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FTL: Faster Than Light Game Review

Martin takes a look at the indie Kickstarter game that started it all...

As the caption might have suggested, I first got wind of FTL through the Kickstarter project that was started by Justin Ma and Matthew Davis. Both of them worked for 2kgames in China and that’s where they both decided that they wanted to make a game. A lot of people could tell that this game was going to be something special as they made 200,000 (around 1000% of their original target) which took them both by surprise.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

FTL is described as a spaceship simulation, real-time, rogue-like game. It has won a lot of awards even before it was released, including; Excellence in Design in the Independent Games Festival and I’m sure that there are many more that it will win.
Okay so here I go, you get a top down view of the spaceship that you are in command of and there are about six ships that you can unlock in total by doing a variety of missions or achievements. You can also unlock different ship layouts by completing achievements as well.

When starting the game you, I will use the first ship you get as an example, The Kestrel.  You get a blast laser, missile system and shields. You also start with three crewmen which you assign to sub systems around the ship (which I will go into more detail later on)

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

You basically have to make it through 8 randomly generated sectors using your FTL (Faster Than Light) drive. Each sector you will come across a number of events that will either test your morality or your skills as a ship’s captain. These can range between trying to rescue some people (which normally leaves me a crewman down as he gets ripped in two by a rather large spider!) to being out gunned by a Rock manned Cruiser and still managing to hang on until my FTL drive was spooled up.

FTL is unique. You can be as nice or as nasty as you want to be and there is no path that you need to follow, no script that you have to run through. Yes, there is an end to the game, but from start to finish anything in between is up to you. You can decide to obliterate every ship you come across or in the words of Monty Python… ‘RUN AWAY!’ There are whispers that there might be downloadable content later that includes a sandbox like never ending mode.

Another part of the game play mechanics that you don’t really notice but that happens really well is the way FTL scales in difficulty. When you start you have pathetic shields, weak weapons and hardly any crew. FTL does make it a challenge but not too hard that you cannot get anywhere, but as you progress through the sectors the difficulty scales up.

With the scaling in mind it’s very easy to get the hang of FTL, understanding the systems and how they work and you will soon get the hang of pausing the game to make life or death decisions for your ship and crew.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

No matter what event you come across, it will keep you engrossed in FTL with the randomness of what can happen one minute and change so quickly the next, for example; you can be armed up to your teeth with weaponry but with one good boarding party from an enemy ship and your ship can lose its weapons, shields and life support. All the while being chased across the galaxy by some pesky rebels!

This nicely brings me on to the systems that you manage within FTL. They are divided into primary and subsystems, for example, Shields, Engines, Weapons and File Support are all classed as Primary Systems while such things as Doors, Sensors and Helm, are classed as subsystems.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

All of the primary systems feed off the ships reactor, which cleverly will not sustain all systems when they are full upgraded. You have to manage them and assign power to different systems when needed, for example; in the heat of battle I normally turn off the medbay and assign the extra power to weapons or shields which I will give back to the medbay after the fight so that I can tend to my injured. (Giving away my secrets, here!!)

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

The balancing act of systems plays a major role within FTL and ensuring that this balance is right is enough to ensure that you either win or lose a battle depending how clever you are. You will find yourself pausing the game mid battle when a boarding party comes on board to assign some power to medbay. There has been many a time where I have thought big and bold but have failed because my reactor cannot power everything that I want.

You will be able to buy upgrades for your systems, such as stronger shields or salvage new weaponry or systems from battles or wreaks that you come across. There are also stores in the game where you use scrap that you get for a variety of reasons such as winning battles to purchase new drones, crew or weapons.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

What about the crew I hear you say? Well, the crew have 3 roles to play in the game one is to man the primary systems ( well, not all of them) They can man the Engines, Weapons, Shields and Helm. Keeping them on the same system is beneficial as they gain more experience being on systems. Stelly (my weapons guy) was so good on weapons that my laser cool downtime was faster giving me the edge in many a battle.

The second role of the crew (apart from being heroically consumed by huge spiders) is to defend the ship against boarding parties and my god! Boarding parties can cause some havoc on a ship, but with an experienced and a more significant crew, you should be able to take them but expect some damage and possibly to lose a crew member.

If you have a transporter on your ship, you can do the opposite and take over an enemy ship. But be warned! There is nothing more annoying than losing your boarding party when an enemy decides that he has had enough of fighting and uses his FTL to escape, it’s even more annoying when that happens and you don’t have enough crew to fight the fires and repair the ship before it explodes.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

The third role and less glamorous, is the repairing of systems, hull breaches and fighting fires, ensuring that your ship survives and is fighting fit, it might be more boring than fighting on alien ships or defend to the last man, but in some aspects it’s more important, many a time I have had to reassign crew to repair shields or stop the air getting sucked out of a breach before my crew suffocate.

FTL comes with 2 difficulty levels. “Easy” which is relatively straight forward and easy to get through, as the name might suggest but there have been times when I have even met my match on that setting. Now comes “Normal” and with any Rogue-like game normal is tough and I mean tough! I have only just managed to complete one run through on normal but that doesn’t stop me playing that difficulty.

As with all Rogue-like games it’s all about the permadeath which means no respawning, no going back to the latest save, death is death and there is no way around it. One feature added during the beta of the game was a save on exit feature, but this only works on exit through the menu and gets deleted at start-up of the next game, so no quick saves before a battle.

Games only last around an hour from beginning to end and so the replay-ability of FTL needs to be one of the cornerstone features and guess what - It really doesn’t fail to deliver. I went back to the game again and again to play for unlocks of different ships, ship layouts and achievements. They are not easy and I’m glad that they are not, but if you are stuck there are a lot of threads on their forums to give you pointers and hint on what you need to do.

FTL - Faster Than Light - Game ReviewFTL - Faster Than Light - Game Review

I found that FTL has one of those ‘one more go’ addictions to it, on my first run through I found that I was up until about 3 am with this ‘one more go’ attitude. It is a well-polished highly addictive game which I have fallen in love with. It shows what 2 men working night and day can achieve and they really have achieved what I see as a near perfect game, which since its release, I have spent about 50 hours or so playing and now yearn for an Android/iOS/Windows Phone 8 version of it so I can play it on the train on the way home.

FTL is fast becoming one of my favourite games of all time and I feel sad for the people that will not experience the joy and disappointment that this game has to offer. I’ll tell you now - for £6 this game is well worth the money. So leave, now, go purchase this fantastic indie title.