a little complicated if you’re only a beginner and the game wouldn’t appeal to you if you don’t like micromanagement, but its so pristinely put together that any petty annoyance I have got dog-piled by the sheer charm oozing from every aspect of this game. The only major issue I have is that the game hates you. It always wants your crew to die and will do anything it can to make you fail, even spawning enemies that are your weaknesses personified. But that’s all part of the game. Sure, you can meet an enemy that can rip your ship apart, but you could also go through the entire game decimating every threat that comes near you.
Lovingly created, polished and special, Faster Than Light is crying out for a sequel or even just some kind of spiritual successor and that’s why you should go give the developers all your money. After all, if they can make something this outstanding on a pittance, imagine what they could do with Bioware‘s budget.
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