PCWorld.com (© Copyright (c) 2012 PCWorld Communications, Inc.)
Updated: September 19, 2012 2:00 AM

FTL is a strategy game for lovers of hard sci-fi



Captain's Log - It's been countless hours since I first started my mission of delivering sensitive information to the Federation in order to combat the rebel scum. This is not my first attempt, nor will it likely be my last; captaining a ship is a full-time job, and often comes with a side-effect of fiery explosions, death and addiction to this fun game.

FTL: Faster Than Light is a roguelike game with a heavy dose of real-time-strategy and spaceship-to-spaceship combat simulation. The goal is to progress through large distances of space, answering distress calls and fighting pirates while gathering scrap to upgrade your systems and acquire new weapons. The end goal is to make it back to the Federation before the Rebels catch up to you (and they are constantly on your tail) to deliver data that could change the war. You start with a ragtag crew of three and a simple ship equipped with basic weapons, shield and subsystems (such as life support and engines). Send a crew member to man a certain station and enjoy a boost to its productivity while they gain skill at that system over time. It's important to decide who does what at the beginning, because some stations are more useful than others and you'll rarely have enough crewmembers to man them all.

A very hectic space battle.

Space battles make up a majority of the game. When you jump into a sector and find a hostile ship, you need to charge up your weapons and start a volley of lasers, beams and missiles in an attempt to knock out key systems and eventually destroy the hull. If a system takes a direct hit, it becomes inoperable until repaired. This creates a great atmosphere of tension when your life support is knocked out while in the heat of battle; either let your oxygen vent into space until the battle is over or send a crew member away from their post to deal with the damage. Some hits will cause hull breaches or fires to break out and spread quickly as they tear through your system rooms, forcing you to think quickly and manually open airlocks in a labyrinth pattern to vent the oxygen and kill the fires. Even more dangerous than a fire is a boarding party knocking on your door; throughout the game you can get anywhere from one to four intruders that you must fight hand-to-hand, or lock them in a room and vent out their oxygen if you have upgraded doors. Either way, they distract you from the battle at by hand pulling all crew members from their post and destroying some key systems.

You need to make risky decisions constantly.

Some sectors offer text-based optional missions you can tackle to try and collect some extra loot. Some decisions will randomly result in rewards, while others end in a battle, damage or crew death. The challenge comes in constantly being wary of risking life, limb and ship too often, lest you lose the chance to spend your reward. Some sectors will take you to a dangerous environment: too close to a sun that randomly starts fires, a nebula that leaves you blind or an asteroid field that slowly picks at your ship. If you run into a battle that gets the best of you, kiss your ship and crew goodbye. There are no second chances and all deaths are permanent; back to the start with you.

Tactics and strategies will vary between players, as there are constantly new ways to play. Some prefer the defensive approach and upgrade shields while others prefer going fully loaded with weapons. It is also the key moments in the heat of battle that define a great captain. Decide to divert power away from life support to power the engines in order to make an emergency jump may be what saves your ship or kills your crew. The customization of the decisions on what to upgrade and how to use the systems give the game, that runs in a simple, non-taxing window, a deep and satisfying feeling. This is what makes the game addicting; this is what hits a nerve as a sci-fi lover.

Tons of ships and configurations

There are tons of ships to unlock and two layouts per ship that you can choose from when you complete some achievements. There are different races of aliens that have differing abilities, such as better fighting, resistant to fire or a boost to the repair rate. Finding a mix of these aliens along your journey is a great way to get an upper-hand in some dangerous situations.

Each game can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, depending on your luck and skill. Since each map and sector is randomly generated, each game is different and that really helps make the game replayable. I hope to see the guys at Subset Games continue to support FTL since their Kickstarter campaign was such a huge success, and while I am having endless amounts of fun playing it alone, I think a simple online ship vs. ship mode or some sort of cooperative mode would be a fantastic addition. Even a spectator mode would do wonders; I would love to watch my friends play and offer some support and advice. Luckily Twitch.tv exists, so you can watch some people stream FTL there. I think they really struck a chord with a niche gaming audience, and I can't wait to see where Subset Games goes from here.

How 99% of games end, in pieces

All in all, this game is a fantastic addition to any sci-fi lover's game queuem and at $10 it's a great bargain for the amount of time and fun you get out of it. I highly recommend you start playing by running through the tutorial, though even then it will probably take a couple times to fully grasp it entirely. Fans have started a Wiki for the game to explain some aspects that are still unclear. It's unforgiving and can be frustrating when it feels like the entire galaxy is bearing down on you at the exact same time, but honestly, that is one of the most fun parts of the game. It sucks to lose everything you've built up in one blast of a laser, but the gameplay is enjoyable enough that you often just want to get back in because you know you could have done better. It's a game that leaves you needing to come back for more every time you walk away, just aching to get back out to the black (it also makes you want to go watch Firefly).

You can find it on Steam and GOG.com. Both offer 10 percent off until September 21!

Copyright (c) 2012 PCWorld Communications, Inc.

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