FTL: Faster Than Light Review

Thrilling combat and strategic depth make indie space sim Faster Than Light a hit.

Faster Than Light might not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid. This spaceship simulation may look like something from the golden age of 16-bit gaming, but it offers a good deal of fun and depth. Unlike space sims that make you feel like you've had your head jammed in a Jefferies tube during an ion storm (if we can mix sci-fi franchises for a moment), this lighter entry in the genre combines an endearing retro feel and an even more endearing $10 price tag with gripping gameplay packed with tough choices and frenetic combat.

Battles may look dry and uninvolving, though that sure isn't the case when you're the one loading the weapons and putting out the fires.

What first strikes you about Faster Than Light is how old-fashioned it looks and sounds. Graphics are intentionally pixelated, particularly the big, blocky text used to provide ship information and menu options. The game consists of just a couple of screens. You spend most of your time looking at an overhead schematic of your vessel seen in front of a spartan backdrop consisting of a planet, nebula, asteroid field, or whatever other scrap of intergalactic real estate dominates the star system that you are currently exploring.

The only other main screen to note governs upgrades to your ship's core systems and how to equip weapons and other gear. Very little is animated, aside from dinky crewmen puttering around inside your ship and various rockets and missiles being blasted across the void between you and the many enemies that you encounter during your travels. Audio is limited to various booms and bangs, and to the mono bloops that served as the primary musical accompaniment to games in the '80s and '90s.

It doesn't take long for Faster Than Light to get its hooks into you. The main theme blends elements of Elite and Rogue into a space sim that plays like an old-fashioned dungeon crawler with randomly generated rooms and encounters. Here you play as the commander of a ship called the Kestrel in the only mode of play, a zippy single-player campaign geared to be finished in one or two sittings.

This plucky vessel is on the run from Rebel forces in possession of a secret that must be brought to the good guys within the galaxy-ruling Federation. What is this dire secret? It never comes up. Plot isn't a strong point here. But it doesn't matter, because all you need to know is that you've got a Rebel fleet gunning for you and a bunch of unexplored star systems spread throughout a string of sectors to check out if you're going to come up with the fuel, weapons, and gear to make it all the way to the Feds on the other side of the galaxy.

Deciding which ship systems to upgrade and when is almost as tense as combat. Choose wisely, or meet this fate.

Gameplay has a pulp sci-fi feel. You're a cross between Captains Solo and Kirk, exploring strange new worlds while also spending a lot of time doing the "pivot at warp two and bring all tubes to bear" thing. Just about every star system features an encounter where you come up against an enemy, meet traders, check out a space station, or something similar. Systems are divided into sectors, most of which come with themes where they are loaded with nebulae, controlled by pirates, or feature something else that is undoubtedly hazardous to your health.

You gather or buy weapon upgrades, various ship gear and crewmen, and the scrap that you need in order to upgrade your ship. Ship development is handled like a role-playing game character: you put scrap points into enhancing the main reactor, shields, life support, sensors, and so forth. There is a great balance between improving systems and improving the reactor, because advanced systems mean little without the power to drive them. You are on a constant seesaw deciding how to spend your scrap to make for the most efficient ship, as all these systems give you offensive and defensive ratings and abilities that are crucial in battle.

Ship development is incredibly important, because combat is a constant threat. You can drop into a system and find friendly traders selling equipment, helpful scientists, or even just a relaxing empty vacuum, but you're more likely to run into a rebel ship, pirates, or evil aliens. Battles run in pausable real time, with you in control of all ship functions and crewmen. All ships in the game are shown with dedicated rooms housing systems like shields, weapons, engines, sensors, and oxygen. So you target your weapons at these facilities on enemy vessels while the bad guys focus in on the same ones on yours.

All these choices give Faster Than Light a lot of strategic weight. You constantly have to make tough calls on which enemy system to attack and which of your own systems to repair. Do you take down the enemy shields to try to finish off a foe quickly, or go after his weapons to keep him from imploding your hull and then whittle him down at your leisure? You also have to make tough calls on what weapons to use. Missiles, for instance, can go right through enemy shields, but you have a limited number of them available and infrequent opportunities to restock, so you have to use them wisely. At the same time, you have to make the same calls on what systems to repair on your own ship when you take damage, as everything needs to be fixed manually, and you never seem to have enough crewmen to take on everything. Do you restore the shields? Do you get the weapons back up? Do you tackle those fires in the sensor room? Do you curl up in the fetal position and cry?

