FTL: Faster Than Light

by Mitchell Firman

Platform: PC, Mac, Linux

Genre: Strategy, Simulator

Developer: Subset Games

Created by: Matthew Davis and Justin Ma

Price: $9.99 from Steam

Simple in design, elegant in execution, FTL: Faster Than Light is a game that legitimately surprised me. What started out as a casual recommendation from Steam to kill some time turned into a black hole of gaming, sucking me in as “one more playthrough” turned into a dozen more playthroughs and “20 more minutes” turned into “why the hell is the light out?”

A space flight simulator game geared towards Star Trek or Firefly-type of science fiction, FTL incorporates elements of sub-genre gaming called Roguelike, which are characterised by the inclusion of randomised environments, turn-based gameplay, text-based events and the ever-exhilarating perma-death.

This game was created by the two-man team of Matthew Davis and Justin Ma of Subset Games with the help of a Kickstarter program that shattered all expectations. Asking for only $10,000 to be used for their project, they quickly found that they had tapped into a soft spot for gamers. Who has legitimately never wanted to be Captain Kirk without having to face the learning curve that is Eve Online? The project ended up having almost having 10,000 backers and raised over $200,000. What started as a small side-project had quickly turned into something that they labelled ‘commercially viable’.

Set in a rich universe filled multiple races, but only two allegiances, the story revolves around your spaceship fleeing from the Rebels as you race to deliver important information to the Federation. Although not that inspired, the setting gives the whole game an overarching sense of urgency as you battle other ships, limited fuel supply and the ever-menacing threat of meteor showers and electrical storms to get through eight random galaxies in time to save the universe.

This sense of urgency is so compelling you feel a connection to what you are doing without much need for a developing storyline. Combined with the factors of randomness and completely unique playthroughs, the game has an irresistible pull to it that couldn’t be satisfied – especially with the inclusion of perma-death. Having to restart over and over again could be frustrating at times, but extended the thrill so much that even after my 50th playthrough it still had the sense of exploration and diversity of options garnered in the first.

The battles are where this game really shines. You start basic, with a pittance of weapons and crew to run your shabby ship and limited energy to allow your systems to function. But throughout the game, you build up an arsenal of weapons to vanquish the Rebels with. In a dogfight, you can target specific systems on the enemy’s ship with a myriad of weapon types – taking down the shields or trying simply to set fire to the crew.

Although the skirmish occurs between you and another ship, a lot of action throughout the battles is focused upon your own vessel as you struggle with the inner workings of your system. Whether you have to reroute power from your engines to your droids or sending your crew out to repair the oxygen filter before you all suffocate, the feats are fast-paced and every battle is a tense one. Having to ration out energy and crewmembers to repair systems has allowed for more strategic and integrated game play. This is where spending cash (or scraps) has to be carefully contemplated as you found the most economical ways to create a superior ship. Sometimes levelling up skills wasn’t enough and other times I probably shouldn’t have spent so much on that droid.

One problem I could perceive some gamers having with this game is the artistic design and graphics. I personally adored the low-fi look of the game – it somewhat reminded me of Minecraft, but lately there seems to be a facet to gaming that has a distaste for lower-quality graphics or a different artistic vision. Lower-quality graphics doesn’t mean lower-quality gaming and high-quality graphics definitely doesn’t necessitate higher-quality gaming. Those people who love Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 for its ‘realism’ are probably not going to give this game a chance.

The only real problem I had with this game was the achievement system. It didn’t really feel like I had achieved anything when I received one and often times the achievements were tedious in nature. But modern gaming loves to incorporate this element to embellish the game a little further, so I can appreciate what they are trying to do.

I have to admit I only ever got close to the boss battle once, but I think there is a beauty in that. This game really requires no experience and it doesn’t rely on hours of trawling for levels. Instead it is steeped in strategy, quick thinking and a whole lot of luck. While it is nice to be able to play a game one off without a full-bodied commitment, it’s the lucky aspect that makes the game so enjoyable. This randomness keeps you on edge. Space is random, an ever expanding final frontier that occupies my mind a lot of the time. This game allowed me to lose myself in it through its captivating style and liveliness. If Subset Games can maintain this quality of gaming experience, then I cannot wait for the next instalment, wherever in the universe it may be.

by Mitchell Firman

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