I’m outnumbered 4-to-2, but the invading Space Pirates are being held off in an undesignated common room by reinforced blast doors. I’ve got options: try to draw them into the medical bay where I can take them on whilst having my health topped up. Lie in wait in a nearby narrow hallway where I can hopefully get the drop on them. It’s tight, so I should be able to fight them 2-on-2, and maybe take one or both out before regrouping to restore my health. Lastly, I could wait for them to get near enough to the airlock doors, trap them in and drain their oxygen while the cargo door’s open.
I pick the first option, and while it’s a good plan on paper, my med-bay can’t keep up with the damage that both my crew members are racking up. They die a painful death, and the invaders seize my ship.
FTL: Faster Than Light lives for tense moments like this. The game, at its core, is a roguelike real-time strategy adventure set in space. That sounds like a lot of things are trying to happen all at once, but it’s far more simplistic than the many pigeonholes it fits into would like to let you know. The goal is to guide a Federation spacecraft on a voyage to the far side of the galaxy, escorting intercepted plans for a rebellion back to your base and into safe hands.
The base of the game is resource management. Average stuff such as making sure you have enough power to operate all the ship’s equipment, enough missiles for your weapons, and enough fuel to make it on your trip across the galaxy. The last one being one of the most important, as you can run out of fuel and find yourself stranded in space. This can be dangerous, as a wave of rebel ships are in constant pursuit of you throughout the game, and running out of fuel gives them plenty of time to gain ground on your getaway, unless a friendly ship happens upon you first and is feeling a bit generous.
Combat is the other main area of the game. Combat takes the guise of a strategy game, where you can pause and plan out attacks at your leisure. Everything is as you expect, with a range of weaponry including missiles, energy shields, lasers, autopiloted drone fighters, cloaking devices, as well as many others. Having each department manned gives an advantage in combat, such as faster weapon reloading time, faster shield regenerating, and better chance of evading incoming shots. You can designate your crew to whichever station you like, or pull them away from their battlestations in order to do other tasks such as fight invaders if they teleport into your ship, or repair breaches in the hull.
Like most roguelikes, the game is randomised to a degree every time you play it. No two playthroughs are likely to be exactly the same, but the end-goal of getting back to the Federation base remains always unchanged. You’ll encounter and unlock different ships and alien races in your travels, and there’s tons of random events waiting for you after every jump beacon. Some of these are beneficial, some hurtful, but it’s largely up to the player how they approach it and how they tell the story. You could just as easily try for a peaceful playthrough, avoiding combat at any and all costs, or you could go gung-ho and attack everything in sight.
The actual timespan of a complete playthrough entirely depends on how you play it. Most of my own playthroughs so far have clocked in at around 20-30 minutes, though I’ve yet to successfully complete my mission. It’s fast-paced in that it’s both a great game to lose a lot of time to, but also a great game for playing on the go on a laptop. Unfortunately, the developers have confirmed to me that netbook resolutions won’t be supported. It’s not resource-heavy, and the short-burst gameplay lends itself well to bus or train journeys.
The presentation quality in this game is a joy to behold. Composer Ben Prunty did an excellent job with the music in the game, as the relaxing, peaceful music of travelling effortlessly transitions into battle variations without so much as a pause or gap between tracks. The sound effects are excellent too, and it really helps immerse you in the experience. The visuals don’t go into a tremendous amount of detail, but at the same time, they don’t really need to. You see enough of what’s going on in order to make things easy to keep on top of without ever feeling overwhelmed, but at the same time leaves it open enough for you to add your own personalisation to the story when you go to recount your tales to your friends.
If you’ve ever found yourself lamenting the cancellation of Firefly, or just love space in general, you’re going to very quickly fall in love with this game. It’s very easy to learn how to play, and every playthrough will leave you constantly wanting more.