FTL: Faster Than Light

Overview

Remo was dead. The missile from the Rock alien ship crashed through the hull, stripping oxygen from the engine room and leaving my poor engineer a shattered corpse. We got those bastards with our lasers and a missile of our own, but damn it, they got one of mine.

That was the last thought I had for him though. It’s hard to mourn when every tick of the clock puts the rebel navy that much closer to their goal and this intelligence report isn’t going to relay itself. So saying goodbye, I push dear Remo into the endless blackness of space’s eternal night, and set about repairing the hull breach.

Death happens very quickly in FTL: Faster Than Light. As a rogue-like inspired, space romp/resource sim, this Kickstarter funded and 2012 IGF Grand Prize Honorable Mention seemed to derive a giddy joy in killing me. I should have found this profoundly disturbing, not addicting enough to require its own 12 step program.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

Controlling a space ship through 8 sectors of space jumps and ship to ship combat in an effort to get vital intelligence to the Federation army, all with the rebel army nipping at my heels, FTL proved decidedly hard to put down.

Gameplay

Running your ship in FTL is all a matter of manipulating resources. Each of the ship’s main systems, visualized as their own separate rooms, requires energy to run, and some require crew members to operate at full capacity.

Energy can be moved from system to system at will, and often times I found myself turning off currently unneeded systems, like the medical bay, to power additional weapons.  More energy, as other system upgrades, can be purchased with Scrap (FTL’s currency) through the ship’s upgrade screen, so it’s not hard to keep everything powered at once, but events like ion storms can often leave you robbing power from your shields to bring life support back online.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

Made up of up to six different races, each with different stats, crew members can also be moved throughout the ship at will, and many systems, like weapons and shields, benefit from having someone assigned to them full time. Crew members can level up at their posts, often giving extra bonuses. When the ship is damaged, your crew also serves as repair crew, whipping out the wrenches whenever they are moved to an area of the ship that has been damaged.

With your ship powered and crew in place, moving around the cosmos is as easy as hitting the Jump button, provided of course you have enough fuel left for a jump. The game is broken down into sectors, which are in turn made up of twenty or so jump points. Each map has one point which considered the “exit”, giving you the option of moving on to another sector when jumped from. Additional fuel, as well as extra ship systems, crew and consumables (like missiles and drone parts) can be purchased for Scrap from randomly generated “store” points. Surviving long enough to make it through to the eighth sector, your end goal, depends on smart resource use, and lots of luck.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

Jump Points are all procedurally generated, and each comes with a quick text block describing your arrival point and whatever situation you managed to jump into. Points often introduce a “weather effect” in the form of an asteroid field or a star erupting in solar flares. Many stops also include choice, like helping a ship being attacked by pirates, or examining a derelict vessel in the middle of an asteroid field. Ignoring abandoned vessel may be the safest choice, but not taking the risk might mean losing out on resources.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

Sometimes you don’t get a choice. Sometimes, bad is just waiting there with weapons drawn. Combat against enemy ships, be they pirate, rebel, or aliens, is where FTL really bares its teeth, and even what appears to be the simplest engagement can turn sour in the flash of a solar flare. Weapons, like lasers, cutting beams, and missiles can damage systems or even worse, cause fires, which only your crew can fix. Occasionally, enemies may even teleport aboard, forcing your crew away from their stations to fight. You can pause the game during combat, issuing orders and aiming weapons, but it’s not hard for things to get out of hand, very quickly.

Graphics

FTL looks like what we’ve come to expect from independent games. It uses a retro-bit graphical style, displaying energy as green rectangles filling the ship’s systems that fill the bottom of the screen.  Fuel and other consumables can be found underneath the Hull Integrity (read as HP bar), and everything is easy to read even in its blocky text. Navigating around crew around the ship is simple, while doing more complex actions like clicking on blast doors, can be a little hit or miss. Information regarding ship status is all color coordinated, so broken systems show as bright red, areas without oxygen as bright pink, and fire appears as a pixel inferno that pleasantly spreads through your ship while waiting to consume your soul.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

Fun Factor

With as many ways and means that FTL has used to destroy my ship and murder its poor crew, it has never stopped me from jumping right back in. Managing resources, upgrading ship systems, always keeping one jump ahead of the oncoming rebel swarm, all of it equals one hell of a good time. Combat can be occasionally frustrating, especially when you see things go from hell in a hand basket to downright impossible in a matter of seconds. In fact, the only truly disheartening encounter is the final one. Having survived everything the galaxy has thrown at me, only to be summarily executed by FTL’s equivalent to Space Ball 1, it almost makes me question going again. That doesn’t last long though.

FTL Screenshot
FTL Screenshot

FTL also has its own in game achievement system, with unlockable ships and multiple starting configurations awarded for meeting certain objectives.  For completionists, they can easily keep the party going as you try to unlock everything.

Overall

Gaming can be hit or miss when it comes to getting what you pay for. Sometimes, though, a game comes along that not only provides a good value proposition, but well exceeds what’s expected. As one of the first of the crowd-sourced games to come out of Kickstarter since Double Fine ran the table with donations for Double Fine Adventure, FTL begins to show that as a viable way to finance games. While having some small issues, like no compatibility with Steam’s Cloud service, I have no problem recommending this. Play FTL, I am sure it will enjoy killing you as much as it has me.

Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!