Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
FTL is a Star Trek episode generator. You are in control of the crew of a spaceship and forced to race across the galaxy. Each new system visited brings with it drama, tough choices, high comedy, and the very high possibility of death. It’s thrilling.
But mainly, it brings stories. Arriving in a new system might see your ship immediately beset upon by an enemy vessel. ‘Give us one of your crew,’ they say, and you decide to refuse and fight them. One of their lasers causes a fire in your engine room and disables your ability to run away, and so you send in one of your crew – named after a friend, no doubt – to brave the flames and repair the equipment. You survive the encounter but just barely.
The next system will bring a different kind of encounter: a derelict ship with a potentially crazed person on board you can rescue or abandon; a slaver ship from whom you can accept slaves; a station, which you can use to restock fuel, repair your battered hull and install new weapons; or any one of dozens of other sci-fi plots. They’re simple little stories, but the decisions make them yours and the last-second escapes, desperate sprints into vacuum-exposed rooms, and crushing defeats make them memorable.
Whenever I read about FTL these days I read about people who are disappointed with its balance. There is, I’m told, only one real strategy possible if you want to beat the game and defeat its ultimate enemy. To not follow that strategy is to willfully play the game poorly. I sympathise, but I’ve never completed the game and have no desire to do so. FTL to me is a little thing I boot up for 15 minutes so it can tell me a story. It’s a game I’m glad I’m bad at.