It’s calm for once. The ship is in working order, power is flowing evenly to every system and all of the critical systems are manned. Then you jump, and oh do you jump. You crash into the next system and all hell breaks loose. Not only is there a far superior pirate ship who wants nothing more than to utterly destroy you, but there is also a dying star in the background that likes to randomly light parts of your ship on fire. Regardless of your efforts, you’re steamrolled and floating dead in the cold depths of space. With a smile, you try again.
A game of FTL: Faster Than Light usually lasts about 30 minutes, maybe a bit longer or a bit less, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a beautiful choose your own adventure book coupled with a strategic space ship manager. After picking your ship, you set out for the stars. On the run from the encroaching rebel forces, you have intel vital to the survival of the Federation and must get to the home base. On the way you may run into any number of situations, it’s all down to you.
You’re going to die. A lot.
Death is not only an inevitability in FTL, it’s encouraged. On it’s face, FTL can be compared to a roguelike. Death is permanent and sends you back to the beginning of the game. The actual path to the end is random. The difference comes through in the gameplay. Each time you fire up your FTL drive something unexpected is going to happen. Each new area of space brings a new set of insane circumstances. Whether you find an ancient cryostasis pod that contains a crystal man, parent race of the rock men, or accidently run into a roaming band of pirates that decide they need your face as a hood ornament.
Battles themselves are an incredibly tense affair that involve heavily mashing the pause button. You don’t actually move your ship, instead you chose how you want to allocate power to you ship and what sections of the enemy’s ship you want to bear your weapons down upon. If you staff your weapons, pilot chair, engines or shields they gain a bonus. You crew levels up in each of those categories plus fighting and repair. After you finish a battle you can gain some sweet scrap, which is the currency in FTL.
Scrap is the lifeblood that fuels FTL. It buys you additional systems within your ship, new weapons, additional crew members and serves as the way to upgrade everything. It’s those purchases that stave off death just a bit longer. Once in battle, the reason the pause button is your best friend becomes abundantly clear. Pausing stops the action, but you can still give orders. When you have a superior ship bearing down, two hull breaches and two enemy crew members running amok in your ship, the ability to pause and issue orders makes trying to combat those enemies, assure that the enemies shields are down, put out those fires that refuse to go out and repair everything that is broken so much easier.
Experimentation drives FTL. Playing cautious is good, yet going balls to the wall intense has left me with several interesting playthroughs. That’s what I really love about FTL, I can play however I want. I can run my ship like a tyrant, killing everyone who gets in my way and ten minutes later I can run my new ship like a saint. I love that I can play a quick game of FTL in between other things. It’s been awhile since a game has drawn me in like this. I tip my hat to Matthew Davis, Justin Ma and the Kickstarter campaign that led to this amazing product.