Released on: September 14 2012 (PC, MacOS, Linux), April 3 2014 (iOS)
Available Platforms: PC, MacOS, Linux, iOS
Price: $10.99 CDN ($9.99 US)
There is hardly a better place to find awesome games for an excellent price than on Steam’s famous sales. Because of Steam sales, I’ve enjoyed games I have only heard about in passing. One of those games is an indie game called FTL: Faster Than Light. I like strategy games and the prospect of traveling through space. Since I heard a lot of positive things about it, I decided to grab it during a Steam sale. Is FTL worth all the praise?
Space: an infinite opportunity for discovery. It is also home to an endless amount of threats. Unfortunately, the player, a member of the Galactic Federation, finds themself on the losing side of a war with the human-exclusive, xenophobic Rebel faction. Fortunately, the player’s ship is capable of faster-than-light travel (hence the name of the game). It is up to the player to return an intercepted data packet to Federation headquarters while outrunning the Rebel fleet and avoiding any lethal threats along the way. I like FTL’s story; it reminds me of an inverse take on Star Wars. I also admire the way the gameplay demonstrates the power of the Rebels. They indeed are a force to be reckoned with!
FTL’s visuals are rudimentary. They adequately represent the ship, it’s sections, and the characters, but that’s it. The background showing off planets and space are neat however. The graphics do work for FTL since its goal is to express a narrative through its gameplay rather than its visuals, but those looking to be wowed by stunning visuals might be disappointed.
FTL is a roguelike strategy game. Players begin the game by selecting the difficulty level, deciding the composition of their crew, and, if they want to make the losses extra painful, give the personnel individual names. After the initial set up, they start running from the Rebels. They do this by jumping from system to system using their FTL (faster-than-light) drive. The player can jump to farther systems to gain some distance from the Rebels, but doing that uses more fuel. To get more fuel, provisions, and repairs, the player will need to stop by space stations. Scrap is the universal form of currency in FTL. Players earn scrap by encountering random ships along their journey. These ships can either be openly hostile, entirely friendly, or seem friendly at first, but backstab the player. The random encounters are what I love most about FTL, as they give the player the freedom to be friendly and helpful in the hopes of getting scrap or provisions or destroy any fool who dares hail the player.
More often than not, the player will be forced into combat by the encounters mentioned above. The player can target specific sections of the enemy’s ship to impede them. If the player wants to present them from escaping, they should focus on disabling their FTL drive. Disabling the enemy’s weapons will cripple their damage output, and taking out the opponent’s shields will leave them wide-open. One thing the player has to keep in mind is that the enemy can board their ship, making combat situations intense. It is interesting to be so attached to tiny ant-sized people (some of them even being part insect).
For the player to make it back to Federation headquarters safely, they must manage their ship’s health and resources as efficiently as possible. To do this, the player can use scrap to upgrade various parts of their ship. For example, if the player wants to use more systems at once, they can improve their power bay. Managing the ship’s resources and crew is satisfying, and doing well in FTL is a special kind of thrill.
One advantage the Galactic Federation has over the Rebels is their acceptance of alien races. This is an advantage that the player can use in their favor, as each race has unique attributes. The Rockmen are stone humanoids that have more health, and are immune to fires, but are slow. The Mantis, who are a race of giant, ruthless mantises, are experts in combat, but falter when it comes to repairing their ship. Finding the perfect synergy is incredibly satisfying, as it will feel like nothing can stand in the way of victory.
If the player gets used to the mechanics of FTL, they have the option to turn on Advanced Mode, which adds new races, new weapons, and new mechanics. What’s more, the Advanced Edition is free, meaning every player has access to it and can turn it on or off at their discretion.
Like the various races of FTL, it too has weaknesses.
The music, while atmospheric, is easily forgettable. When playing, FTL, I tend to forget there even is music playing in the background. Like the lackluster visuals, the music, while not a deal-breaker by any means, is underwhelming.
What could be a deal-breaker is FTL’s difficulty. Astute readers might have noticed that I mentioned FTL is a roguelike. That’s right; if the player’s crew gets wiped out, or their ship gets destroyed, it’s back to the beginning. What’s worse is how quickly a playthrough can go south. One minute, the player is on top of everything and has a sense of power and security, the next, they lose half of their crew, everything is on fire, and the ship is on the brink of destruction. The player can unlock different ships to suit their playstyle better, but even on the easiest difficulty, FTL is a challenging game.
Unlocking new ships is also no easy feat in FTL. To get new ships, the player has to complete specific objectives during a run. It is nice to incentivize the player into trying out new things, but, as mentioned earlier, if the player isn’t careful, they can find their ship, and their crew, in pieces.
FTL: Faster Than Light is an enthralling game, despite its high level of difficulty. The magnificent world-building helped keep my interest for a long time. I would recommend FTL to those who can get past the simple graphics, lack of memorable soundtrack, and fans of challenging strategy games.