Survive a Hostile Galaxy in FTL: Faster Than Light

Looking for a new indie game to try out? Released this September, Subset Games’ FTL: Faster Than Light is an indie spaceship simulator/RPG that has garnered a lot of praise among the indie game community. FTL’s fresh take on old strategy games is finishing out the year at the top of several Best Of lists. Does the gameplay stand up to the hype?

These Are the Voyages…

The Galactic Federation, made up of a variety of alien races, is under attack by a massive rebel incursion which threatens to destroy peace. In FTL: Faster Than Light, you are the commander of a lone ship carrying vital intelligence to this Federation. Your mission is to outrun the rebel fleet, jumping from sector to sector using faster than light travel, until you reach the Federation homeworlds.

It’s going to be a long journey.

The player represents a single ship in the Federation fleet. The ship’s crew are just tools that help the ship complete its mission. You’ll begin by choosing a ship and warp-jumping to the nearest FTL beacon. From there, you are faced with a series of random encounters which nearly always force you to make a difficult decision, such as beaming down to a planet to save survivors of an epidemic or passing them by to avoid infecting your crew. Think of it as an interstellar Oregon Trail, only with warp drives instead of oxen and particle cannons instead of dysentery.

A good part of the game focuses on resource management. Scrap (space currency) and fuel are in short supply and you’ll never have enough of either. That fancy laser weapon may be powerful, but you’re more likely to hock it for a quick hull repair and extra fuel just to get to the next sector. The game also discourages lingering in one spot for too long, as the rebels are hot on your trail, as indicated by the spreading red area of rebel control inching across the beacon map.

Whenever your vessel is parked in a star system, your ship is represented by a grid, with each of your Star Trek-style primary systems and subsystems clearly marked. You can control where power is routed by clicking on each of the systems in the simple and intuitive HUD at the bottom of the screen. There is limited power, so there will be situations where you have to choose to shut down the life support to keep the ship afloat for a few more minutes while you blast pirates to oblivion. There is a bit of a learning curve in figuring how to manage all of these systems at once, but the interface is so simple and easy to navigate that even casual players will have no trouble becoming accustomed to FTL’s management system.

Mantises Only Understand Force

The meat of the game is the combat, which will occur often and with increasing difficulty. Combat occurs in real time, but you can pause the action at any time to ponder your next move. All weapons have charge times, so you’ll want to stagger your attacks, hitting different systems with different weapons. Each weapon has its own pros and cons–for instance, missiles can bypass shields, but are in limited supply. The bad guys can also target your systems, too, so you’ve got to order your crew to run around and put out fires, patch up hull breaches, and kill enemy down boarding parties.

The Battle Screen

The Battle Screen

Once combat is through, you can upgrade your ship by boosting its power capabilities and systems, which gets increasingly more expensive. Shops are also available along your way to provide you with hull repairs, new crew members, parts, and fancy new weaponry and gadgets to prepare you for the next big battle.

I Hope You Packed Your Zoltan Ale

It’s worth noting that this game is hard. Really hard. Although FTL is rather short and can be beaten in a few hours, you’ll likely die dozens of times before reaching the final sector, even on Easy Mode, drawing out your play time. If your ship is destroyed, it’s game over and you’ll have to start from the beginning. There’s no extra lives or loading up a more forgiving save.

Those red blinky lights are bad.

Those red blinky lights are bad.

Hull damage can usually only be repaired at shops for a fee, and if you’re out of cash, you can easily end up in an impossible situation. The items you’ll receive at the end of a battle or come across in shops are random, and so are the enemies you encounter. This means sometimes you’ll be left underpowered and outgunned. Sometimes you’ll die because you made a mistake. Other times it’s just the luck of the draw.

Conclusion

FTL is more about replayability than simply winning. Each death teaches you something about the game’s mechanics and the risk/reward nature of the game. The game also rewards you for taking different routes and using different play styles by making different alien ships for you to choose from. Since the encounters are all random, each playthrough is completely different.

The graphics and sound are very simple and are reminiscent of the 16-bit era of gaming. The developers obviously went for functionality over flash. In this case less is definitely more. The interface is incredibly easy to use for such a deeply complex game and adding any additional layers of modern graphical glitz to it would do little to improve it. Overall, FTL is an incredibly addicting game, and with perserverance, it’s a lot of fun to come back to over and over again.


Summary

An unforgiving yet addictive spaceship simulator/RPG.

10
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