Review: FTL: Faster Than Light fulfills childhood sci-fi dreams
From humble beginnings as a Kickstarter project, space simulation FTL: Faster Than Light has blasted off and gone well over the moon, offering the experience to satisfy just about every intergalactic sci-fi dream those who grew up watching the likes of Star Wars or Star Trek could possibly ask for.
Throughout the course of various playthroughs, witnessing the destruction of my intrepid vessel The Booty Bandit innumerable times, it became easier to appreciate the underlying interactions between planets, stars and solar systems as I rushed to outrun the Rebel Fleet and bring warning to the Federation. Thus, over the course of traversing various sectors of the random and occasionally unforgiving galaxy, FTL proved to be a full-on, exceptionally fun experience that allows players to enjoy not just the victory of reaching the destination, but develop an appreciation for the journey.
From the opening splash screen, complete with the refined, yet innocuous music players simple know that they’ll be going on a trip of some sort. What that trip happens to be is initially anyone’s guess, however, after a short visit to the hangar, which initially offers only a small Federation ship and three human crew that you can name to your liking, you’re off. Tasked with delivering a message to the Federation Fleet at the other end of the universe, it’s up to you to lead the valiant crewmembers of your vessel there.
Along the way, there will be dangers the likes of which will threaten life, limb and ship. Pirates, Rock creatures, a pursuing Rebel Fleet and some of the nicest shops this side of the Milky Way are just a few of the sights to encounter along the way to fulfill your mission. While there is a big, huge galaxy randomly generated each time a game is begun, constantly being hunted by a fleet of Rebel warships will remind players that staying a few steps ahead is in their best interest. Ultimately, this makes multiple trips through the universe obligatory, but that isn’t a bad thing in the least.
On this journey, at least the first time, players will inhabit a Federation ship with the default name being The Kestrel. Immediately opting for The Booty Bandit, satiating my love for pirate references and double entendres, I eagerly let my crew take us out at full impulse to see what wonders we could see on our way to saving star systems from grave peril.
The tutorial, which is comprehensively well designed, is a must for anyone looking to get the most out of FTL before journeying into the gaping black maw. Introducing players to the well designed controls, it eventually becomes relatively second nature for anyone who has ever watched Captain Picard order Worf to reroute power to the shields. But realistically, isn’t confusing in the least for galactic novitiates.
Your ship has an array of controls and systems that’ll allow or, in the event their heavily damaged, hinder you in the utmost. Primary systems vary slightly depending on the selected ship, but have a relatively standard fair. Shields, engines, life support, medical, and weapons make up primary systems that need to be powered. Subsystems like piloting, internal doors and sensors provide exactly what it sounds like. Each of these can be upgraded using scrap rewarded to your crew or found in the wake of a ship-to-ship conflict, or in the case of systems, powered down or rerouted to or from in the event of an emergency. When manned, they receive noticeable improvements and can be repaired at will in the event of battle damage, fire or a hull breach that begins leaking atmosphere.
Additionally, augmentations can also be purchased from shops scattered amidst solar systems allowing for improvements to pre-charged weapons at the start of a battle or faster charging shields. Cloaking devices or controls allowing for the use of droids onboard or orbiting your ship during combat to repair, defend or attack also allow for a player to ultimately suit their ship to their particular strategy or style of play. And while making a ship your own is insanely fun, FTL slowly reinforces the belief that it can be a dangerous universe out there and the first few times, you probably shouldn’t get too attached to your crew.
Emergencies litter the space lanes and answering a distress call doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be helping someone. There are traps from Pirates and Rebels looking to destroy your vessel and Slavers who want nothing more than to bribe you away. Nevertheless, with the risk of answering a distress call comes the possibility of payoff from helping someone in need. Rescued ships or stations will provide fuel, missiles, droid parts or scrap, all of which is essential to your continued survival.
For every ship encountered that beamed boarders over to try and destroy my vessel and kill my crew, I had an equal amount of fun opening airlocks to suffocate them. For every distress signal answered, there was a new crew member or weapon to acquire and the nearly endless amount of exploration – despite being on the run throughout the course of the game – never got old in the least. Even when growing frustrated initially after watching my ship burst into pieces following a space battle for the ninth or tenth time, I continued coming back. Eventually learning it’s sometimes better to run, repair and live to press on to the Federation Fleet.
Following traversing systems and nebulas, which create countless opportunities for slews of encounters, players will finally arrive at the Federation Fleet; warn them of the attacking Rebel Fleet and the monstrous Mother Ship that is leading them. Then it becomes a battle of hitting, running and repeating to hopefully destroy the Rebel flagship before it reaches the Federation and destroys them. The battle is exceedingly challenging depending on how players choose to progress through FTL up until that point and reinforces that it behooves players to stop and smell the asteroids. Acquiring weapons, crew and upgrades as that last challenge feels distinctly similar to a vintage Nintendo final boss; this still isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, your ship might get destroyed and you may very well have to start at the beginning again, but FTL lasts however long or short as a player wants - depending on the flight paths taken. Upgrading the ship, keeping crew at their posts to promote their abilities and learning the in and out of various species and factions is essential to survival. And while it may be risky to head off the beaten path, taking the longest route between each sector, it offers the greatest chance to prepare for the final segment of the end game.
While unlocking various vessels is contingent on meeting an assortment of conditions, seeing diverse encounters throughout is, more often than not, a toss of the dice. Doubtlessly, luck is definitely a factor that FTL takes into account, the high risk versus reward is central to what inherently makes the game so much fun to play. One jump might see your ship on the verge of getting destroyed with half your crew getting killed trying to keep the engine room from becoming a fiery oven. Another might see you provided with a ton of supplies, new crew and incredible weapons. Either way, repeated expeditions are definitely warranted, because if players have nothing else in common with Captain Kirk, they’ll both want to repeatedly try their luck on the far fringes of the final frontier.
Final Score: 5/5
Full Disclosure: FTL: Faster That Light was played as a provided review copy via GOG over the course of roughly 20 hours with multiple playthroughs on a Dell XPS 710 PC. FTL is currently available on both Steam and GOG. It’s definitely worth the price of admission.