By Daniel Wallace
FTL: Faster Than Light is an addictive indie roguelike developed by Subset Games. Following its incredibly successful Kickstarter origins – in which over 1000% of the original $10,000 goal was pledged by over 4,000 backers – the game is now available directly from the game’s website or via Steam. FTL focuses on intergalactic exploration, space ship combat, diplomacy and the difficult roguelike experience. For the uninitiated, roguelikes are games defined by the aforementioned tricky gameplay, randomly generated universes and dreaded permanent death.
You are the captain and it is your responsibility to guide your ship, crew and precious cargo to the Federation – all the while piloting through the dangers of space, fighting off pirates and avoiding the Rebel fleet. You will also have the opportunity to forge allegiances with the galaxy’s variety of races; the Rock Men, Engies, Zoltans, Slugs and Mantises, each with their own specific traits and perks.
As captain, your crew is relying on you constantly for direction. Who will man the guns? Who will pilot the ship? Should full power go to the engines or the shields? Each of these decisions has their own bonuses when in combat with other ships. For example, assign a crew member to weapons and they will recharge faster after use, meaning you can keep up the pressure with faster attacks. Likewise, keep a crew member in their respective area for long enough and they will eventually be promoted, further increasing these bonuses.
This also makes it that much more painful to lose any of your crew. Take one missile too many to your engines and the Engi manning your shields will die, meaning you will have to shuffle around any remaining crew members – and desperately hope for a replacement.
When ‘jumping’ into a node your ship may come across another, whose intentions will become clear shortly after. The crew may want to trade, they may even need help (through one of the game’s numerous quests or in the form of a distress call) or they may simply want to destroy you – in which case you will have to deal with them accordingly.
FTL’s combat is reliant on both strategy and blind luck; the latter of which can be incredibly maddening at times. Picture the scene: after a long, drawn out battle with a Mantis pirate ship, your ship is bruised but not out for the count, your hull scarred but not destroyed. Your crew fought the fires bravely and did their best to patch up the ship’s systems. You jump to a new node and there’s yet another ship lying in wait. No – wait. That’s no ordinary pirate – this is a behemoth of a ship. Three shields, two missile systems, a pair of lasers and drones ready to tear away your shields and destroy what remains of your hull. In short, you’re in trouble.
You target their shields – without them you will be able to slowly take down their weapons and drone systems. Your first volley of shots all miss and the shields are still up. Okay, no big deal, you can get them once the guns are recharged… But you miss again, again and again. Meanwhile, the monstrosity you stumbled into is tearing away at your precious ship that you have guided so carefully until now, every single shot finding its mark. Your crew members start dying from the fires eating away at your ship from the inside and your systems go offline. All hope lost, your ship explodes. Game over.
Throughout your journey to the Federation fleet, you will come across a vast variety of multiple choice events. These events can have any number of repercussions depending on the choices you make. One such event sees you coming across a marooned crew member of some long-crashed ship on an isolated planet. You can decide between leaving him/her/it alone on the planet, or offering them a place on your crew. Bring them aboard and you can put them to work. However, what’s to say they are safe? Who knows how long they were left down there? They may have gone mad and attack the moment they are off that rock! The only way to know is to take a gamble.
There are also special ‘blue’ options available depending on your crew and how you have equipped your ship. These options will always be far more beneficial than a standard choice, usually offering bonus materials but sometimes even unlocking a new ship.
True to its roguelike nature, FTL generates the galaxy randomly every time you play. You may have to travel through nebulae, pirate controlled sectors, each of the race’s homeworlds or some other type of alien space. Each individual sector generates randomly each time, and whilst exploring them there are a number of environmental hazards you may be unfortunate enough to fall foul of.
Asteroid fields that will eat away at your ship (and thankfully, any other ship you may be locked in battle with), solar flares that ignite the interiors of any ship foolhardy enough to remain too close and ion storms that cut your ship’s available power in half. These hazards all encourage tactical play – especially the latter – but also generally infuriate; when in an ion storm without sufficient power, you usually have to decide which of your systems to power. Oxygen or shields, engines or drones; either way these fights are usually the trickiest in the game.
The most aggravating aspect of ion storms is the apparent immunity given to AI ships inside them. While your own reactor’s power is cut in half the same is never true of the enemy ship, often creating a scenario where a fully shielded hostile ship tears your hull apart with multiple weapons and drones while you struggle to manage your meagre power reserves between oxygen or engines.
This is not the only aspect of the game where it can feel as though something is missing. Throughout your journey you will come across a number of stores, each allowing you to trade ‘scrap’ for a variety of goods. Anything from new crew members, new weapons and augmentations that will improve your ship. While you can buy supplies from these vendors, you can only sell a selection of your excess resources. On occasion this can be disappointing, especially when you are only ten scrap short of that awesome upgrade you have been looking for while carrying more missiles than you will ever fire.
At first FTL is a surprisingly fun game. You will fail your mission a few times and maybe unlock a new ship. You will learn a few strategies and understand what to prioritise on your journey. Eventually this initial excitement will wear off, probably after your ship is torn apart yet again after falling on the wrong side of the random number generator a few times too many.
Fortunately, the game stays interesting through the randomly generated galaxy and by offering new ships to campaign with. For some reason you will still find yourself going back for more, albeit in smaller, more sporadic doses. Eventually you may even win a campaign, and in doing so rediscover that initial excitement. While being far from perfect, FTL remains entertaining for those able to shrug off many, many defeats.
7 OUT OF 10