IT is going to be hard to review FOFT without mentioning Elite. But I will give it a go. FOFT is very like Elite. Oh, darn it!
Well it is true. To say that the author borrowed some concepts is putting it mildly, but since nearly everything which has been borrowed has been improved upon, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I keep expecting to meet Commander Jameson every time I dock and be able to buy him a drink.
You start docked at a space station in orbit around a rather dull planet. You have nothing but a ship and 150 credits to your name. your ship comes equipped with two computers, one for navigating and one for general use. The latter is fully programmable by you in a Basic-like language called Simple.
It also offers you access to the outside world by using GalacticNet, the 21st Century equivalent of MicroLink, where you can talk to other pilots, deal in cargo or arrange to re-fuel and equip your ship.
Conversations with other pilots are of a taxing nature because they all seem to have the same grasp of the English language as a certain Spanish waiter in a certain Torquay hotel. If you do manage to get your point across you will be able to make some lucrative black market deals. Like this:
Me: Where are you going?
Them: Don't know.
Me: Why are you going?
Me; Erm. Want to buy some drugs?
(The rest of this conversation is strictly business).
The FOFT universe contains the regulation number of dimensions. Instead of a flat 2D collection of stars, we are presented with a 3D rotating spiral galaxy. Plotting a course involves zooming in and picking the shortest distance between two stars, taking depth into account.
Animated scans of the multi-planet solar systems are interesting to watch and very useful because they give vital data on the planet you are visiting and what sort of cargo they may want to buy from you.
No expense has been spared in your spacecraft, which comes complete with the latest interstellar jukebox: Press a key and a menu of 20 classical tracks appears for your delight. Everything from my favourite Vivaldi pieces - the largo and allegro from Spring - to some Swan Lake care of Tchai... Tchaicof... that Russian bloke.
The Blue Danube is extremely conspicuous by its absence. It may take you some time to get out of the habit of humming it on final docking approach.
Once you have wheeled and dealed your way to riches life may become rather dull. Time to phone FOFT HQ and ask for some freelance hero-type work. Sure enough, you will be appointed to a mission which will earn you some more money and street-cred points. If you complete it successfully.
A typical first mission will have you acting as escort to a group of unarmed cargo craft. Looks like we got ourselves a convoy. Yee-hah!
Graphics are solid 3D, smooth and fast. All the spaceships whiz past at a frightening rate, and you have only a few nanoseconds to sight wistfully at the loss of the look left/right/behind option of Elite before you are fighting for your life as some pirates try to steal your collection of towels. It is a hard life being a hero.
If your ship gets damaged - perish the thought - you can assign some repair droids to fix it.
There is even an unexpected bonus in the form of a planet landing sequence. Re-enter and skim over the glorious 3D scrolling surface until you reach the airport. Landing on the planet will enable you to get better prices for your cargo. This section of the game pays more than a passing resemblance to Virus, but who is complaining?
Everything you possible wished for while playing Elite has been granted in FOFT. Talking to aliens, landing on planets, more music, more weapons, a selection of star drives - the lot! You even get a docking computer as standard.
Criticising FOFT would be petty. Everything is great: The graphics, the music and the incredible gameplay. FOFT has obviously been written by someone who was not content to play the best space game available - he had to write it himself!