FTL: Faster Than Light
Space travel can be a beautiful, lonely experience.
Yet another game that I've been late to the table on, FTL harnesses the concept of replay-ability by infusing nearly every aspect between the start and finish with sheer random luck. Space can be a dangerous place, home to many an alien species and nebula to play havoc on your systems while you try and complete your goal. So then, pilot, think you can brave the dark cold of space and come out on top?
Plot is simple. You play a ship with the sole purpose of making it to the Federation's home base and delivering important data on the rebel's new super-weapon. On your first venture here you will only be having the option of one ship, the handy Kestrel, but you are given the ability to change the little sprite of your human crew members to male or female, and even rename your starting crew! Of course, there is a lot of open space (no pun intended) between you and your final destination, and you will have to fend of pirates, scavenge resources and fuel, and upgrade the various systems of your ship as you race against the closing rebel forces.
The impending doom of being overwhelmed by the rebels works nicely to keep you focused on your main task, but also (thanks to the randomized nature of each galaxy, each event, and each opponent) can really lead to the feeling of "if only I had one more moment to explore." Fuel is required for every destination jump, and without it you are left at the mercy of the first person to swing by (be they friend or foe) as the rebels close in. Scrap collected from ship wreckage (or event reward) can be used at shops to buy new crew, new gear to outfit your ship, fuel, missiles, or even repair damage to your hull. This, in essence, is the main overflow of the game - the big picture, if you will. From here, all other parts branch and the game starts getting complex.
You see, your ship has a finite amount of energy (this can be upgraded over time, but even then there is only so much energy that you can pull out of your ship) to be distributed across it's many systems and subsystems. Some things are common sense, the power sunk into engines will improve jump recharge speed (for those who need to run away) as well as enhance your ability to dodge,while other systems are a bit more intricate, such as the weapon systems which needs power driven to it in order for the weapon units themselves to draw power from. Sub systems (such as automated doors, sensors, and auto-pilot) won't count against your main ships power draw, and the added benefit of being able to see just where all the enemy ship's crew are before you teleport a bomb aboard can prove very useful. Power from the main systems can be added or removed on the fly, creating the potential for an intricate ballet of energy flow as you remove power from your med bay to supply the extra energy to your weapon systems.
The complexity of the ship during events seems daunting at first, but easily enough picked up after a couple of runs. The difficulty of the game can be tremendous, depending almost entirely on how luck treats you on any specific play through, although during battle segments the action can be "paused" to give you a minute to think about your next move. The more plays with a given ship you have, the more you start to understand the best way of utilizing it's starting equipment and crew, and you can start planning on saving for specific upgrades or weapons should the chance arise in your favor. Different ships are unlocked through playing the game and completing certain events (that will have their own requirements, like having a specific alien species as crew, or certain types of weapons equipped), and each ship comes with an alternate layout that is unlocked by completing 2 of 3 tasks while using the original version (ranging from using only a specific weapon to collecting a crew of all species). In this sense, it is a little bit saddening that you don't get to customize your ship's layout outside of adding on weapons or drones later on, but considering the average ship life isn't always all that long, I guess it's not too much of an issue.
Replay-ability here is absurd, thanks in no small part to the randomization of everything beyond your starting ships equipment and crew. On a good run you can feel almost unstoppable (well, at least until that final boss) and on a bad run, well, sometimes it feels like you shouldn't have even left port. Easy difficulty makes it a bit more forgiving, but don't let that fool you into it actually being "easy" to complete. The second run through, I had a phenomenal pool of luck and indeed I thought to myself "well this isn't as hard as I thought it would be." Of course, then I ran into the final boss - one of those lovely types of fights where its actually 3 separate battles - and got completely trounced on the last fight. If ever something should be remembered, it's that in a game of space where you have but one life to live, one should really avoid getting cocky.
The different weapons all have their own little quirks - bombs can be teleported through shielding to cause system damage (for instance, taking down the shields for other weapons) and missiles penetrate a good amount of shields to do their damage, but both require a missile to actually use. Lasers come in a random shot version or a more targeted path-beam (one of my personal favorites). Ion weaponry also exists, dealing no real damage but instead causing a system to go down for a set amount of time instead (great for knocking out the shields long enough to lands some laser blasts, or prolonging an enemy's escape to FTL). Drones exist in many forms as well, from fake-crew to repel invaders and fix systems, to orbiting weapons platforms and anti-missile defenses. Drones, of course, take drone parts as a resource to use (much like the missiles require missiles) and also require a drone controller system to be installed (comes default on some ships, must be purchased for others. Teleporters can be purchased and used to beam your crew aboard for a more hand-to-hand take elimination of the enemies on board a ship, although some species handle this a lot better than others.
All in all, it's a pretty fun game. I can't say that the randomization will never cause someone frustration - I myself have had a play or two that didn't last past the first sector do to continual bad luck then entire way. Diversity in the ships weapons and layouts, as well as the different abilities of the species of aliens helps make you want to replay it, possibly more so than the randomization of events and locations on the path to the end. The sound track helps give you that space-faring feel, and I know some people are rather in love with it (personally, I wasn't that enthralled by it, but at the very least I wasn't repelled by it in any way either). With the low cost of this game, I could almost wager there is no real reason to not get it, but at the same time with the complexity that can steadily build towards the games crescendo, I also can openly admit that you should really make sure you are interested in the game before you go and buy it.