Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

I’ve had it pretty good as a game reviewer. I’ve been writing and reviewing games for a while now, and thankfully, I have yet to cover a truly bad game that left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m grateful, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t say I’m anticipating that first title that leaves me with a negative impression. So with every new game I write a review for, I walk in tentatively, knowing that this may be the game that ends my streak.

So when I got my hands on FTL: Faster Than Light, a game that was backed on Kickstarter, I immediately became weary. Kickstarter has really boomed this last year in terms of backing games in production, and I’m thankful that the other shoe hasn’t dropped with it. That is, that a title has turned out exceptionally bad, faced long delays, or been cancelled indefinitely, an issue that has plagued some other projects on Kickstarter. So did FTL: Faster Than Light keep my streak rolling, or is it the first of what may be the start of many failed Kickstarters?

FTL: Faster Than Light
Systems: PC, Mac (reviewed)
Developers: Subset Games
Publishers: Subset Games
Release Date: September 15, 2012
MSRP: $9.99 ($8.99 until September 22)

FTL: Faster Than Light is a rogue-like space explorer, and although the screenshots may not look like much, the game simply oozes charm and character from both a visual and audio standpoint. You are put in command of a spaceship, and this bears repeating: you are in command. Now you’re not flying around dodging laser blasts with a joystick, but rather you order people around, diverting power from your engines to shields, power up weapons, and lock on particular parts of the enemy ship, and this creates a rather deep battle system. Do you try to take out their weapons first, leaving them defenseless? Or do you attack the shields and kill the oxygen system, suffocating the inhabitants?

The story is rather simple: some important information has found its way into your hands, and you must deliver it with a modest amount of fuel and missiles with your three-man crew across eight randomly generated sectors full of distress signals, rebels, aliens, merchants, and supply caches. Essentially, you jump from location to location to the end of each sector. Certain areas give you a choice in how to deal with a situation, whether that be in trying to escort a ship out of an asteroid field but possibly sacrificing your own hull, or trying to shoot the ship out of the rock it found itself embedded in.

These situations can either hurt you or reward you on your trip either by giving huge amounts of fuel, missiles, drones, or even a new crew member, but there’s an equal chance it won’t pay off and you’ll lose precious scrap, the currency used to purchase upgrades. Upgrades include additional energy stores, the amount of energy that can be utilized by weapons, how much damage the shield can take, the ability to evade incoming attacks, and much more.

You must factor in all of this while you’re being chased by an entire Rebel fleet that would like nothing more than to see your ship catch fire and split in two. Speaking of which, the bulk of the gameplay takes place in the space battles, and I must commend how the developer has been able to create such an exhilarating game where you’re still able to pause the action. It coaxes you to make silly mistakes despite the ability to pause and think about it as long as you’d like at any point you want. Important decisions to be made appear every few seconds, especially at the start of your journey as you deal with situations where fire is spreading in your medical bay, a hull breach in your engine room that’s draining the oxygen out of it, a storm outside that has left your energy storages severely depleted, and an enemy ship constantly hammering on your shield. A number of amazing stories have already come out of this little title, and I have a fair few of my own. It’s the little touches, such as being able to deal with a fire by opening your hatches and sucking the oxygen, that create such amazing situations that you need to weasel yourself out of.

One small detail I wish were there is more depth to the crew members of the game. Initially, all crew members are able to be renamed but lack any skills. Over the course of their journey, they can improve these skills, whether that be manning the shields, weapons, piloting, repairs, or the like. It’s because of this that it’s important to have a go-to crew member for each station as improving these skills brings bonuses to your ship, such as increases to rate of fire and the ability to evade any fire. However, I can’t help but wish that characters came with particular strong points and preferences to where they would like to work to get the most use out of them. This slight detail would’ve given additional depth to each crew member and makes them feel like an actual individual. It’s a small detail but one that I feel Sunset Games missed to capitalize on.

Outside of that and combat, though, there is still plenty to contemplate, as any commander of a space ship would have to know. New weapons, enhancements, and upgrades are all at your disposal, as well as restocking on the necessities such as fuel, missiles and drones. The accompanying music fits right in during this downtime between battles; the bleeps and bloops of the soundtrack bring extra life to the ship in a soothing fashion.

FTL: Faster Than Light is also quite a difficult title, even on the ironically named Easy setting, and thankfully so since the first few battles can be a bit dull as enemy ships struggle to puncture through your shields. However, there’s a rather large difficulty spike only moments later where the most exhilarating moments are had, and just as soon as you feel you’ve mastered that, you reach the finale, which is incredibly difficult even on Easy and took me a number of attempts. Bear in mind that death is permanent and you have to start again with a new, stock-standard ship and new crew members. Given this, it’s easy to see how the game can be a huge time sink with its randomly generated sectors that encourage repeat playthroughs, refinement of your energy management skills, and thinking in times of crisis. That isn’t to say I don’t wish there were a bigger variety in the situations I would face; after a dozen or so attempts, it can become quite repetitive, and skipping text without a worry is something I often do. But for under $10, there’s easily over seven hours of gameplay with different ships on offer, each of which give fairly different play styles to players, the randomly generated sectors, and pure luck of the draw in how particular encounters turn out.

I had a blast with FTL: Faster Than Light. It’s a fantastic title with what may be the most enjoyable experience commanding a spaceship from a developer that just gets it. I can easily recommend FTL: Faster Than Light to anyone who isn’t afraid of a little challenge and time to throw away.

* Strategically rewarding gameplay
* Great music and visual style
* Exhilarating combat in situations of high stress
* High replay value

* Encounters can feel repetitive
* Crew members could use more depth


Disclosure: The reviewer accumulated 7 hours play time, beating the Easy level once and reaching the finale on Normal.

Nathan Wood

About Nathan Wood

When he picked up a controller on that fateful day at the age of 6, Nathan had no idea how quickly it would captivate him. Enjoying a wide range of games, he is up for anything as long as it is of good quality, interesting or laughably bad. When not playing or writing about video games, he enjoys music, film, basketball and art. He is currently completing his last year of his IB diploma before mastering the great land known only as: University.