“‘EINSTEIN WAS WRONG. CATCH US IF YOU CAN.'”
FTL: Faster Than Light is a roguelike video game, where you play the commander of a Federation ship desperately trying to run away from the Rebels. It was developed by Subset Games and first released in 2012.
What is a roguelike?
A roguelike is a type of game where you have a lot of runs. You play, you die, you try again. With each run, new items are unlocked, you know the enemy behavior better, and you get slightly further than you did last time. The great thing about roguelikes is that they are heavily based on chance, which presents you with unique playthroughs every time. A good roguelike, I believe, uses chance to set up interesting scenarios, but it is ultimatly a players experience and skill that determines whether or not they succeed. Chance can make winning easier or harder, but it should not define the outcome.
An important point of roguelikes is that you die. A lot. You do not stay as one character for long. This is a good reason / excuse / justification to make the game hard as hell. Other examples of roguelikes are The Binding of Isaac and Rogue Legacy.
You basically visit a star on the map, fight a ship that’s there, get the loot, upgrade and move on. There are 8 sectors, and at the end you fight the Rebel Flagship.
The crew are necessary to repair damaged systems (unless you have repair bots and a drone control system), fight off invaders, operate systems and not lose the game (if all your crew die, you get a game over). Crew members level up at operating specific systems the more they operate them, so losing a skilled engine operator will devestate your ability to dodge you enemy, for example.
There are several species you can play as in the game:
Human: levels up skills quickly
Mantis: repairs at half speed, but moves quickly and dishes out damage
Rockman: immune to fire, slow, 1.5 times more health
Engi: reapirs quickly, does half damage in combat
Crystal: Has 25% more health, slow, can temporarily lock rooms down
Zoltan: has less health, explodes on death, provides one source of power to room it occupies
Slug: telepathic (can detect enemy crew members locations)
You have a limited amount of power, so you must distribute it carefully. During battles, you might take power away from the oxygen system to power weapons and watch as your crew slowly suffocate, or power down the medbay to power engine, leaving your wounded crew close to death.
Teleporter: lets you teleport your crew onto enemy ship to fight their crew head on
Cloaking: turns your ship invisible, usually guaranteeing enemy weapons miss
Drone control: lets you use drones; they shoot down missles, repair hull, attack enemy ships, repair your ship, fend off boarders, etc.
Pilot: upgrading installs better autopilot, but you should always have a crew member at the pilot seat
Sensor: let’s you see inside your ship and enemy ship
Door: upgrades doors, which slow down boarders and fires
Shield: blocks certain types of weapons
Engine: better engines, more evasiveness
Medbay: heals crewmembers
Oxygen: keeps crew alive
Weapons: let’s you shoot the weapons (pew pew pew!)
It’s important to note that you don’t start with all of these systems; different ships have a different systems, and also different number of crew members.
Putting them together
I cannot emphasize enough how fun and crazy the battles are. You have to manage crew, power, health, your resources, etc. in battles, while choosing what weapons to arm your ship with between them. You have to consider what you spend your scrap (money) on: repairs, new weapons, or new crew members. You can also buy augments, which are upgrades for your ship (faster reload times, chance to negate damage, hull breaches repair themselves, etc.), and you have to consider how well it will fit in with your current play style.
Here’s an example:
- Robot boarder is attacking my engi, so I have to take care of him
- My mantises are on the enemy ship, and need to be pulled back at some point, but teleporter is on cooldown
- Oxygen has no power, so my crew is slowly suffocating
- I managed to disable the enemies missle launcher, but I need to keep my mantises there to prevent them from repairing it
- The rest of the enemy’s weapons can only take out my shield, but the drones they use can do serious damage
- I have to save my cloaking ability for when the enemy uses his super secret attack (only the Rebel Flagship can do this)
- Any or all of these factors can change in short notice
Not only are the basic mechanics to the game solid and interesting, but there is a lot of content to the game as well. You start off with one ship, and you unlock more as you play, but in a fun and interesting way. Rarely do you just get handed a ship; you stumble across a side-quest, have a really cool exchange or battle, and then you unlock the ship. For example, to unlock the Rock cruiser, you have to volunteer to fight a non-hostile Rock ship near a sun and endure your ship burning to a crisp. The Rockmen will be impressed with your will and you unlock the Rock cruiser.
Another cool aspect of side-quests is that you can complete them differently, depending on your weapon load out, crew composition, or level of your systems. For example, an out of control fire at a local space station can be put out by a crew (risking his or her life), or you can send in a Rockman, which guarantees success with no risk. My favorite is that when you stumble upon a space station that is being attacked by giant space spiders, you can use an anti bio-beam to surgically pick them off one by one from afar (that’s also my favorite weapon)
But my favorite thing about FTL: Faster Than Light is the narrative you can make up. You really do sound like a Star Trek captain (“… so my shields were down, and my weapons were under attack by mantis boarders, so I teleported my whole crew [of two humans] to the enemy ship [now abandoned], destroyed their teleporter system, and depressurized my entire ship.) Not only when you are recounting stories of your conquests to others, but just in your head. You imagine the personalities and thoughts your crew have when they get commands (“… so you want me to teleport onto a Scout? You know those have no oxygen, right?”), the desperation of defeated enemies who offer you their life savings for their lives, and the elation you and your loyal crew feel when you finally defeat the Rebel ship.
My personal favorite story is as follows: I defeated the enemy ship, but not without sustaining massive amounts of damage. The worst part was that my oxygen system got taken out, and I did not have the time or crew necessary to repair it. By the end of the battle, my entire ship had no oxygen, and my crew were dying rapidly. I got three into the medbay (where they would heal while losing health to asphyxiation), but the rest slowly died. Unfortunately, I only had a level 1 medbay and not enough scrap to upgrade it; those who have played FTL will know that a level 1 medbay heals only as quickly as suffocation hurts, meaning that my crew wasn’t gaining health. The only way to not fail my mission was to repair the oxygen system, but one crew member will suffocate to death before they can repair it, and if repairs stop all repairs done up to that point are lost. So here’s what happened: I sent one crew member over to start fixing it, and when he or she was near death, I sent a second member. When the second member expired, I sent the third. So my faithful crew marched one by one to their deaths, but the last one managed to fix the oxygen system and make it back to the medbay fast enough to not die. The Lone Survivor faithfully continued his quest…
But this game isn’t for everyone. The game throws you into unfair situations quite often. You often stumble into events where taking at least one damage is nearly inevitable. The problem is that these happen a lot more frequently than you expect, resulting in your ship being near death, even if you are skilled at battles. It is infuriating when you lose a game in sector 7 because of a dice roll; alas, that is the nature of roguelikes.
All things considered, this game is DEFINITELY worth the $10 price tag on Steam. I have 131 hours logged in play time, and I don’t plan to stop soon. I have barely scratched the surface of the Advanced Edition (which I will talk about soon), which adds even more complexity to this aesthetically simple game.