FTL Review: Fleeing Certain Death Pretty Much Constantly

One of the things I really enjoyed about the 2003 reboot of Battlestar Galactica was how much of the action took place in tense scenes in which everybody stared at a screen, hoping they didn’t die.

FTL: Faster Than Light feels like that.

FTL: Faster Than Light
Platforms: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Released: September 14, 2012
MSRP: $9.99

Unlike fights in, say, Star Wars, the Galactica went into its fights without moving, training weapons and turning its broadside toward the enemy like a wooden ship fighting in the Caribbean. Its commanders watched their radar screens, issuing orders to crew. Battles were spent putting out fires, repairing key systems, locking on weapons and repelling boarders. That’s what FTL is like — it’s a Rogue-like, and in every situation, you’re spending your time managing the interior of your ship, rather than puttering around the battlefield, avoiding incoming fire.

That kind of battle is tense because you know you have to take your licks and bear it. The punches (or missiles, as the case may be) are on their way. Did you do enough to prepare to fend them off? Can you spare crew members to leave their posts to put out fires, or should you just let them burn and hope to vent those sections into the vacuum of space? FTL puts you in fight after fight like that, and it does so with a lot of tension and a high degree of difficulty that never feels cheap, but always strains. This is, after all, space travel we’re talking about. It’s not easy.

The basic premise of FTL is this: you command a ship, on the run from an evil Rebel fleet as you try to return to your Federation allies. You’re carrying information vital to destroying the Rebel threat, and so you’re being hunted, at length, as you cross the galaxy. You travel each sector by making faster-than-light jumps from point to point, where you’ll hit a random encounter. Most of these are battles, though some aren’t, and winning can reward you with things like fresh weapons, currency to purchase upgrades and repairs, and ammunition.

The majority of the game is in resource management. You need to cross the galaxy, staying ahead of your pursuers, and you need fuel and ammo to do it. Run out of either at a key moment, and you’re doomed. Well, actually, you’re doomed anyway — it’s important to keep that in mind. You’re going to die, a lot, because FTL is deliciously difficult.

That’s a good thing. The game beautifully toes the line between being so difficult it feels rewarding and so difficult you want to uninstall it and send it out an airlock. It’ll punish you for your mistakes, but death is never a huge setback, because you’ll run every game from the start of your escape anyway. And every time you die, you learn — you learn which weapons and systems are worth pursuing, how best to manage your resources, and what upgrades are vital to your survival.

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2 Comments on FTL Review: Fleeing Certain Death Pretty Much Constantly

Robert

On September 24, 2012 at 5:59 pm

Hey, when the oxygen system is down, the room is on fire, and your crew are dieing and you know you’ll lose one of those names that you have become really attached to, the games is anything but without personality… When I lost Liam and Schultze when my engines got hit by a missile, and was left with just Mason as my ships pilot until he finally took a hull laser directly and died, or when I lost Atreyu and Cassy on an exploding enemy ship…. I think this game has tons of personality

Phil Hornshaw

On September 24, 2012 at 6:04 pm

@Robert

It definitely gets intense, but think how much cooler it would be if your crew were actually distinct characters. That’s what I’m getting at.