In FTL you experience the atmosphere of running a spaceship trying to save the galaxy. It’s a dangerous mission, with every encounter presenting a unique challenge with multiple solutions. What will you do if a heavy missile barrage shuts down your shields? Reroute all power to the engines in an attempt to escape, power up additional weapons to blow your enemy out of the sky, or take the fight to them with a boarding party? This “spaceship simulation roguelike-like” allows you to take your ship and crew on an adventure through a randomly generated galaxy filled with glory and bitter defeat.
What We Think
FTL: Faster Than Light is one of those rare pleasures – a game that is difficult to compare to any other. Much of its gameplay is strategy, yet many would call it an adventure on an interstellar level. It calls itself a spaceship simulation and a roguelike and of those labels the former does the best job of properly conveying the feel of FTL; it is a game that aims to give the player that starship captain experience that, to my knowledge at least, doesn’t exist in quite this form anywhere else.
Perhaps this is why it raised its funding through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign (raising over twenty times its original pledge) and why the buzz has not subsided ever since.
FTL opens by letting you choose a vessel before naming it and your first three crewmembers. At first only one ship is available but as you achieve certain goals more are unlocked for you to use on your next playthrough. Having readied your ship and named your sturdy crew you are dropped into deep space with an objective – get back to Federation space before the Rebel fleet catches you.
The main screen of the game presents you with the layout of your ship and an information display showing key data such as installed weapons and power distribution across different systems.
These systems include engines, shields, weapons, life support and the medbay, all of which need a steady supply of power to keep running. Your reactor puts out a certain amount of power bars and you can spread these across your systems as you see fit. This makes for some wonderful moments later on as you reroute power to weapons for that extra punch, leaving the oxygen percentage plummeting towards zero. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
The game moves forward at your pace, providing a pause function so that you can assess situations and make decisions at a leisurely speed. You’re given a map of the sector that your ship is currently occupying, showing a collection of points to which you can travel by jumping from location to location. Each jump uses up one fuel unit and each location could be anything from a civilised financial transaction to a brutal attack by slave traders.
When you reach the far side of a sector you can jump to the next sector, bringing up a large scale map that shows the web like path through the game to your goal. At the end of each sector you can choose which of the next two available areas you’d like to jump to. Meanwhile the Rebel fleet is only ever a few jumps behind you, forcing your journey onwards. The sectors and their contents are all randomised for each playthrough, keeping things reasonably fresh.
The sheer number of events that your ship can stumble into is impressive. From disease-ridden space stations to lost ships looking for a guide home, there are plenty of text-based decisions to deal with. Battles are by far the most common kind of trouble you’ll face, however, and they are almost as diverse as the text based challenges. The game comes with a wide variety of enemy ship types and a similarly diverse set of reasons for them to attack you.
Battles play out slowly at first, with weapons taking time to power up a shot and shields being able to hold off a set amount of hits before a short recharge. The tactics of these engagements feel like they’ve come straight out of a sci-fi series. You can target any system on your opponent’s ship and they can do the same. Do you focus all your fire on enemy weapons to minimise damage to your ship or do you take down their shield generator for a quicker victory?
Little decisions like this make every battle feel like an intense duel of wits. It’s also immensely satisfying to try out different ideas; knock out life support and wait for them to suffocate or beam over your crew to kill them the old fashioned way- there are countless possibilities.
Of course, FTL is pretty unforgiving and most of the time you’ll be the one on the receiving end of these strategies. I still hold the bitter memory of a fight where I opened my airlocks to flush out a fire only to have an enemy boarding party take out my door controls. I repelled the boarders and destroyed their ship but with the doors offline I couldn’t stop my precious oxygen from gushing out of the airlock. My crew perished, but at least they did so knowing they’d made the enemy pay.
The above story is just one of many. Perhaps the defining feature of FTL is that there are no take-backs. If your ship is destroyed or your crew die it’s game over and back to the drawing board. A game will last anywhere between ten minutes and a couple hours depending on how careful you are and how cruel the universe is feeling. I’ve had games where my ship was half on fire by the end of the second jump and I’ve played others where I’ve managed to crawl through several sectors.
Your decisions at stores and while upgrading your ship are almost as important as those you make in combat. You can spend scrap on upgrades to any of your systems or save up for new weapons and all important fuel. Weapons a suitably varied from lasers that cut a swathe across enemy ships to missiles that bypass shields.
Adding to this variety of strategy is the possibility of unlocking alternative ships and room layouts. Different ships offer wildly changing strategies from the outset of your game. The Engi Cruiser, for example, only comes with an ion weapon for disabling enemy systems and an attack drone for damage output. This forces you to rely on your drone to destroy the enemy while you use your ion blast to keep their weapons and shields offline.
FTL isn’t without drawbacks. It’s a shame, for example, that you can only unlock set ship layouts. It would be great to see a ship designing feature included in a future update, allowing you to organise the rooms on your ship, hire crewmembers and buy starting weapons based on a budget.
That said, there are enough ship designs available to keep things entertaining for a long time, especially given the difficulty of actually unlocking them. It’s also a shame that the post game statistics are not more detailed given the interesting stories that can emerge during a playthrough. It would be great to have a captain’s log of the key events in each of your journeys.
FTL: Faster Than Light is a superb idea that has been forged into an excellent game. The music and visual design are of a high quality, carrying both atmosphere and information elegantly. Each game feels like its own adventure and it only takes a few jumps for you to become invested in the survival of your crew. FTL is easy to recommend; if you have even the slightest interest in strategic starship management or permadeath adventure then this game has a lot to offer.