Heavy is the head that wears the captain's helmet.

Everything is fraught with tension. Weapons seem to take forever to recharge during battles. Foes are cunning in what systems they target with their beam weapons and missiles. Fires start in compartments, which cranks up the stress because you need to order crewmen to make with the extinguishers or open airlocks and interior doors to starve blazes of oxygen. Crewmen also have to deal with hostile boarding parties, who frequently beam over at the start of battles and start blasting away at your systems from the inside. Random elements can turn into instant death. Think you're just delivering drone parts for a guy you met a couple of systems back? Whoops, that depot is filled with insane scientists who are now tearing your ship to pieces. Think that system looks harmless enough? Nope, you warp in too close to a sun and get shredded by solar flares.

And to top it all off, the Rebel fleet is always on your heels. You can enter a system occupied by the pursuing fleet, but this results in a pitched battle where all you can do is try to survive while your warp drive powers back up. Encounters tell their own stories, so you write a personal space saga via your exploits (which often consist of brutal but colorful deaths). The game might look and sound primitive, but it's also memorable and refreshing as you build your own adventure instead of following canned dialogue and set-piece plot points.

A few limits get in the way of playing space scoundrel. After a couple of hours, you realize that there are a fairly small number of encounters in the various star systems. All of them are randomly mixed up for each new game, but this just changes up the order in which you see them. This makes the game predictable after a while, although encounters move fast and the combat is exhilarating, and things are a little freshened up over time by such things as unlocking new vessels to pilot.

No time to dilly-dally. Those rebels are hot on your heels.

The game is tough, even on the easy difficulty setting, and some of the random elements are a bit too random. Games seemingly hinge on throws of the dice at times. You can hit a stretch where encounters offer nothing but brutal combat with fierce enemies that offer up little loot, or get a string of traders who have virtually no good items for sale. At the same time, you can hit the jackpot and have great luck with the encounters you draw, and stock up big on missiles, gear, and scrap.

Battles get long in the tooth in the later stages of games. At this point, tension can give way to a bit of boredom. Having the Rebel fleet on you so quickly gives the game a tight time limit. Being able to turn off the fleet, or dial back its pursuit so that it isn't constantly on your exhaust, could have made the game more enjoyable for those who want to play explorer. The limited save system might also be tough to get used to, because it's here solely for use when the phone rings or when nature calls. You can only save and exit, and this lone save is wiped out as soon as your ship is destroyed. Thankfully, everything moves so swiftly and is so compelling that you don't mind starting new games. But this style of perma-death play does require a certain mindset to fully appreciate.

Undeniably old-fashioned yet still somehow fresh and original, Faster Than Light is a great new take on a couple of old genres that will take over your life for many, many hours. Tense combat, easy-to-handle ship management, and fast-moving campaigns make this a game that is far more than the sum of its parts, despite a few shortcomings with mission variety and the remorseless nature of the (mostly) save-free game design.

The Good
Strategically rewarding gameplay makes you feel like a starship captain
Fast-paced campaign loaded with tense combat
Many hours of enjoyable spacefaring adventure for just $10
The Bad
Lacking in encounter variety
8
Great
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0 comments
jenovaschilld
jenovaschilld

Great game, but babysitting can be a bit much at times- still though very little weakness in the is otherwise really really fine game. 

I had just watched Yamato battleship 2199, and I swear it made this game that much better. 

rynoth
rynoth

Boring, repetitive gameplay, obnoxious soundtrack, and a game built around carrot and stick/skinner box game mechanics and addictive gameplay. Addictive, not fun.


The difficulty is artificially inflated thanks to random encounters/space hazards/enemy ship layouts/rewards etc.

More slot machine than space simulator.

Bane_09
Bane_09

This game has one of the best video game soundtracks of all time

juaner92
juaner92

really good game i love it!

McMuffin9000
McMuffin9000

How in the h*ll did they catch fire so badly in that screenshot?!

FlaviusJulius17
FlaviusJulius17

I hope by "finished in one to two sittings" they're referring to ship destruction, because this game is INFURIATINGLY difficult... and I love it so!!!

