Author’s note: The following review was written before the release of the new “Advanced Edition” expansion. Several issues raised in this review will likely have been addressed since then.
Overview: A challenging “Roguelike” sci-fi RPG that fulfills the starship captain fantasy of any sci-fi junkie… and a somber reminder of just how well most of us would really fare as the last hope of the Federation.
Klaxons are screaming as the crew of the Federation Starship Kestrel struggle to deal with intruders in the medical bay, fires in the engine room, and a depleted oxygen supply, all while the Rebel patrol ship is doing its best to turn us into Swiss cheese with its halberd laser. The weapons officer bravely mans his post until the last missile is fired, just one more hit and… yes! I get the satisfaction of knowing I defeated my foe… seconds before my crew suffocates from a lack of oxygen or burns to death trying to put out the fires consuming the engineering section. Once again the last hope of the Federation fleet dies with me but oh well, there’s always another game.
FTL: Faster Than Light is a Roguelike RPG developed by independent developer Subset Games, a game with a unique take on its genre. Instead of sending players to their frustrating deaths time and time again in a sprawling fantasy dungeon in the tradition of the ancient dungeon crawler known simply as “Rogue” (hence the genre’s name,) FTL puts players in charge of a small starship and crew that will invariably get destroyed time and time again in a zany sci-fi universe reminiscent of Shatner-era Star Trek. There’s a civil war going on and it’s throwing the known universe into chaos. Only the player and his fearless crew can destroy the rebel flagship and bring peace to the galaxy!
Regarding the actual game itself, FTL bears some of the typical hallmarks of a roleplaying game designed by an independent developer, it’s somewhat sparse on things to do but what there is to do is very well designed and runs beautifully on most machines. The game is appropriately challenging, even on Easy, and is fairly stingy with rewards, requiring players to carefully manage and make the most of their limited resources. Is it worth powering down the starting weapons that served you well for most of the game to bring that devastating heavy laser online? Do you send your veteran weapon officer or practiced shield officer into the helm to replace your pilot after he was killed in the last boarding attempt? These questions and others will invariably come up as the player learns to manage power reserves and which systems take priority for upgrades and personnel (pro tip: upgrade your shields often and always have someone on them to maximize the rate they recharge.)
On the downside, while FTL has created a colorful collection of alien species and does a reasonable job giving them interesting abilities without pigeonholing them into a specific role, there isn’t much for them to do. At the time of writing, every ship (in addition to the starting ship and a drone cruiser unlocked by simply getting to the fifth stage, there are seven ships players can unlock, each available after performing a side quest worthy of an episode of Star Trek) only has four systems that can be operated and enhanced by a crewman: helm, shields, weapons, and engines. There’s also a shortage of systems in general, even fully upgraded with missing systems, most ships have a few empty rooms that aren’t doing anything. While the ships in Star Trek are known for their endless hallways, the ships of FTL are much smaller and don't feel like they should have that much wasted space. Admittedly, at the time of writing, Subset Games has announced the future release of an “Advanced Edition” of FTL free for everyone who purchased the product beforehand. In addition to introducing a new race of metallic beings (complete with their own cruiser to unlock,) the Advanced Edition adds a number of new features that address some of the issues brought up in this review.
In conclusion, Faster Than Light is a good indie title for RPG fans looking for a new sci-fi game to occupy their time. It’s difficult but never unfair and most sessions can be played in a single lunch break. For more information, visit the official FTL website here: http://www.ftlgame.com/