Whilst working on a review for the latest XCOM release, I was reminded of a game I fall back on when I just want something genuinely ‘nice’ to play. FTL is a game that I absolutely adore, and would be one of my go to recommendations of a game to pick up in the sales, even if you don’t want to pay the meagre £6.99 currently marketed on steam.

“It is a genuine criticism of mine that games nowadays are markedly easy”

I say ‘nice’ not for want of a better word, but because when a game is as well rounded, polished, and still as engaging now as when I first bought it, the end result is an aura generated by the game that is just downright pleasant. With simple game mechanics and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack, the game remains playable, difficult, and yet very rewarding. It is a genuine criticism of mine that games nowadays are markedly easy; if you can play through the game on hardest difficulty without that feeling of frustration every 5 seconds then in my opinion, the game is too easy. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction granted when beating a game you have spent several hours trialling, learning, repeating, perfecting. Don’t get me wrong, there is a fine line between grinding and perfecting in this context: the difference being grinding is working for small increases of profit, and perfecting is all or nothing. You either get it, or you don’t, you either pass the level and feel like a professional or you fail abysmally and start again.

“You either get it, or you don’t, you either pass the level and feel like a professional or you fail abysmally and start again”

Unfortunately, with games existing today, there is a tend to give the player so much help at any point that it loses all feel of actually being a game; instead just being a cinematographic experience with an occasional “press this button now!” feel. Games like ‘The Last of Us’, or ‘Heavy Rain’, which are intended as an experience in their own right do so very well, and are great titles, but for this reason exactly: they are an experience rather than a traditional “game”. Go back 30-40 years and you have games such as Pacman, Tetris, Donkey Kong: these original games were fun to play once or twice, but you could also spend hours and hours on these games trialling, failing and ultimately perfecting the art of playing them: it is this feeling that FTL emulates in the modern gaming scene so very well.

Faster than Light is a real-time Spaceship simulator created by developers Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, with its soundtrack written by Ben Prunty. I mention the soundtrack separate from the game because it deserves mention in its own right as one of the best soundtracks for a game since the iconic jingles of the original arcade games, and is part of the reason I love the game so much. Gaming music is historically crafted in order to add to whatever feeling the developer wants you to feel at any particular moment without distracting from the game itself, and this soundtrack is no exception. The game itself is a work of art, forcing you to trial and pick up new tactics in order to survive to the end and beat the game. The game is hugely diverse, with enough RNG (random number generator; chance events) involved that even using the same ship, you will have a different story each time you play. The overarching story is that you are a Galactic federation ship running from the Rebel Armada, and as such places a move constraint of how long you can stay in each system before you have to fight the Rebels. You build your ship strength, recruit new crew members and then confront the Rebel Flagship in order to beat the game; one playthrough taking anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. 

“You will die, all your crew will die, and your ship will float directionless and lonely in space for the rest of eternity”

In my mind, a game is considered good if it has depth, replayability, and is ultimately enjoyable. Being an avid EVE online player (EVE being renowned for having such a high skill ceiling) the difficulty of games is also important for me. If it’s too easy I’ll get bored; but if it’s too hard and not engaging I will also get bored and disregard it. FTL is not an easy game; playing it on easy will not give you an easy experience. You will die, all your crew will die, and your ship will float directionless and lonely in space for the rest of eternity. Until you start a new game and try again… And again, and again.

Anthony Conscience

Image: FTL: Faster than Light collection, taken from Beat Hazard > Deckards Workshop. FTL is available to purchase on steam

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