Since I was seven years old, I have always known what I wanted to be when I grew up; a Space Cowboy. And while I have yet to don a hat while riding my talking robotic steed, I have now had the pleasure (and responsibility) of captaining my own ship through the cold unknown that is the final frontier. All thanks to FTL (Faster Than Light); a space simulator with heavy strategic and tactical elements. It’s also a game where when you die, you have to start over - there are no spare lives.
The majority of the gameplay is spent running your ship, which uses various main systems (weapons, shields, engines, lift support, medbay, and others) and sub systems (piloting, sensors, and doors). The catch is that every system uses power, and you only have a limited amount.
Your ship is also upgradable, so while you can increase the total power your ship has, you also need to upgrade your systems, which takes up more power. By the end, you’ll never have enough power to have everything functioning 100% at a time, so decisions need to be made - often while under pressure and attack.
The setup for FTL is simple: you are captaining a Federation ship with key information about how to beat the Rebel fleet. The problem is that you have to get across the mostly hostile galaxy (which is broken up into eight sectors) with the Rebel fleet hot on your tail. Once you get into a sector, you have multiple points to jump to in order to get to the exit for that sector.
The true beauty of FTL is when you arrive at these points, a random event will take place. These can range from nothing in the area but static, to finding a store to buy things with your scrap (which is the game’s word for money), being attacked by a pirate ship, or coming across a space station under attack by giant alien spiders. Many of these points will give you the option of whether you want to get involved or just leave. Although, when you run into a priate, most often there is no choice but to defend yourself from an attack; this is something you will need to get used to, as you’ll be spending a lot of time in combat.
Combat is simple, yet highly tactical. The game uses extremely simple graphics with a top-down view of your ship and that of your enemies being the bulk of the game’s presentation - other than a few menu screens and the text that tells you about the event in the area you’ve jumped into. It’s all very simple, which is actually perfect for the experience FTL delivers.
When you’re fighting an enemy ship you have a lot of decisions to make. You have to pay attention to your power levels and which systems you are using. You'll need to make sure your crew is in the right places and dealing with any issues that may come up (such as a fire, life support being damaged, or enemy crew members beaming aboard your ship to try destroy it from the inside.)
Combat usually goes one of two ways. Either you have everything under control and are well prepared for the fight, or something totally unexpected has happened (such as having the fight take place in an asteroid field or too close to a dying sun), which causes all kinds of chaos - forcing you to make lots of quick decisions and (very) often causing your ship and its crew to perish in an awful way, leading to a “game over” screen.
In FTL, you will die a lot and have to start over a lot, but that’s perfectly OK. In fact, you will enjoy it, because each time you die, you learn something. While the first few times you play, you may not get past Sector 2, however, after a few deaths under your belt, Sector 2 will suddenly be easy. While I have yet to actually beat the game myself, I can now regularly get to the final boss.
But that doesn’t really matter anyway, because FTL is a game about the journey, not the destination. Every time your ship makes a jump, you don’t know what’s going to be on the other side. And most of the random events read like an episode of your favourite sci-fi space show. By the time your ship gets destroyed, or runs out of fuel, or your crew all suffocate (which actually happened), it feels like you've experienced almost a seasons worth of adventure in the 30-60 minute game session you just had.
Honestly, I could write a lot more words about FTL. How intimidatingly complicated it all looks at first, even though after 15mins it all makes sense and is actually really simple. How crushing its difficulty is. How you’re able to unlock different ships for your sessions, or how there’s various alien races that can join your crew, all with unique attributes. But none of that really matters, since there’s really onto 3 things you need to know about FTL.
So there you have it. FTL. It’s awesome. Get it.
FTL: Faster Than Light is available now for $8.99 on GOG.com.