Article by David Rhys Forward, first publish on Full Circle Magazine #77
Faster Than Light (more commonly known as FTL) is a top-down, real-time strategy game on Steam, made by indie team Subset Games. The player takes control of the crew in a space vessel that’s in possession of critical information that must be delivered to an allied fleet several sectors away. However, to make the game more challenging, you are pursued by a large rebel fleet in every sector.
In keeping the story simple, the team has been able to create an indepth management system. You must maintain the ship when it’s damaged and make difficult decisions when under attack. For example, jumping in the middle of battle or taking energy from one source to power a weapon.
Jumping is how the player moves through the game, and, in some circumstances, the player may be near death, but can still escape battle. You will, of course, have encounters with the rebels. These are real-time, ship-on-ship battles which are the core of Faster Than Light’s gameplay, and, on quite a few occasions, the tension is increased through forcing you to make split-second decisions at every turn.
You can also upgrade your ship’s defenses and weaponry so as to aid you in your quest (e.g., upgrading your shield so that it can take more hits, or purchasing new weapons to add to your armory). The currency in the game is called scrap and can be used to buy upgrades, fix your hull, or even given to rebels to spare your life. Not only can you upgrade your weaponry, but the crew members also level up as you place them in different rooms on the ship.
For example, if you were to place a crew member in the engine room, then that character will gain experience with the engineering skill. I have played FTL for many hours, and, despite the fact that I have worked through only one run so far, a lot has already happened. My ship has been invaded by an enemy crew, asteroids have destroyed my shield allowing the hostile ship to render my engine and weapons useless, and the next jump I made was into an ion storm that chewed through my reactor’ power (and this was within one of my first few jumps). The randomness of the difficulty can be frustrating at times (even in easy mode). Enemies randomly spawn, as does the weaponry they have on their vessel. Deaths like these are permanent, so you will have to start from scratch to journey across the galaxy. These become frequent as you are constantly learning from the previous playthrough, and become more infuriating if you have had nothing but difficult adversaries.
The game makes you want to cheer with victory after each battle won, but gives you a hint of fear at what could be the next ordeal, when you see your nearly diminished hull, or that there is only one crew member left with your dwindling supply of fuel.
One of my personal favorite parts of the game is the music—it adds to the ambience of the game whether you are floating around in space or in the middle of an exciting battle. This is an added bonus which you can choose to download with the game (added fee of course), but it is worth the price as much effort has gone into the soundtrack of the game. The graphics style of the game has been given the 16-bit look and that makes the game even more appealing.
In conclusion the game offers an excellent experience, and, if you’re a fan of strategy and the sci-fi genre, you will be immediately interested in this title. But, with a harsh difficulty due to the randomness of the encounters, it may frustrate some players. At £6.99 (or 10€), this game cannot be recommended enough. It is fun to play and has a lot of replayability.
You can buy it on Steam