Most of my gaming experience is playing huge triple-A blockbusters, games like Halo 4, Mass Effect 3, and Batman Arkham City. But every now and then brilliant independent games like Bastion, Braid and currently FTL: Faster Than Light by Subset Games push all of those mega-budget cross platform games aside and devour all of my time.
FTL is a simply executed but brutally challenging game that is one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in some time. It is also an early Kickstarter game project that truly delivered on its promise.
At its heart FTL: Faster Than Light is a throwback to game design of 10-15 years ago when there were very few tutorials, you learned as you played and experimented. It is also a game that literally has perma-death as a feature of the design.
Let’s step back a bit and explain the premise of the game itself. FTL has you playing as the crew of the Kestrel, a moderately outfitted ship that has plans the Rebel fleet want badly. Your goal is to deliver the plans while staying one step ahead of the Rebels. This involves moving your ship from sector to sector while the Rebel fleet continuously pursues you.
Your tasks are to take your initial ship with its starter shields, weapons, and limited crew of three and move through each sector towards your goal. As you pass from system to system you encounter pirates, stations, distress calls and enemy ships who will all test your ship to its limits.
As you defeat enemies or complete simple quests you receive scrap, fuel, missiles and drone parts as rewards. The fuel and missiles are simple to deduce the need for, but scrap is the currency and can be used to upgrade your ship’s systems or buy new weapons and parts at the randomly located stations in each sector.
Drone parts power the drones you obtain at stores are as rewards. The true goal of the game is to refine your tactics, obtain crew and upgrades effectively and last long enough to get to your end goal, but that is far more challenging than it sounds.
As you pass from system to system you are often challenged to a ship to ship battle with varied enemies from alien crafts to pirate vessels. These battles have you trading missile and energy blasts with the enemy, potentially encountering boarding parties, fires or system failures as you take damage.
Each battle becomes a true juggling act between hitting the enemy hard and keeping your ship operational. Some battles rage for many turns as you both lick your wounds, repair critical systems and then keep attacking. The game is brutally challenging in the fact that there is no real save system (you can save and quit if you need a break, but it is not a multi-save system); if your ship is destroyed, the game ends and you start over.
Typically this type of unforgiving system would not result in a fun game, but the gameplay and random progression incorporated into the design make this a wonderful experience that you keep trying over and over again.
The gameplay in FTL is very simple at its core. You see a cutout view of your ship and have access and control over all of your systems from shields and engines to medbay and fire control. All of these are powered and need a certain amount of energy to function; if one system is damaged then it is at reduced capacity. As you battle and explore you may receive damage and have to dispatch crew to repair it, or there may be fires they need to extinguish.
All the while you target distinct rooms on the enemy vessel to cripple or destroy them while defending yourself. Each scenario has many ways to resolve it; fires for example can be extinguished by your crew, but they take damage while doing so. I prefer to open the exterior doors to space and then open the doors leading to the room on fire, no air, no fire. This can, however, backfire on you if the enemy destroys your door control or oxygen producers, so both choices have risks.
The game is designed to be played many, many times and stays fresh due to the random maps and enemies you encounter in each playthrough. Your tactics can also switch depending on the gear or crew you manage to get.
This is why despite never reaching the end of the game I have still played FTL on the brutally hard normal difficulty more than 100 times. It is a game that is purely structured on a risk versus reward mentality. Every playthrough gives you different loadouts as you progress, different stages where you fail and more reason each time to play just one more game.
I can’t recommend FTL: Faster Than Light highly enough, it is an unforgiving, innovative, fun and completely engaging game that everyone should try. The fact that it currently costs less than a Big Mac meal to buy means there is no excuse not to have it.
Faster Than Light is rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Mac.