King’s Videogame Review: FTL: Faster Than Light. The Creator of Its Own Genre for A Reason.
- Genre: 2D Strategy Sci-Fi Rogue-Like.
- Developed & Published by: Subset Games
- Platform: Windows, Mac, Linux and Mobile.
- Business Model: Base Game + Free Expansion
- Copy Gifted By A Friend
Preamble & Overall Gameplay Thoughts
I had seen this game get featured in various articles before its release and I’ll admit that I kind of let this game slip under my radar until after release. Since this happened, I’ve been working on ways of preventing this from happening in the future. But I digress. After seeing what the game was about post-launch, I was interested in picking the game up very soon though lack of funds prevented me from getting the game initially. Thankfully, a good friend of mine gifted me the game. FTL: Faster Than Light is a rogue-like, real-time spaceship simulator. In FTL, you must fly your spaceship through hostile space, fight pirates, make diplomatic decisions, and avoid losing your entire crew and/or ship to the cold blackness of space. This game has you flying through various sectors of space collection equipment and scrap (currency) to improve the ship as well as meeting new races and seeing new regions of space. All the while, you must outrun the Rebel fleet that is trying to catch you before you reach the waiting Federation fleet.
Subset games was started by two guys who originally came from 2K games. After leaving 2K, they decided to craft FTL. They manged to code the majority of the game but decided they needed more funds to polish the game and get better sound assets for it. So, they put the game up on Kickstarter for a measly $10,000 goal. The response to the game was overwhelmingly positive and it earned over $200,000 (2,005% of intended goal) at the end of the Kickstarter. It was released independently on September 14th, 2012 by Subset Games.
The Story and Gameplay.
You’re the captain of a starship for the Federation fleet that is being pursued by the overwhelming Rebel fleet. Why? Because you’ve learned important tactical information on how to defeat the Rebel fleet. You must deliver this information through a harrowing gauntlet of star systems and planets, avoiding overwhelming danger and surviving the odds. There are eight very dangerous sectors of space before you arrive at the Federation’s Last Stand. There are up to four different paths you can take in each sector where a randomly generated situation will either benefit or debilitate your situation. After surviving the eight sectors, you’ll join up with the Federation fleet to take on the invading Rebel fleet. At which point you must attack the Flagship of the Rebels directly while the Federation fleet attacks the Rebel fleet itself. Its game over if your ship or crew die at any point. For the most part, your choices have immediate consequences which will build up over time and may lead to success or failure. There are only a couple of choices you can make that will affect anything in the long-term. Generally, there are the prerequisites to acquiring new cruisers.
Each new cruiser you acquire is built and balanced differently from each other to fit a certain play-style. Some are better at stealth, some have better offensive weapons and some are better at taking over the enemy ship or removing all of the crew members. Each cruiser also comes with a B-layout that changes what crew, weapons and modules are included on your ship as well as the color of the ship. There is a great variety of ships for FTL, its just unlocking them can take a long time. When starting the game you get to choose the ship, the layout, the name of the ship and the name of your initial crew, as well as which gender your Human crew are. You can also choose the difficulty setting easy or normal. However, I think they mislabeled these and its more like hard and insane. Not that its a bad thing, but “normal” is not as easy as you would think in most games. Once you’ve done all this, your ready to start out on your adventure through the stars. You can choose which planet you get to jump to from the galaxy map. Just keep in mind that every jump you make means that the rebels come that much closer to catching up to you. Even if they do, you can fight them off. Its generally not recommended because the only reward you’ll get for beating them is one unit of fuel and no scrap. Scrap is the currency you use to repair your ship, buy new weapons and other miscellaneous items.
While the main story may not be that strong, the real story is the journey you take in this harsh universe. Will you lose most of your crew in a freak accident only to survive all the way to the last sector on a wish and a prayer? Or will you escape from a sun’s solar flare only to jump into an asteroid field and watch as your ship gets ripped apart by the asteroids and the nearby pirate’s lasers? Or do you send your crew down to a randomly planet’s distress call only to lose some of them as they are attacked by rebel forces? The story is played out with a lot of different text screens as you jump from one place in the galaxy map to the next. You’ll encounter many different races, each with their own set of needs and personalities which you’ll then have to decide what’s best for your ship’s continued survival. That’s the fun with games like this is that you get to create the story in your head as you go along. It happened more than once that I would say “ENGAGE” at my monitor as my ship escaped a brutal battle or mourned over the loss of a comrade who bravely defended invading forces from taking over the ship. So, while the base story might not be much, its what you create from the universe that will really engage your interest in the game.
Your crew is an important part of the ship. You’ll need at least one member as a pilot or your ship won’t be able to jump anywhere. The rest of the crew can then go to separate rooms for the separate ship’s systems. These crew members can fix damage to the ship and systems as well as increase the effectiveness of the system. The one thing they can’t fix is the ship’s hull and that is damaged by direct hits to the ship. If you run out of hull (which can be repaired at certain scenarios as well as any shops you find) your ship will be destroyed. So you’ll need to watch your hull health. These shops I mentioned will also sell any number of random items to enhance your ship for a price. Keeping a balance between buying new items, repairing the hull and upgrading the ship is a difficult one but its definitely one of the more enjoyable aspects of this game. Although scrap would far too often feel like it was too short in supply and I’d often have difficulty just keeping the hull repaired. Still, it all comes down to choices and sometimes the culmination of those scrap decisions can lead to success or failure.
