by Zee Salahuddin
reviewed on PC
Faster Than Light, or FTL, is a Rogue-like title that mixes strategy with role-playing elements, sort of. The point is that it is difficult categorically define FTL as it is a unique experience. Or perhaps more accurately, it is a series of bite-sized experiences.
You play a Federation starship captain in possession of critical information that can turn the tide in an ongoing war. A massive rebel fleet chases you across the star system, as you jump using your FTL drive in a desperate attempt to stay ahead. Honestly, the story is irrelevant and simply serves as the premise to set things in motion. The heart of the game, the true story, lies in the little encounters after every FTL jump.
Every jump you make will result in a random, often text-based encounter. You can be greeted with a cheery message asking you to take in the beauty of the cosmic scenery that serves as a backdrop, an opportunity to salvage items from a crumbling space station, or perhaps by a pirate chasing an unknown third party offering you a bribe to not interfere. Or maybe you come across a rebel attack drone, or a colony that needs your help rescuing its inhabitants from fire, or you could find a store, or, or, or…
This is the core of FTL, a series of chance encounters and epic battles. At your weakest, you could triumph over near impossible odds. At your best, you could succumb to a variety of factors in a single jump.
Scrap - the main currency - is used to buy other resources which include fuel, missiles and drone parts. Fuel is used for every FTL jump, missiles are used by weapons which use projectiles and drone parts are used to deploy defensive drones to repair your ship or to deflect incoming ordinance and offensive drones. Upgrades add yet another dimension to an already rich game. One upgrade allows you to see the dangers in adjacent systems, such as a sun going nova or an enemy ship. Another attaches a drone recovery mechanism to your ship, allowing you to retrieve your deployed drones.
Your reactor's power needs to be distributed to various systems such as shields, the medical bay, weapons, drones and more. All systems can be damaged, and need to be repaired by your crew, except for hull damage which can only be repaired at a store, or in a rare encounter. Each system has its own little quirks that make their operation more dynamic. The FTL drive requires a pilot to operate and helps you jump to other locations, but it needs time to charge up before it can be used again. Without sensors, you cannot see the empty areas of the interior of your ship and inner doors allow remote airlock access which is useful in snuffing out a raging fire.
All systems can be upgraded with scrap. At level two, sensors show you the activity on the enemy ship and upgrading the medical bay shortens the healing times of wounded shipmates. Other upgrades, such as weapons and drones, allow you to either use more weapons or to make the existing ones more powerful. Upgrading quickly becomes about finding a balance between upgrading systems and upgrading the reactor. An upgraded system without enough reactor juice to run it is useless, and vice versa, so choose wisely.
The combat in FTL is fought with 2D top-down models of the two ships. Your own ship is positioned on the left of the screen, the enemy’s sits on the right. Battles are played out in real-time but can be paused using the space bar. You can priority-target systems on the enemy ship, punch through weak shields with lasers, bypass heavy shields with missiles or set the enemy’s hull on fire with fire beams. You can even use an ion cannon to short-circuit ship systems without damaging them, teleport crew onto their deck to attack the enemy from the inside. During this time, your enemy is doing the same. So you need to dispatch your crew to make repairs, put our fires, and fight enemy intruders.
Combat becomes a thrilling juggling act between managing your reactor's power, your systems' health, your crew's location, and your firing priorities. The tension builds, clawing at your nerves, especially when everything starts happening at once. A weapon that takes eleven seconds to charge seems to take forever, environmental factors might disable your shields or start fires, a boarding party starts attacking a vital system, a crew member dies… There is a lot to keep track of. Every action, every ordinance volley, every fire, every firefight is a fight for life or death. Thankfully, you don't have to imagine any of it, because all of it unfolds in terrifying real-time, right in front of your eyes.
Oh and if you lose, you start from scratch.
Superb combat, incredible RPG elements, solid soundtrack, instills a sense of palpable tension
Repetitive after a few hours, dicey crewmen selection, world should have been better fleshed out