Federation of Free Traders, Atari ST

A space exploration and trading game from 1989 that was meant to rival Elite. And it almost did. Except for a fundamental problem… The problem was: travelling around; jumping from planet to planet was… To put it mildly: sticky.

It’s been well documented in the past: Federation of Free Traders (aka FOFT) has a problem whereby trying to skip time (and therefore speed up long travel times over vast distances) is interrupted by anything hostile nearby, which happens far too often. The audible alarm, which goes off when something hostile is nearby, goes off all the bloody time, and time-skipping (using the # key) is not possible when the alarm is sounding. It’s frustrating beyond belief…

Even playing around the timeskip problem it seems fairly evident to me that FOFT is no match for Frontier – and maybe even the original Elite.

FOFT does have its fans, and it’s a reasonably good game. Maybe too dry for its own good, but having said that: the space combat in it is pretty good. Having to get used to the controls is half the battle, but when you engage in combat it is quite exciting. After a short while practising I was able to lock missiles onto targets and take them out. Cross-firing lasers with an oncoming enemy ship is satisfying too.

I really didn’t like the command line ship’s computer, though. Command line? Really? How user un-friendly… Geeky, but not much fun.

Getting missions is a drag, but fulfilling them is another thing entirely. Escort a ship to the planet Geor? Sure, but just tell me: how the hell do I find the ship I’m supposed to escort? FOFT really doesn’t make it easy for the player…

Federation of Free Traders does have its moments. The space combat I’ve already mentioned. Navigation and hyperspace are alright. The 3D models are good for the time. But the game also has some terrible spelling errors too… It’s swings and roundabouts. There is some enjoyment to be had from this game, if you’re willing to persevere.

Note: I did read (quite recently actually), in an old issue of The Games Machine magazine, that Atari ST FOFT had been ‘fixed’ of the time skip problem. Either that was (and is) nonsense, or the version I have is the old one with the ‘bug’ in it. The Games Machine were right, though, it is a bug. Or at least a gigantic oversight by those who were too close to it to see the problem.

More: Federation of Free Traders on Wikipedia

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