Rebnatjen
Rebnatjen

This is a gobsmacklingly good game, utterly addictive and compelling, way more fun and value than the vast majority a big buget titles from the big studios. If you ain't played it yet you are missing out big time!

Godlikan
Godlikan

They should go to kickstarter and start making FTL2, improve on execution of game, story depth, overall skill system, graphics are fine as they are, more races, etc. Fine game indeed. 

lindallison
lindallison

Great game!  This is the space sim I've been waiting for.  Its got modest goals but is brilliantly and confidently executed.  Ridiculously fun, and the usual roguelike permadeath is as freeing as ever.  No need to reload after a sub-optimal encounter, just plow forward and make the best of it.

DeadlyRamon
DeadlyRamon

A one-page mention in the latest issue of PC Gamer convinced me to install the game (that I'd recently bought at a discount during GOG's Christmas sale) and overcome my prejudice against its nearly bare-bones graphics, and I'm glad I did!  Underneath the seemingly primitive interface is quite a compelling indie roguelike space sim which is both satisfyingly complex and easily accessible.  The soundtrack is pleasant and soothing when not in combat and appropriately frantic and frenetic when in combat, and the text events, though repetitious, are still varied enough to maintain my interest for the foreseeable future.  The fact that so much quality can be packed into such a value-priced game makes for quite a bargain and almost brings a tear to this jaded gamer's eye.  To those of you who haven't yet purchased it, I highly recommend that you do so, especially when it's discounted (as it is currently on Steam for only $4.99).  Just make sure to set aside some extra time for it (it will tempt you to extend the session well beyond your initial estimate), and don't forget to play through its tutorial!

Renoo27
Renoo27

This is only £3.49 on Steam at the moment! Well worth it. It's very easy to learn, and incredibly addictive. 

c0mmanderKeen
c0mmanderKeen

Great, great game. Wouldve been something if this indie stuff won the Best strat. Game Award :D

 

I love it, I am addicted. Played every day since purchase. Unlocking the ships is great fun, finding different ways to win battles or take over ships. Customization options are HUGE but due to random availability its exciting too. Will I get good weapons in the first sector? Can I replace my lost crewmembers before the boss fight?

 

Oh, and on Normal, its incredibly hard. For higher difficulties, check the mod list on the official site.

 

Buy it.

00J
00J

I bought this game because it looks good for $10. I can say that yeah it's worth the $10 dollars, it's pretty interesting. I played it the first time for about 45 minutes, then quit it. I came back the next day and played it for another 45 minutes and it's pretty cool. It's got a little more depth than i originally thought when i played it for the first time, trying to learn the game. It's a rogue type game and the enemy is chasing you for a  confrontation if you get "caught behind enemy lines" so to speak. The neat thing about being caught behind enemy lines is that you do have an option of trying to fight your way out of the battle. If you can survive long enough for your jump drive to be re-charged you can escape. It reminds you of that battle with Khan in Startrek II at times, which is pretty neat. There are a lot of kobiyashi Marus in this game, and sometimes you can win battles by sheer luck. The game is designed as a rogue type game so you can only save upon quiting the game, and if you get blown up it's game over and you have to restart from the beginning. I actually one time was able to restart from a previous save but i believe the second time i got blown up it was game over. I think that is the most cool part of the game, because it's realistic. It also helps try to keep the game from becoming old or repetitive, because you will fight the same battles over and over. 

Short and Sweet jump right in and play game concept, i like this game concept. Hopefully we'll see more games designed like this with good artwork and simple but detailed game play.

Shawn45
Shawn45

Bought this game on a whim because I heard good things about it. It's definitely one of the most fun and addicting games I've played. I intended to play it for just a little bit, but ended up playing for hours. I really hope some sort of DLC comes out to this to add in additional content though, because you start to see repeat events after only a few hours of gameplay.

 

Still, trying to make it to the end without your crew is a challenge, I haven't managed to do it once yet, and I still keep coming back for more.

Rollinthunder01
Rollinthunder01

It is a shame there are people in the world who seem to do and say things to piss people off. What a waste of a life.

SeptuagintXXX
SeptuagintXXX

strange that Brett Todd gives the game the "get your money's worth" emblem and says how there's many hours of game play for $10, but then gives it a demerit for being short. 

