Guest Author - James Shea
Best thought of as a dungeon crawler set in space, "FTL: Faster Than Light" puts you in command of a starship plotting a course through unfriendly territory with a hostile fleet hot on its heels.
FTL draws inspirations from roguelikes, old-school dungeon crawlers with random levels and easy death. In essence, you are trying to get from one end of the galaxy to the other. The various sectors of the galaxy are randomized, with various encounters and ships along the way. In addition to survival (which requires keeping a close watch on one's supplies and systems), the player must also collect "scrap" and items to improve their ship's capabilities so that when they reach the end of their journey they are prepared to take on the enemy mothership. Various dilemmas will arise based on the random events that pop up - whether to protect a civilian ship from pirates or ignore them, or whether to risk saving people from a destroyed ship, and so on. The limitations on resources really make these dilemmas rather important, as each could potentially spell the end of your voyage.
The ship itself is not steered around as per many space games. Rather, you control the ship's various systems and the crew inside it. Your "playspace" is basically a map of your ship, and crewmen can be diverted to problematic areas, or just sent to man a given station. If, for example, a fire breaks out, a crewman must be sent to extinguish it (and one may not be enough). In battle, your weapons are targeted at the enemy ship's sections, and the enemy will target yours. Much of the battling is "automated" so to speak (you don't move the ship around, for example), but there is a certain rhythm necessary to get the best results - for example, timing a heavy laser after a small burst of light ones to penetrate the enemy's shields.
The game can easily get frustrating for a casual player, not because it's "hard" so much as it's "random". Because of the totally random nature of the maps, in some runs you'll find many crewmembers and good systems easily, and in others you'll be practically destitute. The randomization makes for a neat gameplay experience, and the events are varied and have multiple solutions based on the gear and crewmembers you possess. Yet at the same time it also takes control out of the player's hands in many cases - "there's nothing I could really do, this is just a bad run". This can easily lead to frustration, rather than the feeling of a challenge that can be overcome.
In general, though, FTL is at least a fun experience - providing a level of investment on the part of the player by refusing to guarantee success, and thus making each run relatively tense and interesting. Its graphics are functional and its music sets a deep-space sci-fi mood well, though neither is really the star attraction of the game. Despite some issues with difficulty and balance, overall the game is well worth the small $10 cost.
We purchased this game with our own funds in order to do this review.