Genre: Starship combat/simulation
Developer: SubSet Games
System Requirements: OS X 10.6.8, Intel processor, 2 GHz Memory, 1 GB RAM, display with 1,280 x 720 minimum resolution, OpenGL 2.0 Support, 175 MB hard disk space. Recommended two-button mouse, or Apple mouse with Secondary Button / Secondary Click enabled, dedicated graphics card with 128 MB of RAM
Review Device: 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro
Availability: Out now
First off, this game is hard. Actually, no, that’s not true. FTL—a game that simulates commanding a starship hurtling through space ahead of a rebel fleet trying to wipe them out—is challenging at first as you figure out the capabilities of your ship and your crew, but you’ll quickly learn how to manage all your resources. And then, everyone will die. And you’ll restart with a new ship. And then everyone on that ship will die.
FTL is an unforgiving game. You can’t save the game unless you quit, and once you resume that save file is erased. If anything goes wrong, your crew dies, your ship explodes, the rebel fleet catches up to you, there’s no going back. Playing over and over again is built into the system; indeed, you unlock one of the alternate starships simply by making it halfway through the game. And then, finally, when you think you’ve made it to the end, you have to turn around and go back for a boss battle that I still haven’t won despite playing the game for about 30 hours…
…on the Easy setting.
But let’s dig into the gameplay. The graphics are simplicity itself: your ship is represented as a series of rooms, starting with Helm, Medical, Weapons, Engines, Shields, Life Support (Oxygen), Scanners, and Door Controls. You can upgrade to Cloak and Transporter later if you find someone who’ll sell it to you. Beginning with a crew of three (who can man the stations to improve their performance), you warp across the galaxy, sector by sector to reach your home base. Each sector is made up of smaller jump points that you have to navigate across, having encounters, fighting battles, or buying gear.
The encounters are presented as simple decisions. Do you investigate the distress call? It could be a trap. Do you bring the sole survivor of a raid aboard your ship? He might join you, or he might kill one of your crew before you can stop him. And in addition to those basic encounters (the outcome of which is not predetermined), if you have certain equipment or crew members, special choices (written in blue) will give you a better chance of a positive outcome. If you have a transporter, for instance, you can teleport survivors away without risking your crew.
Combat is the meat of the game, though, and figuring out how best to use your weapons is the sauce. There are a wide variety of weapons in FTL, but your ship is limited to four, so you have to learn how to make them work together. Missiles can penetrate shields but have a finite supply. Lasers can fire multiple shots but have to burn through shields first. Some energy weapons can burn through multiple rooms but only if the enemy shields are completely down. Some weapons teleport bombs onto ships, starting fires and harming crew members but without damaging the hull (making it easier to salvage).
You can also engage in hand-to-hand combat by teleporting to the enemy ship (or being boarded yourself). Kill the crew without destroying the ship and you get more scrap (used for purchases and repairs) and maybe additional weapons or even drones, which come in two forms: robots (which repair your ship or attack the enemy, depending on what you have installed), or satellites that can repair your hull, attack the enemy ship, or shoot down incoming attacks.
In addition to all of this, you can customize your ship by upgrading its functions: better shields, stronger engines, faster healing of the crew, stronger life support, etc. Of course, you need to manage the power supply for all this; if you’re firing all your weapons at once, will you have enough power for shields?
FTL is a colossally fun game of getting your personal Captain Kirk on, shouting “More power to shields! Fire! Get us out of here!” and figuring out how best to use your ship. The universe of the game is well-developed, made up of races with different abilities and motivations (the Mantis are warlike but slow with repairs, the Rock are strong but slow, Slugs have telepathic abilities that let them see into rooms even when sensors are down, the cyborg Engi are weak in combat but fast workers, the Zoltan supply power to any system they’re manning, and humans are, of course, just plain ol’ humans). As you travel through the different sectors you’ll come across subplots that can unlock alternate ships, provided you make the right choices.
Gameplay is addictive, which is what makes the hardness of the ending so frustrating. It’s a boss battle in three stages that you have to spend the whole game planning for—building up your ship and crew specifically for this fight. And if one things goes wrong, you have to start all over, from the beginning.
If this sounds like fun to you (and it can be) I cannot recommend FTL strongly enough. The controls are simple, but the gameplay is complex. It is infinitely replayable, and no two sessions are exactly alike.
Appletell Rating: Buy FTL: Faster Than Light