FTL: Faster than Light Review

  • Developer: Subset Games
  • Publisher: Subset Games
  • Release Date:14 September 2012

I believe I heard about this game first on GOG and I was drawn to the screenshots from the game. "Is that the interior of a spaceship?" I asked myself. Not many games (at least nowadays) actually has you looking at the inside of a spaceship, unless you're Commander Shepard flirting with his/her crewmates on the Normandy. The fact the game looked like you actually got to order the crew of the ship around and the game's name is a core concept of science fiction was the clincher. I had to get this game. Fortunately I was able to get it for free, thanks to winning the GOGgame Story competition, otherwise I probably wouldn't have bought it. Sure it's cheap, but there are a lot of indie games out there – which ones are worthwhile to play? Well that's what you're here for right? To find out! :)

Plot (4/5)
The game doesn't have too much of a plot at the start and you learn more about the universe and its inhabitants as you play the game. All you're told in the beginning is that you're in charge of a Federation starship that contains vital information. You are being pursued by a Rebel force and you aim is to cross several sectors of space to the Federation fleet.

It's not a terribly original or fleshed-out plot and it sounds like the Maquis story arc from Star Trek to some degree, however it deserves extra points for using a sci-fi series as inspiration, particularly Star Trek.

Gameplay (3/5)
In FTL, you are responsible for managing a ship's systems and crew that is making its way across several sectors of space towards a Federation fleet. Along the way there will be random encounters such as pirates attacking a civilian ship, a starbase that is infected by a deadly virus or a spaceship emitting a distress signal. You can choose whether to aid people in these situations or keep moving which at first glance creates an interesting mechanic since you have to decide whether the primary objective of the mission is more important (i.e. transport the data as quickly as possible) or helping others. I say at "first glance" since you'll find that in order to survive the latter stages of the game you need to upgrade your ship and the only way to do that is to gather scrap which you are rewarded with during these encounters – however sometimes there will be setbacks as a result like your ship being damaged or even losing a crewmember! So there is an element of luck involved in the game which can result in you being helped or hindered.

Since a great deal of these encounters rely on luck this also means the game can be insanely difficult, especially if you have a bad start. In fact, you'll only be able to get some enjoyment out of this game if you realise from the start that more often than not, you're meant to lose. This hearkens back to the old-school style of gaming where it's only through unwavering persistence will you be able to win the game (I confess I still haven't, although I've got close, I swear)!

"In fact, you'll only be able to get some enjoyment out of this game if you realise from the start that more often than not, you're meant to lose."

However, there is some fun to be had in playing this game and that involves managing your very own starship. Anyone who is a fan of Star Trek will feel right at home with FTL as you have ship systems such as weapons control, shields, engines and the cockpit that can be manned by your crew. Having a crew member at these stations confers a small bonus to them. For example, someone assigned to the shield station will increase the recharge rate for them. Someone assigned to the cockpit will increase the evasion bonus of the ship and so on. You can even "divert power to shields" (if I had a dollar for every time that phrase was uttered in Star Trek…) or to other ship systems meaning you can make your ship adapt to the situation when under attack.

During combat, several bad things could happen including hull breaches, fires and systems being damaged. Crew members can be assigned to repair damage and extinguish fires but then you've got to worry about their own health. Indeed it becomes even more challenging when enemies teleport onto your ship and start wreaking havoc since not only do you have to worry about the ship being damaged but whether you have enough crew to fend off the intruders!

At the conclusion of battles or random encounters, you will often be rewarded with missiles, fuel, drone parts or scrap. Missiles are a more powerful alternative to beam weapons but obviously are in limited supply, fuel is required to perform "jumps" from one star system to the next and drone parts are consumed each time you activate a drone (drones can be used to repair your ship, defend your ship or attack enemies). Scrap is the de facto currency for the galaxy and can be used to either upgrade your ship's systems or used to repair your ship and purchase new items whenever you visit a store.

Final word on gameplay? Yeah it's fun especially those who like to micromanage or ever wanted to be a Starfleet captain. Yet it also can be incredibly difficult and annoying to gamers who dislike luck playing a role in determining the outcome of an encounter.

Sound (3/5)
The game contains basic sound effects but they suit the game.

Music (5/5)
The FTL soundtrack was created by Ben Prunty and is reminiscent of chiptune music so it gives off a very retro/nostalgic vibe. I personally think it's fantastic with some of the tracks being very catchy. Favourite tracks in particular are Space Cruise, Milky Way and Colonial Battle (which sounds a bit like the Starbase Commander music from Star Control 2 at one stage). Check them out:

Graphics (3/5)
The game contains basic, low-res, retro-style graphics and you always view things from a top-down view. So it's not going to win any awards for most stunning graphics but they serve their purpose. Gameplay is always more important anyway.

Replay (4/5)
The fact that each game procedurally generates new sectors and new encounters along your trip to the Federation fleet, means there's quite a bit of replay here – especially considering it's probably expected since it's the only way to ensure you start unlocking new ships – ships that might help you in reaching the end!

Polish (4/5)
The game contains no serious bugs as far as I can tell. The basics of the game are quite easy to grasp although the game doesn't really go into all the nuances and there's not really anywhere that goes into detail (e.g. how exactly each weapon or device works). Consequently there'll be some trial and error as you learn the ropes and however you could argue that learning from your mistakes is an intentional design decision.

Score – 8/10

A game with a simple premise: survive long enough so you can get your little spaceship from one side of the galaxy to the other. Overcoming the many obstacles along the way is difficult and may be ultimately too frustrating for some gamers but if you acknowledge the fact you're meant to lose, it's easy to get yourself immersed in this retro-styled starship management game. To sweeten the pot, each time you play the map it's procedurally generated and the game is also super cheap.

If you want to get the game, you can get it DRM-free off GOG or Steam.

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