Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: FTL

What is it about roguelike games that makes them so much fun?

There's no reason that they should be fun. You're constantly failing. The penalty for failure is outrageously high, and there are many times you have no control over what exactly happens. You're fighting against a random number generator that frequently goes out of its way to screw you over.

So, once again, why are they fun?

The best explanation is that roguelikes are fun in the same way that card games are fun. For example, in poker, you don't have a choice about what cards you're dealt or what your opponents will do. They're all crazy variables that can change from minute to minute. The only thing you can control is yourself: You can try and read the situation, read your opponents, and place your bets accordingly.

That gambling sense runs through roguelike games. The only things you can control are your resources and how to manage them. Everything else is up to the game. You must play the hand you are dealt, succeed or die trying.

FTL plays that feeling to the hilt. In FTL, you're a lone spaceship on the run from Rebel forces. You must jump from star system to star system, collect crew members, scrap (FTL's currency), weapons and upgrades on route to destroy the rebel flagship. Along the way, you will die repeatedly and emphatically, and sometimes through no fault of your own.

That's part of what makes FTL so much fun, though. When you look back at your most recent run, you can usually pinpoint where it all went wrong. Maybe you spent too much scrap repairing your hull instead of buying a shield upgrade. Maybe you sent a crewmember to their death needlessly. Maybe you should have gone away from the star that was spitting out solar flares at you before it set the whole ship on fire.

Those sorts of decisions become learning experiences that you use on your next run. Invariably, you get dealt a new hand with different variables, but in the back of your mind are the lessons you've already learned. You make a promise to yourself not to make the same mistakes twice.

Can FTL feel unfair? Sometimes. Can it be needlessly random? Yes, absolutely. Is it a wildly entertaining game that keeps you wanting more? Of course.

Final Grade: A-

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