Captain on the bridge!
Welcome my dear crew, as we take on the task of reviewing one of the first games to come out of a kickstarter initiative, FTL: Faster Than Light.
In this game, you assume control of a starship from an Star Trek-ish Federation. The Federation is in shambles, though, a rebellion has torn it apart and the rebel fleet advances inexorably towards the remaining Federation fleet. Your ship is the lone survivor of the last battle against the Rebels, and you must bring, against all odds, some extremely vital information to the Federation fleet, information that could turn the tide of the war.
Oh, and the “odds” thing? Not kidding. Prepare to die, many, many, many times.
Now, on first impression, and from screenshots, you might be scratching your head about what the deal is with this game and why it has started something of a cult following so few days after it came out. I’m going to try and explain why while trying to be the least fanboyish as possible, seeing as I simple LOVE the game.
First let’s start with what the game isn’t. FTL it’s NOT an spaceship simulator, though you will spend 100% the game commanding a spaceship.
What FTL is, is a Rogue-like dungeon crawling game. “Wait, what?!” I hear you say. “Aren’t there starships in this?” Well yes, indeed starships are the “characters” in this game, but don’t let yourself be fooled by the coat of paint, as the situationist vibe in the game is minimal.
You control your ship from a top down perspective, and instead of “moving” the ship, you move your crew around the ship, assign targets to your weapons, and redistribute power to the different ship systems. Combat is thus somewhat “static” in the sense that when you fight another ship both the enemy ship and yours just stay on screen exchanging volleys of fire till one goes down.
By assigning crew to different posts, you can improve different ship functions, for example having a crew member operate the engines gives you some extra evasion, and having one operating the weapon systems make them load faster. Crew also need to watch out to the hazards of space battle. While an attack might not take you down, it might damage some important system, create a hull breach or start a fire. Crew members must then rush to deal with this emergencies, leaving you to the decision of which posts to leave unmanned, or which crew members to risk, as fires, lack of oxygen and boarders can all prove deadly.
Your crew gains experience, but very slowly, and there’s only three levels of expertise. Getting these levels of expertise however, is almost imperative to complete the game, so you’ll become somewhat paranoid when moving your crew around.
Now, the crux of the game is reaching the Federation fleet. To accomplish this you need to jump from system to system, and along the way you’ll have different random encounters. Some will be beneficial, some will present you with a choice, and some will be traps or outright fights. Worse, the Rebel fleet advances for every turn you spend on the system map, and if it ever catches up with you it will start removing “events” from the different parts of the map and substituting them with difficult fights that give you no reward.
Because of its random nature, the game is always quite challenging and fresh, though it has the drawback of feeling a bit like a luck based mission (which it is to some level, specially with some of the alternative ships). If you fail to get enough scrap (the game’s currency), crew members or decent weapons, you can find yourself easily in a dead end of a game. Worse yet, the game, intentionally, only has one save slot for your current game. Dying means losing your game and getting kicked right to the beginning, something really harsh that modern gamers might frown upon, but something that adds to the challenge and replayability.
If you get into it though, the game is really engrossing and the challenge really can click with you. Since the game is really short (it can be finished in a couple of hours) you can feel yourself improve with each attempt, bringing you closer and closer to victory, which is a sensation that few games can accomplish nowadays.
To add to it’s replayability, there are multiple ships and variants to unlock, each brining it’s own unique style, and forcing you to relearn the game, bringing back the challenge should you have lost it with the ships you have already tried.
Because of it’s simple nature, the game is also very easy to mod, so there are already dozens of small mods for the game, and be prepared to see some really nifty stuff done by the fans.
The creators are not behind the curve, and we’ll probably see some official variants, expansions and addons to the game.
For now, FTL is only single player (something that this reviewer loves, we need more good Single Player games!), but because of it’s simple construction an online VS mode will most definitely appear somewhere down the line.
Review Round Up
Graphics: 3/5 – The designs and environments are cute and have a lot of personality, but in this day an age they are a tad too simplistic. It still is a very good effort on the part of the developers, considering their small Kickstarter budget!
Sound: 3/5 – Beams, explosions, different SFX and ambient music is good and fits the game perfectly, but it’s nothing that you’ll be humming when you’re done. Again, a good effort, but not enough to get honours.
Gameplay: 5/5 – If FTL has one thing going for it is its gameplay. Simple, tight, and extremely addictive. The brutal difficulty and randomness only add to its charm, though it will make you want to throw the computer out the window sometimes.
Longevity: 5/5 – You might as well grow old playing this game! While the game itself can be completed in just under two hours (quite possibly less), its difficulty and randomness will prolong it a lot. Furthermore, the different ships you unlock have all different playstyles, giving you a new reason to play every time you unlock one.
Overall: 4.5 Phasers out of 5
FTL is a game that shows us the marvels that can be done when Kickstarter works. It’s a simple and cheap game, but engrossing and fun in a way that many modern AAA games lack, and it’s a blast to play. Considering it costs $10 on it’s official page, which gives you an Steam key and a DRM free copy (with a linux version, to boot!), it’s almost sacrilege not to buy it.
- Jose Luis Perez Zapata