It is a shame that it took so long for FTL to be created. The design is so simple and the execution is so perfect that the wait has been worth it. How many geeks have dreamed of being Captain of their own ship with the ability to yell “FULL POWER TO ENGINES” while battling an alien threat? Every geek. The gaming landscape should be completely clogged with decent ship managing games but our dystopian present has only now been graced with FTL.
Faster Than Light was one of the first Kickstarter successes in the video game scene, so the anticipation was thick. There was some fear that it would be the first of a string of high profile Kickstarter failures. This is an unfortunate light to view FTL in when you first boot it up. I personally was at the edge of my (captain’s) chair and more than a little nervous.
As you begin your mission you are presented with a somewhat customizable crew and a ship named “The Kessler” by default. The creators of FTL, Subset Games, created an excellent tutorial to ease you into your roll as a commander. The initial learning curve is low but as you finish the tutorial you are told that you are expected to die often and that is part of the fun. The Kessler is equipped with a range of weapons and operation systems that you must juggle to maximum efficiency with your trusty crew to accomplish your mission.
You are tasked with relaying an important bit of intel that is crucial for the war between the evil Rebels and your Federation. Each game of FTL is unique and you never really know what to expect. As you enter each system you spend fuel to travel from point to point either fighting off enemy ships, trading with friendly outposts or assisting the local population. It is important to know that FTL is considered roguelike –like; the major tenants of roguelikes are represented. Each map is completely randomly generated. If you die, you are dead forever and there are no second chances, but as you adventure you earn rewards that help you survive.
Deciding how to upgrade your ship is just as important as knowing when to pick your battles. As you fight enemy ships or assist the inhabitants of the universe you earn scrap that can be used to upgrade your ship or to buy additional components from stores. You could choose to focus all your scrap on the best weapon systems, but if you neglect your engines or shields you will die. On the other hand you could try to use robots to do your fighting knowing that you may run out of drone parts and become weaponless. Plus, if you complete certain requirements you can unlock additional ships for future games, which opens even more gameplay options.
Since the galaxy maps are always different you will not know the best ship to bring to the fight. A good balance is usually preferred but the genius of FTL is that there are so many different outcomes for both your ship and your individual adventure. Each unsuccessful attempt to stop the Rebel forces feels hand crafted and manages to keep you playing long after you have screamed and cursed at your computer. Every attempt feels like “this could be it” and after almost a dozen hours it has not become the least bit repetitive. Also I haven’t beaten the damn game.
FTL can also be reduced to a resource manager if you are feeling reductive. In order to reach the final boss you have to save enough fuel so that you can actually reach it. But as you’re told with each new game, you do not have enough resources to reach your goal so you have to fight for them. While you are hopping from system to system you are being pursued by the Rebels who slowly take over the entire map, making travel much more difficult. Therefore you are forced to earn your rewards by fighting pirates, rebels and the like in order to earn the aforementioned scrap to see you through your mission.
Your crewmembers are in charge of running the more complicated systems so that they run more efficiently, repairing your ship and fighting off the odd intruder. Meanwhile you are also commanding the gun systems to target specific locations on the enemy ship. You can choose to destroy their shields and then focus your firepower on their weapon systems leaving them both offensively and defensively incapacitated. You can also target different sections of the ship if you have other goals.
FTL is nearly perfect for what it is. The only complaint is that it is really hard, but I think that is also one of the things I love about it. It can really kick you when you are down but I also love the stories it creates. For example, I was on my way to saving the universe but I attempted to rescue a space station and my crew got killed by giant spiders. If you are a fan of planning and space combat then you owe it to that budding star captain in your heart to pick up FTL.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC version FTL: Faster Than Light provided by GOG.com. It is also available for Mac.