Right, where was I?
There we go.
For The Lulz is a roguelike space travel and battle simulator by Subset Games. Now, before your brain archivist crams this amidst stuff like Eve, Evochron, Freelancer, Space Rangers, etc, look at the interface:
Doesn’t look like your typical first-person dog-fighting simulator, now, does it?
This game’s focus is on managing your ship’s systems. Power management, weapon charging and timing, all that jazz. I only truly started puking rainbows when I realized you can control any door on the ship individually and extinguish fires by opening the airlocks. It’s tremendous fun, assuming you remember to lock your crew in oxygenated rooms elsewhere.
You start seven sectors away from your home sector, to which you must bring vital information about the rebel fleet that is chasing you on the way. The rebels are the bad guys for once! Violent, racist little rebels, they are. It is my firm belief that this is what Jehovah’s witnesses will become if we do not stop them now. Buy a sledgehammer today and do your part.
Anyway, meet Captain McBob and his two lovely assistants, Rama and Lama, which sadly cannot be customized to fit a slave Leia costume (I figured the sooner I get on Anita Sarkeesian‘s show, the more views I’ll get, so REDIRECT ALL POWER TO THE SEXISM DRIVE). I expect a patch to fix this very soon, Subset Games! Also larger pixelated boobs, preferably usable as an emergency oxygen supply.
So let’s see how Captain McBob and his two wenches fare in their odyssey.
Nebula, nebula, or nebula?
Decisions, decisions. Let’s go with nebula. It’s a gut feeling, I’m telling you.
The kitchen’s on fire!
One jump and the ship catches fire with a single shot from a shitty auto-scout. We’re off to a good start. I feel like during my first years of playing chess. The fun thing about combat in FTL is that you have this engaging real-time pressure telling you that every decision matters. For example, if I had told Rama to go give the Captain a blowjob, there wouldn’t be anyone left in the room to put out the fire. I’m so smart.
The battle is over and the crew collects fuel and scraps from the debris. Oh, Rama! McBob hadn’t professed his love for you yet! So young… so disposable. I guess She should have gone to the COCKPIT(!!) after all.
Oh well, Lama’s way better in the sack, anyway. But now it just sounds disturbing.
The other kitchen’s on fire!
Straight to an asteroid field. The day keeps getting better and better. Luckily, Lady Gaga over there surrendered and I chose to accept a bribe for their lives, although it’s also lots of fun to terminate their shields and watch the asteroid field do its job. I chose to be kind, this time, mainly because my ship caught fire. Again.
If this keeps happening, I’ll eventually evolve to breathe fire.
Really? Of all the empty room there is in space, we warp directly in the vicinity of a star? The radii of the danger zones around all the stars in the entire universe combined doesn’t add up to the volume of a frog’s pubic hair lost somewhere in Russia, and we manage to jump out of light speed here? The ship’s navigation drive must have been made by Apple. By this time I had entered Fuck It mode, and somehow managed to blow that genius to pieces and escape before my balls caught fire.
Because the first thing you do in direct range of a solar flare is fight with someone else.
Store. For space potatoes and shit.
Like a first-rate coward, I ignore the distress signal and move straight to the exit of this sector. I mean, look how close the rebels are! I can’t put my
whore crew at risk. Captain McBob is a responsible commander and didn’t get to that post because his daddy was a captain as well, and went to the same school as his daddy, and snorted buckets of coke, and knocked-up some cheerleader and needed an intergalactic excuse to dump her.
Seriously, what’s up with this ship always catching on fire? After another battle right at the exit beacon, McBob lifts his ass for the first time. I bet he never noticed the rest of the ship was on fire. He then orders Lama to go make him a sandwich after she’s done scrubbing the floor.
It means welcome in Gangbangian.
As soon as the ship reaches the new sector, it’s invaded by a barbershop quartet who promptly interrupt Lama mid-sandwich. They want a sandwich too. She says there isn’t enough jam for everyone. An intergalactic incident occurs. McBob’s humming the Star Wars theme and going “pew pew pew” at the window.
He’s a very sad man.
Damn it, Lama, I told you to knock!
In an attempt to advise the visitors to leave, Lama opens all the doors and airlocks and runs for the COCKPIT (!!), where she and McBob lock eyes, perfectly aware of their incoming doom. Between sobs, she tells him she loves him, the violins come in, he tells her to turn against the wall, because there’s something he wants to try before he dies.
Lil’ Bobby died happy. That’s all that matters.
The game is permadeath. So although you can save and quit, you can’t load to go back to a certain point, and when you’re dead, you’re dead. You start over.
After all this, do I feel like stopping? No. Not even after dying ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred times. That’s the beauty of Fuck The Lebels: Losing is half the fun. The fact that you can manage your systems and give orders to your crew with total freedom is what makes this thoroughly enjoyable. It definitely gives me the feel of being in charge of a ship, and it’s often quite fun to come up with strategies to beat specific foes or get out of sticky situations. Luck is always a factor, obviously, and McBob’s short-lived adventure was in easy mode! Granted, he was very unlucky. No other restart so far got this bad, and there’s no hard mode. I assume it’s because normal mode can get so hard that the only possible mode after that would imply having your ship spontaneously combust every five minutes.
If there’s any flaw in this, I’d say they could have made the backgrounds not look so blocky. I know the game’s aesthetic is pixelated, but frankly, the nebulae look like shit. Small thing to complain about, I know, but hey, as a CRITIC I’m an asshole by definition.
Along with all this, there’s achievements and unlockable ships with different alien races (with a second unlockable layout for each ship) to make the feeling of novelty take ages to go away, if it ever does, since the roguelike elements ensure that no game is the same. Also, most achievements make you feel like you had to work to get them, they don’t pop about all the time like in many other games where you get achievements for scratching your left nostril with your right hand.
The game’s modest soundtrack by Ben Prunty is well built to accommodate the necessary repetitiveness of the gameplay. It isn’t too stale or too invasive, it’s just right.
As a fan of persistent, evolving and long-lasting game sessions, it’s hard for a permadeath game to please me, but this definitely did it. Very well, in fact. This is another kind of persistence, and it works because the gameplay is simple enough to feel pleasurable without being a chore, and complex enough to keep you interested. It’s a delicate balance many games do not achieve. For 10 bucks, this is a miracle.
To give you an idea, I only got to the final boss once, in easy mode, and was promptly raped. So it’s a hard game. And by hard I mean hard. I mean so hard it rivals those long NES and Genesis games without save files (Link’s Adventure, I’m looking at you).
Either that, or I suck. Very likely.