 

Which is it?  Is it a good value for $10 or is it too short.  I don't expect a long game for $10, so I'm kind of confused.

Caldrin
Caldrin

I didnt back this on kickstarter but i brought the game from their site after release and i must say its some of the most fun ive had for some time in a single player game..

 

Well worth the money..

RedWave247
RedWave247

@rynoth Well yeah, that's the very definition of ROGUE-LIKE. The entire point of each play through is that it's entirely randomly generated.

Bane_09
Bane_09

@McMuffin9000 They had to have fire bombed their own ship, no other way that would happen lol

Orgil220
Orgil220

@Rebnatjen Thank you for the advice, it's on steam summer sale for like $3, grabbing it now :-)

torrne667
torrne667

 @Shawn45

 I agree with everything you said, except..the word is "addictive" not addicting, too many people are using this wrong word and its really starting to piss me off now.

 

Shawn45
Shawn45

Without your crew DYING* is what I meant to say. I think it'd be near impossible to get to the end without a crew. :P

aprilosa
aprilosa

@SeptuagintXXX I've played 16hrs on normal mode, then 2hrs on easy 'cause I couldn't beat the game on normal (pretty much advanced in my easy game). I'm going put in at least as much time as that, and probably much more. I've only unlocked one ship and I can't wait to try a new one....

timmy0001
timmy0001

 @Gelugon_baat    Dude you post way too much, especially for someone with such bad grammar. You've probably spent more time trolling this board than actually playing this game. Take a hike.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat You implied that you knew a lot about GS ("you don't know much of anything about GameSpot if you think that they are the only avenues"), and you also implied that you've been here a while. Those definitely suggest that you're very close to this site.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Well, if you truly are as close-knit with this site as you say you are, I'm sure you can find that information out on your own.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Actually, there isn't anyone in GS that I hate, except you. But then again, everyone on GS hates you, so that's a given.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Again, I wasn't comparing him to you. However, since you keep bringing it up, I will say this: ExplicitMike is a nice guy, and you are not.

fullframework
fullframework

They're the only avenues that matter. What, are you going to complain in your blog?

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Besides, not all the people on GS rave against differing opinions. Take ExplicitMike, for instance; he's a pretty cool and easygoing guy who hasn't posted any inflammatory material on this site.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Well, if you ever have any legitimate complaints in the future, the mods probably won't listen to you, and that's not a good thing.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat Oh yes, and I informed a good deal of the GS community about my talks with the mods, and let's just say that I've made some friends because of it.

fullframework
fullframework

 @Gelugon_baat I haven't broken any rules, contrary to what you might think. Besides, even if I had, the mods would probably let me slide just to piss you off. Come to think of it, that spambot you complained about still hasn't been banned, which should give you some idea of how much the mods care about you.

 

Also, the mod I mentioned said "We've tried"; in other words, it's not just him.

fullframework
fullframework

 @timmy0001  @Gelugon_baat Fun fact: I once asked the mods to do something about GB, and this is an actual quote from one of them:

 

"Believe me -- we've tried. Problem is he always keeps his posts from crossing the line. He hasn't been as subtle since the Terms changed, but again -- he remains borderline. It's frustrating as all hell. I would like nothing more than to show that bastard what's what. But I can't just hit him up for being annoying when he technically isn't breaking any rules (besides, one of us already tried contacting him about that; didn't change anything).

 

I feel your pain -- I really, really do. We just can't do anything yet."

 

So the mods hate him too. Too bad they can't actually do anything about it. Let's just hope that a mod eventually gets pissed off to the point where he bans GB just for being annoying. 

 

 

timmy0001
timmy0001

 @Gelugon_baat  Well, I wanted to read your comment, but I don't speak troll. It's a safe bet it was pointless drivel, though.

FTL: Faster Than Light More Info

  • Released
    • iPhone/iPod
    • Macintosh
    • + 2 more
    • PC
    • Unix/Linux
    Faster Than Light, a spaceship simulation real-time roguelike-like.
    8
    Average User RatingOut of 410 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate FTL: Faster Than Light
    Developed by:
    Subset Games
    Published by:
    Subset Games
    Genres:
    Roguelike, Simulation