Despite the basic looks, FTL is overflowing with gameplay and highly addictive despite the somewhat harsh difficulty.
The aim is simple. Get your ship across 7 sectors and then fight and defeat the rebel flagship while being chased by the rebel fleet which slowly takes over numerous beacons after each jump you make. It does sound basic but achieving this goal is anything but.
A play through is short depending on how far you get but reaching the last sector shouldn't take more than 20/30 minutes depending on certain conditions.
The sectors themselves consist of a number of beacons scattered across them, which represent areas you can go to. You start on the far left and have to jump from beacon to beacon to reach the far right to the "exit" beacon. From here you can jump to another sector or sectors, depending on how the map has spawned, and you then repeat the process.
Every time you play the sector map and the map linking the sectors is randomly generated. Every beacon you jump to within a sector also spawns a random event so there's no way to know what you're going to run into. You can find relay stations or buy a long range scanner for your ship which gives you a rough idea of what to expect but nothing in great detail. You're still going in blind.
The only 2 hints that come are the Distress and Store labels that sometimes appear on adjacent beacons. While the Store label is pretty obvious, the Distress can mean anything. You can come across somebody who simply needs fuel. A pirate ship faking a distress call to lure in prey. An event where you have to make a decision which can result in anything from a new item for your ship to you losing a crew member.
If you don't come across a ship you have to fight then you normally are presented with a short description of what is happening and you can then make various choices. The outcome of these choices is also as random as the events themselves. Just because you got a good result from picking a choice the first time round, doesn't necessarily mean you'll get the same result second time. You can also get additional choices (in blue text) if you have certain equipment or crew aboard but again while the game suggests these are the better options to choose, it doesn't always work out that way.
Add into the mix "natural" events such as jumping into a asteroid field, which slowly pummel yours shields or your ship if you don't have any, nebula that scramble your sensors and can even drain your ships power or jumping to close to suns which periodically emit flares which set random areas of your ship on fire.
Then there's your ship. You start the game with 2 ships with a further 7 to unlock via various means and an alternate layout for each after certain criteria have been met. The ship you pick will affect how you play to begin with but with the level of randomness involved it pays to be flexible.
Your ship, depending on what you pick, has a number of systems. Systems include engines, weapons, shields, oxygen, navigation, medical bay and doors (yes, a system for opening and closing doors!). These require power and as you upgrade each system they require more power. You upgrade with the games resource "Scrap". Scrap is normally found though the choice events but mainly through battle. This can then be spent on your ship to upgrade the above system and improve power. It can also be spent at stores to repair hull damage, buy weapons, equipment, crew and other resources like missiles, droid parts or fuel.
You also have to manage your crew. You start out with a small one and you can post them in various rooms for certain benefits. A crew member manning the shields will result in a recharge rate bonus for example but you never start with enough crew to man all the systems. So is quicker shield recharge more important than faster weapons fire? Do you sacrifice a shield recharge bonus so your crewman can man the engine room and increase your chance to dodge incoming projectiles?
Your crew gain experience depending on what they do, which again result in bonuses upon reaching a certain level. And finally you can have different species of crew on board. Some have their own benefits as well as faults. For example the "Rock" species is immune to fire (which makes them perfect for extinguishing them) but move at half the speed of other crew. So by the time they get to a fire it could of already spread and further damaged you systems.
Finally there are weapons. As with everything there are pros and cons to every choice you make. You can have missiles and bombs (bombs are teleported onto enemy ships) which totally bypass enemy shields but take up the missile resources to use. These can be bought at shops or salvaged from defeated ships but they aren't cheap and you very rarely salvage more than one or two at a time.
Lasers or beam weapons take up no resources at all (expect power) but their effectiveness is negated by enemy shields. If the enemy ship has very strong shields or your laser/beam weapons are weak then you're probably best off using a missile to damage the enemies shield system or wait for your drives to charge up so you can jump and escape to another beacon.
Last are droids. There are a number of droids available, either to attack, defend or help out on ship by repairing damaged systems or repelling boarding hostiles. Using these drain power and take up droid part resources, which are more expensive and less salvable than missiles.
Each of the above can then fall into specific or generic purposes. You can find bombs or missiles purely designed to start fires, burning their crew alive and slowly damaging their systems. Some are designed to breach the hull which deprives that room of oxygen, meaning anybody entering will suffocate until the hold is sealed.
So what weapons you start with and what you find or by along the way will affect how you engage other ships as well as your personal preference or style. Do you outfit it purely with lasers and risk having to pummel shields into submission while saving resources for ship and system upgrades. Do you outfit your ships with missiles and mines and hope to quickly finish off the enemy at the expensive of constantly having to purchase resources?
Combat itself takes place in real-time with a display of the enemy ship and various systems similar to yours. Combat can be paused and orders issued in regards to where to send crew or which part of the enemy ship to target. Fighting is more tactical than you think as you may want to target certain systems with the damage affecting their ship as it would yours. Damaging the shields will reduce effectiveness if not take them off line altogether. Damaging their weapon systems may take their weapons off line. Early on in the game the enemies are easy. With little in terms of shields or armament but it doesn't take long before you come across bigger and meaner ships.
FTL basically boils down to you having to make every single choice. From where you go, where you place resources, how you fight and how you managed your crew. You have to manage your ship effectively and differently in any given situation. In combat you sometimes have to shuffle your crew and power around to repair damaged systems or to get that extra weapon on-line.
A fire might break out in a section of the ship. Do you let it burn and deal with more pressing issues. Do you send crew to put it out, meaning they leave their posts resulting in lost bonuses they might have and also damaging their health. Or do you open all the doors and put the fire out by getting rid of all the oxygen in the room? Each has it pluses and negatives but ultimately it's your choice and that is the main draw with FTL.
You only way you learn to play this game is by playing it, over and over again. The tutorial covers the basics and gets you on your way but it won't help you win the game. In fact completing the goal of defeating the Rebel Flagship can, at times, seem impossible. The learning curve is steep and the difficulty is high. You will lose more times than you win by a vast distance. And death here is permanent. There is no quick save. There is no manual save before making a jump to another beacon then reloading when it all goes pear-shaped. Every decision you make sticks with you until the very end.
You will die, a lot. And a down side of the randomness of what you encounter can seem punishing at times. You may have a serious of strong fights only to limp right into another with little to no chance of victory or escape. The enemy ships can become very difficult very quickly if you have not been able to upgrade your ship sufficiently in previous sectors.
The events where you have to make a choice are down to pure luck. There is no noticeable way of influencing an outcome apart from being lucky enough to have a certain piece of equipment which will give you a choice in blue text. These tend to be far more beneficial than a regular choice.
Taking the blue text choices out of the equation, in the instances where you're given 2 choices you have a 50/50 chance of picking the beneficial one, while the other often results in a serve negative outcome. Not all the choices are like this but the ones that are (and you will become familiar with them the more you play) are down to pure luck. A few "bad luck" choices can pretty much signal the end of the road if not finish you off altogether. This can be pretty harsh considering you have no influence over them at all.
After playing the game for any length of time you soon come to realise that the "random" events aren't very numerous. You will be presented with the same scenarios and enemy ships over and over again. This isn't a major issue but it is noticeable.
Overall FTL is a brilliant example of what indie games can achieve with a small development team (2 guys) and a small budget. It has its flaws, the total randomness can be punishing, but it is addictive and oozes gameplay just by giving you a ton of choices to make in every part of the game. You will find yourself coming back over and over again just to try a new tactic, a new ship, to see how useful a new piece of kit actually is.
If you're looking for something different from the "norm" then FTL is defiantly worth a look.