- Let’s Play FTL: Faster than Light! Part 1: The Voyage Begins
- Let’s Play FTL: Faster than Light! Part 2: Things Get Real
- Let’s Play FTL: Faster than Light! Part 3: A New Hope
- Let’s Play FTL: Faster than Light! Part 4 (FINAL): Return of the Kestrel or, the Federation Strikes Back
- FTL: Faster than Light — The Verdict
The best way I can describe FTL: Faster than Light, the new indie title from Subset Games, is to say it lives up to the very simple promise on its Kickstarter page (emphasis mine):
FTL is a spaceship simulation roguelike-like. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy.
To get a sense of how the typical game of FTL plays out, I refer you to my Let’s Play series – linked at the top of this post. In summary, players start at one end of the galaxy, progress through seven increasingly dangerous sectors, and finally take on the final boss at the end of sector eight. Each sector comprises a randomised mix of encounters – shops, text-based, multiple-choice quests (think King Arthur: The Roleplaying Wargame, or maybe a much simpler Space Rangers 2), hazards such as asteroid fields, and most of all, hostile spaceships. Combat is a frenetic homage to movie and TV space battles, as you juggle power between shields and engines and weapons, order your crew to fix hull breaches and extinguish fires, target enemy subsystems, and oh god Mr Chekov will you knock out their missiles before they kill us all?! (Since the game only gives you one save slot, you cannot reload if you die unless you back up your save file, aka “savescumming”.) Afterwards, you use scrap from your enemies’ hulls to upgrade your ship and buy fuel and repairs. Ultimately, you escape to the next sector one step ahead of your foes, and begin the process again. The typical game takes about an hour or two to play, and for most of that time – specifically, for sectors one through seven – it is a delightful roller-coaster of excitement and panic and elation.
Where FTL falls down is its endgame, sector eight, which finally trips over the line between challenge and frustration. The end boss suffers from several related problems:
1) The boss isn’t merely more difficult than anything else in the game. It’s an order of magnitude more difficult.
2) The sheer length of the boss battle. Most battles are in the game are over in 2-3 minutes. However, the boss’ defences are so strong that all up, it took me something like 40 minutes to beat! The game’s combat system is built for short, sharp fights, and it bogs down when it takes that long to get through one opponent.
3) The need for luck to beat the boss. This manifests in two ways. First, since equipment, and shop catalogues are random, it’s possible for a player to reach the boss without the tools needed to win. Second, as my experience in part 4 of the Let’s Play showed, the length and difficulty of the boss fight increase the odds an unlucky hit will scupper all your work.
4) The inability to save/reload, which becomes a liability here. If things go wrong 80% of the way through the boss fight, get ready to replay aaaaaall the way from sector 1.
Net effect: I feel absolutely no shame over savescumming to beat the boss, and while I could replay the game (unlocking and then trying out different spaceships, attempting different builds, etc) – I don’t want to. There are players who feel motivated to defeat that final boss over, and over again. I am not one. And that is a real disincentive for me to spend any more time with FTL.
Still, while FTL lasted, it and I had a wonderful ride. As with 2010’s Recettear, FTL is short, sweet and clever. It’s not perfect, but the core mechanics for 80%-90% of the game are sufficiently strong to outweigh the annoyance and tedium of the remaining 10%-20%. Well worth checking out, and I look forward to seeing what its creators do next.
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The basis of my review
Time spent with the game: I estimate 8-10 hours.
What I played: Four playthroughs on Easy (one won), using the Kestrel.
What I didn’t play: Normal difficulty. The other spaceships in the game.