Gaming on a student budget: Faster Than Light

The future title screen of FTL Advanced Edition Image credit: Subset Games
Starship battle in FTL Image credit: Subset Games
Different ships require different play-styles. Image credit: Subset Games
What to expect from the iPad release of FTL Image credit: Subset Games
Another view of the iPad interface for FTL Image credit: Subset Games

It's been over a year since FTL: Faster Than Light was released for the PC. As one of most acclaimed indie titles of all time, a new free expansion and an iOS platform release planned for early 2014; now's as good a time as any to take the plunge and see what all the fuss is about.

In FTL, you command a Federation Cruiser that has just intercepted vital information regarding the rebel fleet. Your objective is to reach the Federation fleet located many space sectors away. You battle aliens, rebels and pirates alike while fleeing from the powerful armada who are hot on your heels.

Surprisingly for a spaceship simulator, there are no flight controls involved in gameplay. Most of FTL revolves around managing your ship systems; power grid, shield, engines, weapons. Players will quickly find themselves frequently pausing to micromanage their ship and crew, especially as the difficulty ramps up in the later space sectors.

The other aspect of gameplay involves exploration. FTL's rogue-like map generation means that every space sector is unique and no encounter scripted. Players are encouraged to explore through each sector to try and find scrap – the currency of FTL – and equipment to upgrade their ship. The game is carefully balanced around this exploration: don't explore enough and you'll quickly find your ship inadequate for later encounters, explore for too long and you'll have to deal with the rebel fleet catching up to you.

Also inherited from other rogue-like games is FTL's punishing difficulty. Tough choices in FTL are frequent. Do you use your scrap now to upgrade your shields, or save up to buy a weapon from that trader that you may or may not find? The game can seem a bit unfair at times and the difference between victory and defeat often hinges on a dice roll. And once you're dead, that's it end. There is no reload from checkpoint or retry the last stage, you simply have to start over. This ‘permadeath’ may be a turn off to some players, though if it's any consolation, I've logged over 20 hours into this game and I've still never fully beaten it once.

Like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you're going to get with each play-through. While individual sessions themselves last only between 30 minutes to an hour (or even shorter if you're terrible like me), FTL will have you hitting that 'New Game' button often.

Oh, and did I mention a really kick-ass soundtrack?

 

FTL: Faster Than Light is available from Steam, GOG or direct from developers for £6.99.

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