All battles are fought in real-time with the ability to pause and you’ll rely on your wits, dodge chance and shields to keep you from becoming another decrepit hulk in space. You have access to drone systems, lasers, missiles, bombs, your own crew via teleportation and beam weaponry. To fire, simply select a room with the system in it that you want destroyed. Beam weaponry requires “drawing it” how you want it to be fired. Lasers are your standard weapon, able to take a chunk of shield and have a fairly quick recharge rate. Beam weaponry does more damage but can be stopped completely with shields. Missiles do even more damage but you have a limited supply and are stopped with shields. So it’s best to get rid of their shields with lasers and carve their ship up with your other weapons. Throughout the campaign, you’ll have to decide what ship’s system is most important to power. With the scrap that you collect, you can upgrade your reactor, the amount of power you can direct to your weapons, how much shields you have, how much dodge chance your engines have and much more. All of this has to be decided and strategized as you play FTL. Its best to figure out what your going to specialize in ahead of time as creating a middle of the road ship is more likely to fail, but not guaranteed.
The modding community behind FTL is stable and has quite a bit of creativity. There is no Steam Workshop integration and no news of it coming either but if your interested in trying out some mods, then you can visit this thread on the official forums. You can find a variety of different mods including different starship textures such as the Star Trek USS Enterprise and a Star Wars Star Destroyer. You can also find mods that tweak the game difficulty, mechanics and balance of the game. I did see a Firefly mod somewhere too. So if your interested in flying your favorite sci-fi spaceship then a modder has probably already built one for FTL.
Further Game Mechanics Thoughts
Mechanically, the game has a few issues that I didn’t like. FTL leans a little too hard on the random number generator for my liking. Sometimes you can get through a campaign swimmingly while in the next campaign you can blown up in the first couple of systems due to really bad luck and never getting any better weapons. Unlocking new cruisers is also way too luck based and more difficult than it should have been for my taste. It was a large source of irritation for me that I failed to acquire a few new ships simply because I was too unlucky to unlock the right set of events. And unless you looked up a wikipedia, the chances of unlocking all of the cruisers was pretty unlikely because the set of circumstances some of the unlocking requires would be too obtuse for some to figure out. And even then, you have to get the right region of space in the RNG to come up in your playthrough in order for you to even have a chance. Maybe the difficulty of unlocking new ships is fine for some but it wasn’t for me. I had initially planned on considering the game “complete” when I had unlocked all the cruisers but after failing to acquire a few of the cruisers simply because I was unlucky, I decided I wasn’t interested in doing that.
PC Settings & Audio/Video
FTL’s settings are a bit lacking. You only have a few options to control the size of the game on your screen. Those included are: windowed mode, full-screen (stretched), full-screen (black borders) and full-screen (FTL’s native resolution) which is not your monitor’s resolution. You also have no control over key bindings, though the default keys are pretty smartly placed. There are also a bunch of other minor settings you can enable or disable to your liking and you can see in the screenshot above. Overall, my biggest criticism of the settings choices would be the lack of resolution options as I’m not a bit fan of the current ones but they should work well enough for you. The game also features a good tutorial to get you up to speed on how to play. There is also a Stats screen which contains your best performance and achievements for each ship you’ve flown. The game is well polished as far as being free from any bugs or crashing problems are concerned.
I really like the whole look and style of FTL. Modern, yet inspired by retro style, graphics really worked for this game. The top down view on your ship works well. The way the UI is laid out is easy to figure out, well designed and enjoyable to use. The various regions of space you travel through are nicely represented by the scenic and dynamic backgrounds. Graphically, the game isn’t very intense and you’ll be able to run it on most modern graphic cards and CPUs.
FTL features a very atmospheric 8-bit soundtrack that plays a different song depending on the situation and/or region of space your in. Whether that be in the depths of a nebula or fighting off pirates. The soundtrack is definitely one of the strongest points of this game. It really envelopes you into the entire atmosphere of the game but is subtle enough that you don’t even realize its happening. Its really great to listen to on its own and you feel like your exploring the vast depths of space. If you’re interested, you can listen to the soundtrack of the game below which is available on Bandcamp and Steam as DLC.
FTL: Advanced Edition Thoughts
FTL: Advanced Edition fleshes everything about the game out, it’s that simple. The new alien race adds a new mechanic where they suck the air out of the room they are in. There’s new ships as well. It also comes with more music, weapons, encounters to overcome and UI enhancements to boot. It’s a free expansion so no reason not to enjoy it. It can be disabled if you’re wanting the vanilla FTL experience.
FTL is a fantastic game and I don’t think I’m saying anything new there. There’s plenty of content and challenge, as I got 30 hours out of it. Though the RNG can easily ruin a run and I’d classify it as overly harsh, but there’s something to enjoy every run. It’s one of the few games that genuinely gives the feeling of being a starship captain. If your looking for a starship simulator that is an enjoyable, simple, and well crafted experience, then give FTL: Faster Than Light a look. This became my Game of the Year in 2012.
Thanks for reading!