FTL: Faster Than Light is for anyone ready to take on a new adventure at any time
FTL: Faster Than Light is a rouge-like for people who’ve never played rouge-likes. Its also one of the most addictive and re-playable games of the year. Prepare to take a rag-tag crew on a voyage across the galaxy battling pirates, escaping rebels, running missions for alien races and narrowly escaping asteroid fields, all in the span of about 2 hours!
For those who don’t know what a rouge-like is or who have never played one before, don’t fret as this game does not need you to be familiar with the genre. If you are very familiar with rouge-likes then you really need to leave all that knowledge at the door. FTL uses the randomly-generated style of rouge-likes, where each “sector” of the galaxy acts like a level of a dungeon. The first sector is level 1, second sector is level 2 and so on. Your ultimate goal is to reach the other end of the galaxy to face a final boss (which I never made it to, but more on the difficultly later). You’ll tear across each point of the sector one-by-one much like you would walk between rooms of a dungeon. Each point represents a random encounter, most of which are bad news for you and your crew.
Typically when entering any point you’ll be faced with an enemy ship, which you will then need to battle in real-time. The game deviates heavily from most rouge-likes in this fashion, relying only on 1v1 battles and while duking it out in real-time. However, each battle is typically very involved. You’ll try to take down the enemy’s shields and weapons systems before volleying shots at their hull. At the same time the enemy will be doing the same to your ship, so you’ll need to keep sending crew members to repair damaged systems or put out fires. This may seem very complicated and to be truthfully honest it is! That’s why the game also allows you to pause at any time. After I got more comfortable with the mechanics of the game I found myself pausing almost every 5 seconds to consistently micro-manage everything happening on the screen. To be successful in a battle and come out with a significant victory requires knowing everything that’s going on at once.
Between pauses you may be powering up certain weapons, deactivating others. Redirecting power from the engines to the shields or ordering crew members to man certain systems to give them a boost. You might even be so out-gunned that you’ll need to make a narrow FTL jump to the next part of the map. There simply can be a lot going on the screen, but I found that after playing the tutorial and my first sector, the game seemed pretty simple. Its surprising just how much of the game is simplified: crew members never suffocate, they only take damage, oxygen can be drained simply by clicking on doorways to the outside and the hull can only be repaired through purchasing repairs at a store. A lot of smart decisions went into the gameplay and it really lets you focus on the battle at hand.
But when you do land a kill it can range from a narrow victory of your ship being nearly destroyed in the process to a landslide victory with tons of spare parts and salvaged weapons or crew members to boot. Let’s just talk about difficulty for a second here: FTL is brutal. It will stomp on your face at every opportunity, especially later in the game. There is a save system for going to get a bite to eat and coming back to the game later, but there is no save system in the sense of “trying again”. When your ship explodes that’s it and there is no going back to that part where you took a wrong turn. I was killed several times just on the first sector alone! But because of the difficulty, the random layouts of the map and the prospect of making it further on the next try, odds are that you’ll want to start a new game right away.
Role-playing might be crippled a bit by the constant replays though. On my first few playthroughs I found myself imagining that I was really in The Kestral, reading every scenario meticulously and always considering my decisions at length. It felt like I had my own Star Trek crew and we were all having these wild adventures together. The low-resolution of the game brought back a love I had for older games that let my imagination fill in the blanks. But all lot of that magic died after about my 5th replay. At that point I knew most of the scenarios by heart and I could quickly click through the choices. Trust me: you’ll want to get through that text quickly after awhile since you’ll also be traveling to a lot more locations early in the game to gather more loot.
But loot is also fairly infrequent. Sure, sometimes you’ll run across a slaver ship and get them to hand you over one of their slaves to become the new member of the crew. That’s both good loot and good story-telling, but those moments are so few-and-far between that you’ll get pretty distraught on those really long stretches where you can’t find anything. This is probably one of the biggest faults of the game. Even on “Easy” I could hardly find good gear or enough salvage to upgrade the ship when I really needed it. There needs to be a “Super Easy” or perhaps a little more leeway with those rebels who are constantly on your back.
FTL just doesn’t mess around. There is a great big red line of doom will creep closer and closer to your ship as you try to escape the sector, which means that you don’t have much time to explore any one area (it also helps to keep the speed of the game in check). If I were to ask for anything from the developers, it would be that the first couple of sectors not have this “line-of-doom” and actually let you explore for awhile, gathering everything you need before the tougher sectors. It wouldn’t guarantee that the end-game be any easier, but it would give a better fighting chance. I often found myself with 3 crew members surviving and no hope of taking any damage at all when I made it to the 5th sector.
But is the game worth it? Oh my yes. Again, I don’t make any embellishments in saying that this is one of the most addictive games of the year. It is so easy to boot up a new game. It can even be a great pastime between other, bigger games. But what I like about it most is that it just always keeps me coming back. The cute bit-tune music and the delightfully low-res visuals and even the shorter playtime between games harks back to classic GameBoy-style games that worked so well on those long car rides. If only the game weren’t in reality so detailed, it would probably make a fine mobile game (but I wouldn’t count out a tablet handling this really well).
This game is not just something you should play, its something you must play, even if you’ve never touched a rouge-like much less ever heard of the term. Most of my friends had never played a rouge-like before and they found the game to be just as addictive as I did. I’m making a note now, because by the end of the year if I find another game that’s just as quick to pick-up and is just as addictive I’ll know what to compare it to.
*Somehow I managed to write this whole review without once mentioning that this game was one of the first Kickstarter projects to deliver a final product! That is amazing and I’m guessing since this review went on for so long that I’ll need to do a follow-up on that story later. In any case if you had any doubts about Kickstarter projects, let this one put you at ease.
**I should also mention that the soundtrack for this game is stellar. Probably won’t be a reason to pick the game up on its own, but its very nicely done and definitely enhances the experience. You can check it out on Bandcamp here.