It’s time to fire up the warp drive again, in Shortest Trip To Earth!
My favourite ship captain from Shortest Trip to Earth was ‘famous cooking celebrity from the Rat Empire’ Hugo Furry. My expectation was that Hugo would help me with my organics shortage problem and conflicts with the Rat Empire. But alas, it seemed diplomacy and good grub were the last things on his mind. He was destined for the bridge. He led a drug connoisseur, a man with three lungs and two hearts, a GuGurkian translator, and a reformed criminal across the stars. Well, to the end of the first sector at least, where a hail of Rat Empire missiles annihilated my already starving crew.
This story might sound familiar for fans of the 2012 roguelike, FTL: Faster Than Light. It was an instant classic on release, thanks in part to its wonderful crew-based ship management and pausable combat system. There have been several games since FTL that have tried to mimic that magic simplicity but few did it well enough to stand out.
The comparison is obvious, but Shortest Trip to Earth flies in a different direction. The broader mechanics here will be instantly recognisable for FTL players. However, complexity and difficulty in almost every element of the game take a dramatic shift upward.
In FTL the only resources to worry about were scrap and fuel. Here you’re balancing metal, synthetics, fuel, organics, exotics, XenoData, explosives, and that all-elusive fate. The first sector is filled with the tax-happy Rat Empire and forces you to confront them through bribes, tariffs, and a carefully stockpiled pool of resources. You must carefully consider how you spend these resources if you want to make it to the next sector. Once I bribed my way through their warp gate, I was annihilated by pirates immediately (on my sixth attempt).
Thankfully, once you’ve reached a sector you won’t have to start from scratch should you meet your untimely end there. Unlike in FTL, you’re not expected to slog through every sector each run. It will take a long time to push through the crushing difficulty into each sector, but each one brings new challenges, forcing you to adopt new setups and strategies. Five sectors exist in the current early access build, and it already seems like a good number of hours’ worth of content. There are another five planned to be released before or at launch.
Fate is an interesting resource solely collected to purchase upgrades at the beginning of any new run. You often acquire Fate from various life-supporting planets. Say you come across a nearly sentient mushroom organism, you can harvest them for organics to help your current situation or research them to gain Fate for your next unfortunate crew.
This gives more meaning to seemingly lost or impossible runs. Sometimes I opted to gather as much fate as possible to give my next crew the best chance at victory. There’s a wider meta game at play during each attempt that gave each run a sense of progression, regardless of the mistakes I made.
You control up to 10 crew members from the beginning of a run, and more can be recruited along the way. They have as much variety as those found in FTL and figuring out their placement in your ship is half the fun.
Speaking of ships, there are already three available from the beginning of the game, and more are unlocked by reaching later sectors. They change things up significantly, and each has their own Fate upgrades unique to them. Modules are the ship rooms and can be moved, stored and scrapped depending on your needs.
Some ship management seems a little tedious at first, like having to move the crew to cryo-chambers during travel if you want to save organics (you will). I wish some of these more regular functions were automated, but it’s a small added layer of depth.
Combat is similar to FTL; prioritise targets by aiming at core modules and carefully monitor your ship’s hull integrity. The main difference is you can battle up to 8 other ships at a time, leading to exhilarating and frightening showdowns. There are automated roles you can assign to your crew during these combat sequences, limiting the busy-work needed for fire suppression, security and repairs. While combat is often smooth, the crew themselves are a little glitchy at times, frequently finding themselves stuck on walls.
The formula here is strong, but there’s already a sniff of a threat in that too much complexity can hurt in the long run. It’s easy to see how this could end up with too many features crammed into an already packed game. Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see. The universe on display here may not be pretty, but it’s been a joy so far simply to explore and encounter new things.
Shortest Trip to Earth is currently available on Early Access, and Interactive Fate hopes to have it completed by Jan 2019. There’s undoubtedly a bunch of balancing to take care of before release, but it’s shaping up to be a great roguelike. I’ll certainly be returning to lead many rat chefs into the devouring jaws of warp worms.