FTL is an instant indy classic. Typically I’m not all in when it comes to the old style “pixel” graphics model for modern games, but I gotta say, FTL is pretty enjoyable on a few levels. It can also be frustrating as hell! But that, in large part, is all part of its winning gameplay style. So lets dive into this FTL: Faster than Light Review!
FTL is a space exploration game. You have constant view of your ship from a top down view, and you can see all the rooms in your ship, at most times. I say at most times because FTL has a great level of detail when it comes to what each room in your ship does. There is a surveillance room, which is where all the computers for your surveillance systems are stored. If you can put a character in there, and he gets upgraded (automagically through gameplay, if he doesn’t die), then you can see inside ships when you start a battle. You can also achieve these types of upgrades by buying them for your ship. This might seem like a not so necessary thing to upgrade when you could be upgrading shields, weapons or your ship’s engine instead. But, having the ability to know where to fire your weapons to disable an enemies ship is crucial! Its the kind of difference between driving a Golf and a Lexus. Sure, both will get you there, but the Lexus makes it a lot easier and more fun! Want to disable your ship’s shields, well now you know where to shoot so that he’s stuck repairing his shield generator all day. Want to destroy his Oxygen instead, so that everyone on his ship suffers terrible suffocating deaths? Yup, you can do that too.
It swings both ways though. If an enemy gets a strategic shot into one of these rooms in your ship, then you have just as many problems. I started a game once, was maybe 3 minutes into it, got into my first battle, a fire started on my ship. I couldn’t contain it, it spread to every room of my ship while slowly killing my entire crew. Then it just burned my ship until it exploded. That’s a royal screw job, especially being only 3 minutes into the game! Its frustrating, but you pick up your broken soul and try again. And again. And again, and again, and again.
I’ve slid way off my main topic here, which is normal for me. If an enemy can take out your surveillance room, then you don’t get to see inside any room where you don’t have a person there. Now imagine trying to fight a fire that you can’t see. The first time I played this happened, because I was a noob and my surveillance gear sucked. A fire broke out in a room I couldn’t see, eventually spreading to main rooms, destroyed my ship. It happens. Or, you have a great surveillance system, but you get into a battle, the enemy teleports 3 guys onto your ship (oh yeah, surprise!), they take out your surveillance room, then start fires on your ship in the rooms you can’t see. Its total dick manoeuvres. Unless you do it to them first. Then you’re Jean-Luc Picard smart!
Typically you start the game with 3 crew members in total. Sometimes you can find a new crew member in a nebula somewhere in the vastness of space. Other times you can buy a new character at key trade posts in the game. You’re given maps of sectors that you need to get across. You have multiple choices in your path. Take the fastest way from the left to the right side of a screen of paths just to leave the sector as fast as possible. However, you’ll miss things, like potentially new crew members. And those crew members are super important. As I mentioned earlier, they can boost whatever system they are trained in, or sometimes you get an elite guy that can boost just about any system you strap them into.
Another gem of an upgrade is to upgrade your doors. “Your doors?” I can hear you saying that. Yeah, its a room on your ship, and its totally upgradable. Lose that room, lose the ability to open and shut doors. “Oh no! Who gives a shit?” I can hear you saying that too. Doors are super important. See, one of your upgrades is to fireproof your doors. And if you haven’t gauged this from what I’ve written here already, fires are your biggest enemy in space. Side note, get a fire in a room that has a door to outer space in it, make sure its sealed off from the rest of the ship and just open the space doors. It gets vented. Amazing FTL, I love your attention to detail. Upgrading your doors will also slow down any teleported bad guys trying to get between rooms. Assuming you keep all the doors shut, all the time… which you should, during fights.
I’ve never made it to the boss level on “normal” game play mode. I always had to drop the settings to “Easy”. I waited for a really long time to do this. I thought, I’m ruining the game for myself. This beautifully crafted series of super fast math equations that determine my levels of joy through unbelievable come back victories, straight out blood baths, or stealthy wizardry. I’m being poetic here, there’s no wizards in this game. But the move to “Easy” mode did allow me to get further than I ever did in the game. To be honest, I still have no idea how you get to the end of the game on any level higher than easy. I tried, oh my God how I tried. Oh and even on easy I got obliterated by the final boss ship. I’m sure there’s probably tutorials about what to upgrade and how to go about it, but it still comes down to more chance than anything. Like a good old fashioned board game, its based on background math determining your fate. It used to be dice, now its algorithms.
Something else that perplexes me a bit about this game is how much you would have to play to get a new ship. Its borderline mind boggling. Unless the case is that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to buying a new ship, which is totally plausible. I will admit the intro ship is plenty of fun and can be upgraded for a very long time through the game.
There’s no story arcs per say in the game. You have a main mission to get across the vastness of space to blow up a super huge ship that will tear your ship (and your soul) into tiny pieces, but along the way just about anything can, and will, happen. And it doesn’t effect your main goal of finding that big ass ship and destroying it. You can do a side mission, but there’s another part to this game I haven’t mentioned yet…
While travelling across space the main bad guys are chasing you, sort of indirectly. They’re doing sweeps of sectors right behind you. Its your goal to stay ahead of that. I used to think instant death awaited me if I fell into it, but it doesn’t. You just get into WAY more fights. Well, ever move is a fight then, and if one fight goes wrong, the domino effect can be catastrophic. My suggestion, don’t let them catch up to you. But that’s all part of the cat and mouse part of the game. Take a side mission to save some poor soul, and then find yourself behind the sweeping line, or so close to it that you don’t get to explore much of anything on the way. That being said, if you can pull off the side mission, totally do it!
There’s other surprises in store for you if you do decide to pick up this game. During a Steam bi-annual sale you should be able to find it extremely cheap, and its worth every penny of that extremely cheap price. The going rate for FTL now is about $11 (Canadian). Anything 50% off or better is totally worth it. Be forewarned though, the game can get addictive. As you die A LOT! Over and over until you can get just a little further into space… to die again. So a game can last 3 minutes (where you literally go down in a blaze of glory) or it can last 20 minutes … or even more. But more often its in the 10 minute range. So you bang out a few games and think, just one more try. Then you die. But just one more time, I’ve got it! They mix everything up on you regarding battles and you die in 5 minutes. Freak fire most likely. You go back in again. Then you realize you just spent 3 hours on this game. Your disappointed in yourself, but happy about your travels at the same time. And that’s the best description of this game in short order.
Although there is no multiplayer option for FTL, I felt it deserved a Social Factor score just based on how much you will talk about playing this game with your friends. Hint: Its gonna be a lot!