Wednesday, August 5, 2015

FTL: Faster Than Light - 2/20 hours

With the exception of those games that incorporate real-world historical atrocities, Faster Than Light has to be the grimmest game I've played to date.  The thing that makes it different from just about every other game out there is that when you die in FTL, your death is almost sure to be slow.

One time, I barely managed to win a space battle. The enemy was long since vaporized. But in the course of the fighting, my oxygen generators were damaged. The atmosphere on my ship had drained away into space. But my medbay was still functional. My surviving crew huddled in there, healing damage as quickly as suffocation damaged them. The situation was stable, but I was stuck. In order to get anything else done, I'd have to repair my oxygen, but the room was too far away and the job took too long to do. Anyone going out to attempt it would die before they could finish. And so I could see the inevitability long before it came to pass, and I had a good long moment to contemplate it, and to empathize with those poor, brave, imaginary astronauts - trapped in a tiny chamber, with only a thin piece of bulkhead to separate them from the depths of the endless void, gasping for air, while being kept on the cusp of consciousness by the silent, yet implacable industry of their machines, knowing that rescue was impossible and their mission had failed, that their only hope was suicide mission that was sure to fail, but praying for the slim chance that the sacrifice of one life would somehow be enough to save the rest.

But I was privileged to witness the terrible truth they could not - their hope was a false one, and the ultimate sacrifice would not be enough . . .

And, with this game, that sort of revelation happens all the time. There is a noticeable and regular gap between the time you lose the game and when the program officially calls a game over. Usually, there's nothing you can do but wait it out. But not always.

Sometimes, you are actually able to squeeze out a miracle. You'll cut things close, but you resources will prove sufficient. You'll squeak out a victory, and your ship will live to fly another day. And the only way to get those miracles is to try, even when common sense tells you that you've lost. You have to keep going, because you can't be saved at the last second if you didn't fight in the last minute. Sometimes, it is enough.

But usually it isn't. The rules that govern the universe tick on, and to them you're not important. Some things that are broken simply can't be fixed. All the frantic scrambling in the world won't conjure air out of nothing, or stop an enemy laser when your shields are on fire. That's the grimness of the game. You are doomed with the knowledge of your inevitable death, but the only way to live is to pretend it doesn't matter.

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