FTL: Faster Than Light review
Imagine you’re on a spaceship with just enough fuel to get to your next destination. All of a sudden, you encounter a hostile extraterrestrial group. You power up your missiles and lasers and do battle. Already your ship has received extensive damage from previous encounters with rebel groups and pirates. Still, you carry on and battle as hard as you can. You realize your aggressors have sent aliens to invade your ship and damage your weapons and shield systems. Then, as if things weren’t already bad, the room with your oxygen system catches fire because you’re too close to a sun-like star. Ah, the life of a space traveler. This is just one of the few scenarios that occurred to me during a playthrough of FTL: Faster Than Light. Believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t the most demanding.
Developed by a couple of dudes who call themselves Subset Games, FTL is one of the first notable Kickstarter successes. Just looking at the game probably wouldn’t provide enough information for you to actually understand what it’s about and how it plays. No, FTL is one of those rare games that requires you to play it to really understand what it’s all about. And after that first play session, it goes from being just a game to being a wonderfully addictive gem that will have you coming back for more and begging for mercy every time.
The crux of the gameplay relies on spaceship management. You take control of an exploratory ship, its crew, and its various offensive and defensive systems. FTL is special because it can be complex, but it's still very inviting. You need to be constantly aware of the status of your ship and its crew, and at first this can be fairly daunting. After the first few play sessions, which are likely to take anywhere between 20 and 40 minutes, it all becomes second nature. That said, FTL is never a breezy little game. It constantly challenges you, but the more you play, the more you actually learn about how the game works.
You’re presented with an overworld map of sorts. At the far end of the map is an exit that you must use to leave your current sector and enter a new area. To get there, you need to select from open areas on the map, represented by beacons. Oftentimes you’ll have multiple open areas, but you don’t need to visit every one. In fact, because you spend one fuel point for every jump, it’s best to proceed as smoothly as possible. Along the way you encounter a myriad of situations. Many of these repeat, but they still feel fresh every time because you're often tasked with making decisions that directly effect your ship.
Upon visiting the beacons on your map, you’ll come across aggressive pirates, enemy aliens, greedy mercenaries (who can help you for the right price), or even shops. Each of these scenarios allows you to obtain resources to continue on your quest. Winning a battle or forcing your aggressors to surrender can result in new weapons, crewmates, and scrap, which is the currency in FTL. You can use scrap to upgrade your ship’s systems, reinforce or repair its hull, purchase drone parts, and buy fuel. Managing scrap is simple enough – you basically spend it on what you feel you may need for your journey. That said, sometimes it's best to hold on to scrap so that you can save up for a major ship enhancement, fuel, or other resources.
Practically everything on your ship can be upgraded. You can enhance your shield, oxygen, and weapons systems among other things. After you spend some scrap upgrading a system, it’s important to also invest scrap into purchasing points that you can allocate into the various upgrades on your ships. For example, if you upgrade your shield by two, you’ll have two empty slots. In order to fill those slots and actually have a stronger shield, you’ll either have to remove points from another system (never a good idea later in the game) or purchase two new points to fill said slots (a good idea, like, always). It’s this management of systems and subsystems that really makes FTL a sheer joy to play, and it adds an incredible level of depth and immersion like you wouldn't believe.
To add to that sense of immersion, you need to constantly make sure that your systems are in proper working order. More often than not, different systems within your ship will take a beating during shootouts. This results in the inability to use those systems. So if your health regeneration system takes damage, it may not work as fast or at all to heal your crew after they’ve taken damage from invading enemies or a lack of oxygen. It’s up to you to send your crew around the ship, fixing up any systems that may have been damaged. You can also install a drone to do that for you, but it’s always safer to be prepared in case you can’t afford such a luxury.
Repairing systems is an integral part of space travel, but it’s those moments when your ship is badly damaged during battles that you realize how essential maintenance really is. It’s one thing to win a battle and then have your crew make necessary repairs afterward. It’s a completely different story having to maintain your systems, all the while being under heavy fire from an enemy carrier. Suffice it to say that it's during these particular moments that the tension amps way up, and FTL truly shines as a worthwhile interstellar adventure.
You have to travel through eight different sectors to reach the endgame. You can save and pick up right where you left off if need be. Because FTL is a roguelike, however, don’t expect an easy ride riddled with extra lives and continues. You’ve got one shot to get through the eight sectors – you either reach the end of the game, or you falter and start over. I really found this roguelike design to work in the game’s favor because it made me change up my strategies every time, resulting in a vastly different game with every single play session. I can definitely see how the perma-death design may put a few gamers off, but if you stick with it, you're likely to find out just why this game deserves so much praise bestowed upon it.
At the start of the game, you only have access to one ship with some very basic systems. As you progress, however, you can unlock stronger ships with varying weapons, built-in drones, and systems. FTL reveals minor hints on how to unlock stronger ships, though it never gives anything away, adding to the mystique, and really making you want to explore deep space like you’ve only dreamed you ever would. As if the game wasn’t already addictive, having that added incentive of obtaining stronger ships really ups the replay factor.
FTL features a visual style that’s simple but not bland. The whole thing is easy on the eyes, and the various icons for your systems make it so that you never have a hard time figuring out what you want to upgrade or repair. Perhaps a bit more charm could’ve been added to the game’s graphical style, but that’s a personal gripe that’s really miniscule. The soundtrack in FTL really shines, though, and you’re treated to some catchy, melodic, and spacy themes. The fact that I was compelled to stay on the main menu screen for a few minutes just to listen to the theme music on several occasions speaks volumes of just how great the soundtrack in FTL is.
What you get with Subset Games’ roguelike spaceship sim is an addictive mix of strategy and management gameplay. The game starts out a bit complex, but it only takes a few play sessions to really get a good grasp of its various mechanics, all of which are remarkably deep yet still intuitive. FTL is a brilliant example of simplicity being turned into a complex art. This is quite possibly the most addictive game I’ve played all year, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that both rewards and challenges you the more you play the way this title does. The addictive factor in this ambitious endeavor is practically hypnotic, and the moment you get into FTL – and I mean really get into it – you’ll find a hard time staying away from it. If you play FTL, you’re probably going to return to it time and time again, because it really is worth experiencing multiple times, regardless of whether you ever complete it or not.
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