FTL: Faster than Light is a spaceship simulation rouguelike-like created by two passionate developers Mathew Davis and Justin Ma. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy, and does so in a spectacular fashion offering a fresh idea on the retro classic rogue style genre. It’s a Roguelike at heart, and it seamlessly weaves the genre’s celebrated use of randomly generated dungeons into a sci-fi setting. FTL is a spaceship management game; you choose your ship type, your crew and essentially take the reins as a Star Trek captain, which allows any sci-fi fan to get their inner Captain Kirk on, so get your photon torpedoes at the ready.
Watch the trailer for FTL here:
FTL keeps it simple, your vessel is a Federation ship carrying important data, and its sole mission is to outrun and outmanoeuvre the rebel fleet that’s always out to get you. This focus on simplicity is continued into the controls and UI which are well done, well laid out and easy to understand after a brief tutorial. Unfortunately, the simplicity also renders the galaxy into a dull place with the backgrounds consisting of the same planets, asteroid fields and nebulae regardless of your progression. Still, it’s a treacherous journey, FTL puts you under the pressure a real captain would face, managing the crew, fixing the engines, rerouting power to shields, targeting the enemy life support, and then figuring out how to repel the boarders that just transported over! The entirely of the game involves travelling through eight different sectors each play through. With travel in each sector centring on faster-than-light “jumps” that boost you to another node in the galaxy with little understanding of what awaits you. Each node has a random event, an enemy ship, an asteroid field, an ion storm or an RPG like quest which has various fun and thematic results, with most ending in combat situations, where the bulk of the game is played.
Combat in FTL is very intense and stat based, and involves quick thinking and tactical choices. Fighting enemy ships involves real-time management of crew, power distribution and weapons. It can be brilliantly frantic with many problems thrown at you at once, but you can pause the game at any time to give critical orders to your crew. By defeating enemies and completing missions, you collect scrap metal, the games currency, which is used to upgrade your ship through the purchase of new advanced weaponry, systems and abilities. The game offers a variety of ways to approach these combat scenarios. Want to devastate your foes through advanced weaponry? Upgrade your missile banks and armaments. More robotically minded? Deploy heavy drones for defence and offense, or if you are more of a pacifist invest in evasion and cloaking technology to circumvent your opponents.
FTL is surprisingly addictive for a such a short game. The game should only take 1-2 hours to complete but that is if you are able to complete it. I say this because the game is HARD, easy mode is hard, and normal mode is even harder. You cannot save during game play meaning any crew lost are lost permanently, and damage taken during battles is permanent, everything is permanent! The lack of a save feature and the randomness of the game gives FTL a great sense of tension. Each jump between beacons is accompanied by the threat you may run into a more advanced enemy ship, an ion cloud which will disable some of your systems, or an asteroid field which carries all the lovely things asteroid fields carry, big rocks! All of which could spell demise for your ship and crew. So with the threat of a horrific death ever present be prepared to die over and over again and be forced to learn from your mistakes. It’s all great fun if you’re a glutton for punishment and it’s the difficulty of the campaign that makes the game so addictive, It took me at least 10 attempts to beat the game, with 9 of those attempts ending with my crew being incinerated, asphyxiated or simply blown to smithereens
Addictiveness aside, FTL has fantastic replay ability and is great value for $10. There are nine different ship types, some requiring the completion of secret missions and certain crew to unlock. Each ship has two different layouts, which can be unlocked through various fun achievements, and there are seven different races, one of those being human and the rest being alien species each having special abilities as crew. Experiencing the entirety of the game will require multiple playthroughs.
Although FTL is a micromanager’s dream come true, and the space setting will really speak to sci-fi fans, I do have a few minor gripes. After extended play, the game gets a little too predictable. After just a couple of hours with FTL, you’ll have experienced every single scenario and pop up option it has to offer; the only difference springs from how the random generator shuffles them for the next playthrough. Unfortunately, that randomness also sometimes leaves you feeling as though luck plays a slightly more powerful hand here than skill. It’s quite possible to go through multiple battles with little in the way of upgrades or crucial supplies, just as it’s possible to get tons of scrap for trading and access to some incredibly powerful missiles.
Although FTL’s situations lack some variety and the randomness of the game as a whole can be quite frustrating, it largely makes up for these flaws through its intense combat and intuitive and deep micromanagement options. With it’s retro graphics and awesome soundtrack full of electronica synth it looks like a game from years past, but it demonstrates that the Roguelike genre still has plenty to offer almost 30 years after its first appearance. For $10 the game is excellent value, it manages to complete it’s mission beautifully considering it was only made by two guys and has tons of potential for improvement and expansion, i’d love to see multiplayer DLC in the future. If all future ship management games turn out to be this good, i’m looking forward to a lot more of them.