The Federation is losing the war against the rebels, and it’s up to your ship and small crew to deliver critical information to the waiting Federation fleet. (Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope! Wait… Maybe I should have said Kirk.) Faster Than Light is a roguelike at heart, with procedurally generated environments and encounters.
Gameplay focuses on exploration and ship-to-ship combat, and while it emphasizes tactics over hand speed, the action still manages to be quite tense. Your ship’s caught in an ion storm, and you have three crew left. Do you try to put out the fires, repair the shields, or fight off the enemies who have boarded? You’re still being shot at too, by the other ship. Oh, and by the way, you don’t have enough power to run all the systems you need at the same time. What’s most rewarding about the game is that it’s possible to pull yourself out of the fire in situations like that. Often quite literally. That’s not to say that there isn’t a significant degree of luck involved, as in any roguelike game. A lucky hit or miss can swing a battle one way or the other, which makes every fight seem that much more urgent.
Controls and interface are superb, and even with the game’s complexity, it’s easy to just pick it up and start playing. Tool tips explain just about everything you need to know to play, and what’s left out is easily pieced together. (Such as, don’t open those doors that lead out into space with your crew standing there, and make sure you have power to life support.)
Micromanagement of your ship is a major part of the game, down to the crew, energy distribution, system repairs, and upgrades. You even manage the doors. Seriously, the doors are critical! You can use them to vent the atmosphere to smother fires, suffocate enemy boarders, or corral boarders into ambushes by your crew. Very satisfying, as both are challenging to deal with otherwise. (The door system made a pretty big impression, I’ve gotta say.)
There’s a definite Star Trek feel to Faster Than Light, and not only because you’re fighting for the Federation. Standard attire on the ship seems to be a shirt and slacks, despite the ever-present threat of fire, combat, and explosive decompression, which speaks to the wild optimism found in that setting. Fighting boarders involves fisticuffs and small lasers. Personnel can be specialized for certain roles on the ship, which always makes me think of the Enterprise bridge. “Full power to the weapons!” (Do they say that? Secretly, I never watched much Star Trek.) Faster Than Light uses fabulous retro-styles pixel graphics, and each race has a unique styling to their ships. Visuals are clean, simple, easy to read, and still look downright awesome. Flavour text for quests, encounters and combat strikes the perfect balance between creating atmosphere and being overly wordy.
Normal difficulty is very challenging, though really it’s probably in line with the difficulty of traditional roguelike games. Expect to die a lot! Easy mode is much more forgiving, though still probably not what most people would think of as “easy”. I actually managed to make it through the game on Easy, but could only make it through a few areas on Normal. But playing through numerous times is part of the fun of roguelike games! And this one has plenty of reasons to play again. Various game events unlock new ships, and completing specific achievements for each ship unlocks a new loadout. I was surprised by how much the different loadouts and ships changed the gameplay, and equipment and upgrades change it further. FTL has enough events and encounters that even after more than 10 runs, I’m still finding new stuff.
Faster Than Light is a fabulous twist on an old game concept, delivering tons of fun with lots of replay value. Pick it up on Steam, GOG.com, or directly from the developers on their site, and if you grab it soon, save a whole dollar off the already low $10 price!