Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Faster Than Light

Happy Price: 14.99
Rating: 9.0


FTL is a ship management combat RPG that requires quick reflexes, strategy, skill and luck. Most players have a win percentage less than 10%, as one poor decision can create a chain of events that cause a loss. Outside of combat there are a series of decisions that need to be made that can alter the player's fate in an extremely positive or negative manner. 


There are several different ways to approach the act of blowing up another player's ship. Beam weapons, ion blasts, missiles, laser weapons, drones and personnel all have different properties that come with strengths and weaknesses. This makes each playthrough unique and encourages experimentation and after some time will increase the win rate. As the player accomplishes different goals, new ships are unlocked that come with their own presets which offer even more ways to play. For example my favorite setup is the Engi Ship which comes with an ion blaster and a drone system. The Engi race has double repair speed but halved melee damage when units board your ship. This particular setup emphasizes on disabling the enemies system, and using an automated drone to attack. The ion blaster will disable the system the player targets. Depending on the enemy, I usually disable the shield system so my drone can inflict damage, or the weapons system if I'm outgunned to balance the fight. This strategy works well until I come across a Mantis ship, which usually involves the enemy boarding my ship. Mantis have slow repair speed and high melee damage. This causes chaos on my ship, as the Engi are designed to repair, not fight. 

It takes usually about 90 mins to 120 mins to reach the boss ship. On the journey there, I have to try to recruit as many units that complement the Engi so I can make it through the late stages of the game. The currency used to upgrade the ship, purchase new weapons, and recruit all comes from the same limited resource pool called scrap. Grinding is not something that can be done, so you must decide early on what your strategy will be. A diverse crew will ensure that your ship can handle most situations. It's almost impossible to handle every situation. It only takes one unique situation where the enemy has the "perfect storm" of a setup that takes advantages of all your weaknesses to end the game.

Decisions, Decisions

At every level of the game, the player is making important decisions. It begins when you first arrive at a star system, what planet do you want to fly to? Data is not presented on what is happening at each location, so there is a large amount of luck when deciding where to go. At times you will run into an automated drone ship that results in huge rewards upon a win, or an advanced fighter ship that offers barely anything in return of difficult battle that leaves your ship battered. Also, depending on your strategy, an automated ship might be the worst thing you can find if your strategy is to board ships and kill the crew. Crew does not exist on automated ships, the player must wait after x seconds, and then escape the battle.

There are times when dialogue between a ship can result in something really good happening or really bad. There are instances where a "friendly" ship will request a crew member to board for assistance, but then your crew member will get kidnapped. Sometimes, offering a crew member will result in an upgrade, weapons, cash, or all three. These gambles make each playthrough different and alter the result significantly. Losing an important crew member that increases shield recharge by 10% and reduces reactor requirements by one is a huge loss. When you first start playing the game, you are naive but as you get more experienced, you can sniff out when a "friendly" ship is malicious. It's actually rewarding since you feel more combat experienced in this virtual world.

Upgrading the Ship

Upgrading the ship is a complex ordeal. There is the reactor which houses the amount of power that can be allocated to all the subsystems. Then each subsystem has its unique properties. As you upgrade a subsystem, more power is needed, Finding that balance of upgrading the reactor, and then the subsystems in a particular sequence that will result in a win is elusive and difficult to master. Upgrading the reactor takes scrap, but so does the shields and weapons systems. The nature of the game has the player on the run, which doesn't allow for grinding to gain as much scrap as possible. Going to areas that will yield the highest amount of scrap is part luck, part decision making on the player's part. It would be great to fully upgrade my shields, weapons, and my drone system. But all of that takes resources that are too scarce. I have to pick 2/3 in most cases, unless I get very lucky. You also have to manage fuel, which if you run out of, results in a loss. 


The art style is simple but effective. It's a top down view that is designed for management and a bird's eye view. It's very clear when a system of a ship is damaged, the player can make this out quickly and respond as fast as possible. Using a simple color palette allows for this. The 32 bit art style coincides with the retro gameplay style that most gamers associate with high consequences for an inferior skillset. It all ties together neatly and everything is polished.


The soundtrack of this game is revered by the cult following, it was good but something I would elect to listen to over my own spotify playlists. Due to the low processing power this game takes up, its feasible to run background applications without any frame or performance loss. The sound effects of explosions and laser guns are standard, nothing is taken away from the sounds, but then again not much is added. However playing the game with the SFX muted is not advisable, as when a system is shutdown by the enemy there is an audio cue for that. That audio cue is necessary, since you're likely paying attention to the enemy's systems.


This game appeals to the hardcore PC gamer, and the same crowd on mobile. Critical thinking and quick reflexes are essential for success, and not all people possess those skills nor wish to develop them. The game is incredibly frustrating yet incredibly rewarding once the challenges are overcome. I think every Indy developer should play this game, but its not something everyone will enjoy.

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