FTL: Faster than Light (Yes that does appear to be its full title) is an indie title developed by Subset Games. It is a space-based simulation / strategy game in which you travel from planet to planet and sector to sector as you try to deliver a vital piece of data to some Federation.
In the meantime, you are being pursued by the Rebel fleet who is about to launch a massive attack on the Federation. Along the way, you come across struggle after struggle in the form of Rebel forces, space pirates, and distraught or distrusting locals among other things.
Gameplay in FTL involves traveling from planet to planet, during which you come across many different encounters. Typically that means you are confronted by some sort of enemy, such as a Rebel or pirate ship, and are prompted to make a decision, whereby you choose between attacking said ship and trying to evade it. There are other encounters as well, such as coming across distraught civilians or finding stores to replenish your supplies.
When you do decide to attack a ship or when you are the one being attacked, you are taken to a screen that shows your ship, along with its systems and crewmembers, and the enemy’s ship along with their systems. You fight by choosing one of your weapons, such as missiles or laser guns, then choosing which of their systems to attack. These systems are vital ship’s functions like the engine or the shield generator or the oxygen generator. If you severely damage one of the enemy ship’s systems, (or, more importantly, if they damage yours) then it becomes no longer functional. If their pesky shields are getting in the way of your lasers, then you can destroy their shield generator to leave them exposed. This can have severe consequences to you as well, for example if they destroy your oxygen generator, your crewmembers could suffocate, leaving you with a quick game over.
Not only do you control your ship’s weapons during combat, but you also control your crewmembers, both in and out of combat. Normally, your crew will be faithfully working at their battle stations, where they are buffing your weapons or shield systems or manning the cockpit, but in emergencies you can move each crewmember to repair broken systems or fight fires or defend the ship from invaders.
While FTL is very exciting at first, combat between ships can get very repetitive and boring after a while, since all you are really doing is clicking on a weapon then clicking on the other ship then waiting for the weapon to recharge, rinse and repeat. The game is most interesting when you are near death and are struggling to put out fires, repair your oxygen system, and fend off a Rebel ship all at once. Otherwise, it gets boring pretty quickly. That said, FTL is a very difficult game, so you will see those moments quite often. Even at the easiest difficulty, you would be hard-pressed to actually make it your goal. There are no continues either, so once your crew dies out or your ship gets wrecked, you will have to start over from the beginning. The difficulty actually serves to make the game better, though. Soon, the goal becomes getting a new high score rather than making it to the end, which harkens back to the days of the old arcade or classic console days.
The story in FTL is rather generic and uninteresting. You are simply given one “help message” that tells you to deliver some vital data to the Federation base while the Rebel fleet chases after you. Occasionally, you will come across the different races and locals that have to deal with the war that is going on, but there is really nothing substantial. This is an example of a game that is clearly carried by its gameplay rather than its story.
FTL uses the retro arcade-style graphics that is reminiscent of old Nintendo or Sega games. The graphics are not especially beautiful, but they are clear enough to accurately convey what is what. The user interface on the ship is a little small and can get cluttered when there are multiple characters in the same room. Characters and their health bars are small to the point to where it can get hard to read. It can get especially confusing when you are trying to fight multiple invaders on your ship with several of your own crewmembers. The retro style of the graphics does have a neat way of complementing the simplistic nature of the gameplay and the perma-death style game overs.
Both the music and the sound effects consist of simplistic and futuristic “beeps” and “boops.” In effect, the sound is yet another aspect that reinforces FTL’s retro style. It is oddly satisfying, in a way, to hear those classic spaceship explosion sounds and the sounds the lasers make when you fire them. The music is actually very calming and makes for great background noise, even if you aren’t playing the game. I found myself surfing the internet with FTL playing in the background, simply enjoying the music while my mind was off somewhere else. Other than that, the music is not really something that you would typically make an effort to listen to or even really recognize.
FTL: Faster than Light is currently available on Steam for $9.99. I have already spent roughly five hours of game time on it, and while I could easily find myself picking it up every now and then for a little while, it is not something that I would likely make a great deal of effort to play again. That makes about five to maybe six or seven hours for ten dollars, which does not pass my hour to dollar rule. Therefore, this is the kind of game that you may want to hold off on until it goes on sale for something in the $5.00-$8.00 range.
FTL is a difficult and enjoyable little game that is very easy to pick up and play for a little while at a time. It makes for a nice past time when you are waiting those 15 minutes to an hour before work or school or when you cannot think of anything else to do, but it is not substantial enough to spend more than one night of sitting down to play it. It is most fun in those moments when you are losing or near losing and scrambling to survive, which will happen quite often. The retro style quality and the difficulty make it fun to come back to once in a while, but other than that, there is nothing to it that is especially great or that makes it stand out.
Score: 3 / 5