FTL: Faster Than Light Review

September 26, 2012

/ by Tin Salamunic

Developer(s): Subset Games
Publisher(s): Subset Games
Platform(s): PC
Release Date: September 14, 2012

Every minute of Subset Games’ FTL is an episode of Star Trek finely pressed into a handful of serious decisions. You’re the commander of a starship tasked with transporting vital intelligence to the Federation fleet. Rebellion has broken out across the stars and if you hope to reach your destination alive, you’re going to have to outrun the Rebels hot on your tail. Can you keep your crew alive, your ship intact, and the hostile forces of the galaxy at bay long enough to reach the Federation?

The Good
- No two playthroughs are exactly alike 
- A wide variety of possible ships, weapons, augments, and drones
- Incredible replayability

The Bad
- You're going to be looking at a single screen the entire time
- Animations are a bit lackluster

You begin your race across space with a crew of three men and/or women aboard a cookie-cutter ship called the Kestrel. If you played Oregon Trail when you were a kid, you’ve likely already named your crew after you and your buddies and the USS Buttwagon is ready for launch. I hope you know what you’re doing, because your crew’s life, as well as the fate of the Federation, is now in your hands.

FTL is all about weighing your decisions against survival and the success of the mission. You jump from point to point along a galaxy map and each point is a random encounter. If you’re lucky, it’s just a derelict spacecraft waiting for you to salvage it and be about your business. Chances are, however, that you just opened an escape pod you found floating in space and the giant bug monster inside cut one of your crew in half and is now rampaging across your ship. It’s always a game of chance with FTL and with no respawns, an enemy’s arrival at the wrong time could make or break you.

Getting the most out of your ship, and the game, means keeping your crew in line. Your ship’s systems are allocated to different rooms and having a crewmember manning a system will increase its effectiveness. Subsequently, if that room is destroyed, its systems will go offline until you can repair it. Upgrading your ship with salvaged scrap will help set you ahead of the curve, but no matter how advanced you might think you are, there’s always a bigger, badder, ship out there.

Whether you’re up against a tiny unmanned ship, or a hulking behemoth, it’s important to keep in mind which of its systems you want to assault. Just like your own ship, your enemy will have the location of its system rooms on display for you to target in combat. Some ships, like the Kestrel, are armed with a missile/laser combination that makes for a direct approach, taking out their shields system with a well-placed missile and then opening up on their exposed hull with your lasers. Others, like the Engi ship you unlock, will use ion cannons to power down their systems and automated drones to harass their hull. Regardless of your starting layout, any ship can be upgraded to equip whatever weapons fit your playstyle.

f you’re taking FTL at face value, it might come across as unexciting, but the game shines with a bit of imagination. I’ve had my oxygen systems blown to hell and my ship riddled with so many holes I might as well have just jettisoned the entire crew into the silent black of space. I’ve run “Out of Gas” only to have my distress beacon picked up by pirates who eviscerated my ship and crew. I’ve died. Often. And each death has felt tragic, because in building up the story in my mind, I’ve connected with my crew and my ship on a base level; one that is difficult for the more visually stunning games to grasp, because they can only render and animate so much.

While the threat of death is always looming overhead in Faster Than Light, the game never pulls the rug out from under you. Like a good dungeon master, it rolls the dice, gives you a decision to make, and lets you know if you’ve failed or not. It’s not Game Over until your entire crew dies or your ship blows up. I’ve been left with only my pilot, scurrying from the cockpit to the weapons bay to ward off attackers, only to soon chance upon a merchant who allowed me to hire a new crew and refit my ship. If you fight to the bitter end, you always have a chance to make it out alive and that lends a real sense of accomplishment to the game.

The game offers several different ships to unlock, each with its own set of achievements. Earning ship achievements will allow you to choose a new starting layout for the corresponding ship, which makes for an entirely new playthrough. Ships have a different crew and starting weaponry, providing you with a wide variety of gameplay options. The Engi ship, for instance, forgoes the laser and missile combo of the Kestrel for an attack drone and ion cannon, great for disabling enemy systems.

Faster Than Light is beautiful and engrossing in the way only something so simple can be. It gives you a basic premise, being the commander of a starship racing against time through hostile space, and provides just enough depth for you to flesh out your own story. New circumstances are always begging the question, “What do I do now? Do I run? Or do I stand my ground?” and the game may reward one decision while punishing the other. Or perhaps they’re both right. Or wrong. Every encounter is a roll of the dice and no playthrough is the same. 

Final Score “A Classic Space Adventure” 8.0
There is not much here in terms of graphics. While the game does stick to a solid theme and nothing feels out of place, there is room for improvement.
FTL is addictive in a classic way. You may die, but these experiences will have taught you new tricks and next time, you’ll make it even further. Death never seemed cheap or unexpected, only tragic. And that just made me want to try harder.
I can see FTL being a game I'll pick up and play for years to come. It’s always fresh and there’s a bevy of achievements and unlocks to obtain.
The old school tunes capture the mood and setting of the game perfectly. It’s a soundtrack I could see myself listening to while playing other games.

Review by Jeff Ellis

I'm a freelance writer and game reviewer with a year's experience working in the game industry. I've been playing games longer than I've been able to read. In fact, I learned how to read by watching my brother play JRPGs on our Nintendo. I also learned geography from Uncharted Waters: New Horizons. Facts that I probably shouldn't be proud of, but I am. You can read more of my writing over at First Word Problems and keep updated on the site and me via Twitter @1stwordproblems. All Articles by Jeff.
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  1. is it gonn come out on da xbox cos i got me this 1.6ghrz machine


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