Reroute power from the Medbay to the engines, we need to make the jump now! I know you’re a space slug with tiny arms but that doesn’t mean you can’t do your job! Tell the giant mantis to stop lazing about and get on weapons and where is my rock-man? He’s on the other side of the ship?! So with the speed he walks he should reach the shields in about a week. You know, I’m all for diversification on space travel, after all I am a polar bear, but this is just getting ridiculous.
FTL: Faster Than Light is a top down, real time strategy, and space simulator. As the player you command a space ship with a mission to deliver vital information that can stop a rebel uprising. On your mission you jump from point to point in space dealing with a wide variety of encounters. Broadly these come under two descriptions: you either encounter a ship or have to deal with a random event. Encountering a ship can range from fighting rebels to making deals or fighting slavers; the random events roster is even more varied, ranging from fighting giant alien space spiders to helping a planet deal with a terrible pandemic.
The purpose of all these missions is to gain scrap, the currency of the game, so that you can outfit your ship with better weapons, more crew, various upgrades, and new abilities. There are nine sectors to travel through, each with a large number of beacons to explore, but you constantly have to deal with the rebel fleet that’s chasing after you and the information you carry. It’s not instant death if they catch you but you really don’t want to end up in that situation.
FTL is a roguelike game, meaning that it features randomized levels and a permanent death system. This does make for quite an intense experience but can be equally frustrating as I shall discuss later. The fact that it’s a roguelike means that you won’t have two games that will be exactly alike, although after a while you will learn the various encounters you might have and what you should be aiming to do in each sector. It also means that you have to look after your ship because if you don’t…
This is a game for micro-management, controlling your crew, manipulating your power supplies for maximum benefit, and firing your weapons all requires individual commands and planning. You put in a lot of effort to get your ship through encounters safely but it is very rewarding when you do. It does make you feel like you’re in Star Trek or Firefly and you’re balancing risk vs. reward when it comes to dealing with a new situation.
It’s quite a difficult game with this constant feeling that you’re running out of time and every decision being important. It can be played casually but even the so called easy setting can be quite punishing. Despite this the game is for the most part fair; you won’t immediately meet ships that can destroy you without you being able to touch them. Enemies scale quite well along with you so unless you are careless or unlucky you shouldn’t find yourself in too many hopeless situations.
The game also has a fantastically in depth world with seven races of creatures, all of which can be recruited, including telepathic space slugs and partially robotic humanoids. Each race also has specific ships that you can unlock and pilot. There is a wealth of detail about the races and the galaxy that the game provides in little text boxes as you travel.
FTL is a fairly short game but with the incredible amount of replay value this isn’t really a problem. It does sometimes mean that by the time you’ve finally finished upgrading your ship to the level you wanted the game is over and you have to start from scratch. However the game always has this sense of running out of time because of the red wall of the rebel fleet that’s chasing you through each sector so I suppose it’s very fitting.
Though there is a great deal of variety to the encounters you will, after a while, see the same ones, particularly with ship battles. But this is nitpicky and not really a problem. There is one battle, however, that does irritate me and that is the final boss. I don’t have a problem with it being hard, it’s good that it’s difficult, but I have frequently ended up in a situation where it is impossible for me to win. Unless you have kitted out your ship one or two specific ways you will not be able to complete the game. It makes it very frustrating when you have a ship that, for example, is good at killing crews, only to find you cannot possibly beat the boss that way.
FTL is a fun game if you like your micro management. The atmosphere of being a space captain is a great one but if that sort of strategy gameplay isn’t your thing you probably won’t enjoy it. But if you have even a slight interest in real time strategies with a bit of a challenge to them you can’t really go wrong with FTL. There isn’t a plan for a direct sequel but this is a franchise which, I feel, could be used some more. I just want to see more of this universe while piloting a ship full of rock people. Is that so much to ask?