Steam is laden with many games. As a result, it can be difficult for a certain game to stand out in the crowd. If one looks hard enough, though, it is possible to find a gem. “FTL: Faster Than Light” is one of those gems. It is an independent game developed solely from Kickstarter money. Many invested in this game, and they got a fun and very challenging game that is well worth the expense.
FTL is a rogue-like game created by Matthew Davis and Justin Ma, the creators of Subset Games. The premise of the game is that you are the captain of a Federation starship with vital information to end the rebel uprising that is tearing the galaxy apart. Armed with their wits and whatever scrap they have to get by, players must traverse eight randomly generated sectors of space to rendezvous with the Federation fleet. Players start out with a basic ship but can unlock more as they play though the game. Along the way, players collect scrap to purchase upgrades, weapons, fuel, missiles, drone parts, drone schematics, repairs, subsystems, and new crewmembers. Players only have one life, so to speak, and must survive until sector eight and take on the Rebel flagship. Once it is destroyed, the Rebel fleet crumbles and the Federation wins the war.
Within a sector, there are beacons connected to each other, but some do not connect to ones that allow players to move forward. Each beacon has a different environment. Open space has no environmental maladies. Asteroid fields damage shields and eventually the hull. Suns give out solar flares that start fires which damage the ship and crew over time. Nebulae obstruct sensors and may reduce the ship’s power capacity. However, this never seems to affect enemy ships. It is recommended to visit every beacon to collect supplies and scrap to buy more supplies, but the amount of time a player spends in the sector is limited since the Rebel fleet can move into the sector and take over the beacons. In order to escape, players must reach the exit beacon to move to the next sector. Each sector has three categories: green, red, and violet. Green sectors have fewer battles and have more opportunities to resupply. Red sectors are hostile and have more battles and fewer opportunities to resupply. Violet sectors are nebulae and have a mix of hostiles and resupply opportunities. Each sector and galaxy is randomized so there is no memorization involved, just skill in navigating the ship and luck. Also, each beacon has a random event that requires choices. These choices have no bearing on the rest of the game, but players can never be sure what each choice will yield.
There are many components to the ship. Weapons are divided into six categories. Burst weapons fire several laser shots that are effective at taking down shields. Beam weapons damage several “rooms” (areas that hold the ship’s subsystems) of the ship at once but shields block them. Ion weapons take down shields and disable a ship’s subsystem for a while. Heavy lasers deal heavy damage to rooms and are moderately effective at taking down shields. Missile weapons bypass shields to deal heavy damage but are inaccurate. Finally, bombs are more specialized and can be used for a variety of tasks.
The ships can handle other subsystems as well. Shields protect the ship from hull damage and regenerate after a time. If the shields are manned, then the shields recharge faster. Hull damage can only be repaired at stores. Engines allow the ship to travel from beacon to beacon within a sector and evade enemy fire. If the engine subsystem is manned, the ship is more likely to evade enemy attacks. The piloting subsystem, which must be manned, allows the FTL drive to power up so the player can move onto the next beacon. The weapons subsystem keeps the weapons armed. If manned, weapons charge faster. The other subsystems cannot be manned. The doors keep out fires, intruders, and keep oxygen in the room. The oxygen subsystem ensures that the crew has air to breath. The sensors illuminate the ship’s rooms and enemy ships’ rooms when upgraded. The drone subsystem powers up drones that are used for a variety of tasks such as offense, defense, repairs, and more. The teleporter sends the crew to board enemy ships. Cloaking dramatically improves the ship’s evasion. Finally, the medbay heals injured crewmembers. The reactor powers each subsystem, but it only has so much power for every system. Part of the game is knowing how to prioritize the power needs of the ship. This system can get incredibly complex, and that adds to the game’s challenge. All of these subsystems can be upgraded to be more effective, but the price for upgrading requires more scrap each time and upgrading the reactor to provide more power to match the greater power demand of the upgraded subsystem.
The final aspect is the crew. There are seven species in the game. The humans are balanced and have no strengths or weaknesses. The Zoltans have less health but are able to provide extra power to a subsystem. Rockmen are very slow but they are immune to fire and have the most health. Slugs can see into adjacent rooms when the sensors are down and are incredibly useful in nebulae. Engi repair subsystems quickly but are less effective in combat. Mantises are very good in combat and are faster than the other species but they repair subsystems slowly. The Crystals are a unique species that is very rare and they are more resistant to suffocation, a little faster than the Rockmen, have slightly less health than the Rockmen, and are able to freeze rooms and prevent the room from being used. Depending on the crewmember, you can get “blue choices” that provide alternatives to random events that require choices. Blue choices often have a more positive outcome than standard choices. Even having particular or upgraded subsystems can yield blue choices. Each crewmember can gain proficiency in six areas: weapons, which allow faster recharge of the ship’s weapons; engines, which allow greater evasion; piloting, which allows greater evasion; shields, which allow faster recharge of the shields; repairs, which allow faster repairs; and combat, which allows more damage to be dealt in hand to hand combat. It is important to keep the crew alive by preventing fires and keeping the oxygen levels high, which makes the game even more challenging.
Despite its simplistic appearance, FTL is extremely complex. Players need to keep track of so much at once that it can get overwhelming at times. Fortunately, players can pause the game and give orders while the game is paused. This allows for more complex strategies to be enacted. However, this does not mean that the game gets easier. The enemies are hard to defeat and look for every way to cripple your ship. They can even divide the player’s attention with boarding parties while the enemy ship keeps firing. Their weapon arrays are diverse and will keep players frazzled trying to defend against them. Another major component of this game is luck. Players do not know what they will encounter. Unlike most games where this is cheap difficulty, this is designed to make players work with what they have and learn how to use it effectively. Even on easy, this game is very difficult and it makes players work hard and learn how to strategize properly just to make it to the final boss, and even then the boss is incredibly hard to take down. Players will lose many times before beating the game, but that just makes the sensation of victory all the more rewarding. The story is nothing special, but it does not need to be. The gameplay is engaging enough that the simplicity of the story can be ignored. Still, it has enough backstory to keep the player’s interest. This game is also very addictive and players will want to play it over and over to refine their strategies and intimately know what each weapon does and how it can be used most effectively. In addition and most importantly, this game has a lot of intrinsic reward for victory and is a lot of fun.
FTL is a unique game with a lot of challenge involved. It is very complex and requires a lot of strategy. Players will want to play it over and over again as each playthrough is different from the last. Players can only formulate strategies by experience from each ship, sector, system, and many other factors. This game will keep players entertained for a long time as they try and try again to achieve victory for the Federation.