Published on September 21st, 2012 | by Derek Strickland, Contributor

Faster Than Light Review

Developer: Subset Games
Release Date: September 14, 2012
Platform: PC, Mac & Linux
Price: $9.99

Review Notes: A copy of the game was received for review purposes.

Faster Than Light from Subset Games is an incredibly original PC Indie that utilizes a mix of elements from many other genres and blends roguelike, real-time strategy, and sci-fi adventure aspects into one formidable package. These elements–along with the incredible soundtrack and distinct Indie visual style–come together to bring an enjoyable and impressive gameplay experience, offering high replay value as players trek across the stars.

FTL was inspired by TV shows like Firefly and Star Trek and the actual game design was kind of a of mix board games and current roguelike games”

–Matthew Davis, Programmer/Designer of Subset Games

While playing FTL, players feel truly as if they are heading into the dark reaches of space and into the unknown, venturing into the final frontier where anything can lay in wait. One of the best elements of this game is that every area is randomized, and each sector has many different paths to choose, each with their own completely different situations and options. Every sector represents new opportunities and chances to aid Federation vessels who are plagued by Rebels or take on pirate ships and free slaves of their bonds.

Faster Than Light‘s story follows a lone Federation-class starship who’s crew is on an important mission to deliver highly sensitive data to the galactic headquarters. The Federation represents the last bastion of law and order in a mostly lawless frontier, but the Rebellion stands against the agency and opposes them with force. After venturing into enemy territory to retrieve the classified intel, the game chronicles the crew’s home journey as they make their way back to the Federation while being constantly pursued by the Rebellion.

The bulk of what makes FTL so great is its game mechanics, which are a nice mashup of tactical real-time strategy and minor roguelike elements. Gamers have to think on their feet and react to certain situations, while maintaining the integrity of their hull and adapting to the intense battles that happen later on in the game. Along the way players can pick up weapon upgrades as well as additional crew members, some of which can be helpful alien races, and purchase much-needed supplies at stores.

Among the many genres that this PC Indie makes use of is realistic space simulation. There’s no first-person view and no joystick is needed, however Subset Games fully delivers an adequate and highly original simulation experience. Players have limited supplies, and fuel dwindles with each jump they make. Jumps are required to go anywhere, and there may be times where you find yourself stuck as a derelict ship floating in the cold depths of space. In this regard, where supplies are somewhat scarce and it’s up to players to make strategic use of their Scrap Metal (this game’s currency) and adapt to the conditions around them, FTL is a successful example of a well-designed space simulator.

The game has a top-down breakaway view in which players can navigate the crew in a number of different areas on the ship. Each room is as important as the last, and every area has its own designated function. Rather than just focusing solely on the ship’s helm or bridge, this title focuses on the vessel as a whole. The engine room is just as important as the bridge, as well as the oxygen tank that controls the amount of O2 and the medbay, where the crew is healed when injured.

Power is allocated to a number of systems, which are denoted by the player. Certain high-level weapons, for example, require more power bars, and may require players to take a bar away from another system like Oxygen or the Medbay in order to use the weapon. The Subsystems are also extremely helpful and can be damaged–if the auto-door subsystem is damaged, for example, players must click on every door manually to move a crew member to a new room. Making efficient use of power is a must in this game and is required to progress farther into harder sectors.

Faster Than Light‘s general in-game interface may seem a bit intimidating at first, but as you play, you’ll find that it’s surprisingly well-designed. Everything has a helpful description that can be seen upon mouse-over, and is explained fully and simply to provide all the information you need to know. The icons, symbols, bars and other on-screen references keep this same fluid simplicity, making it surprisingly easy for new players to adapt.

While in battle it’s common to take damage to the ship’s hull, which functions as the main “health” bar. When the hull is completely destroyed, it’s game over. It’s also possible for specific rooms and areas to take damage, as well–in battle it’s common to find enemies targeting your engines so that you can’t make a faster-than-light jump to escape, or your shield banks to disarm your protective fields. Each of the areas turns a different color when damaged: red for higher damage, yellow for intermediate damage, and green for optimal functionality.

The crew is the essential core of the entire ship: they are required to fix damaged rooms, attack on-board intruders in melee skirmishes, and to make jumps to the next world. Manning a crew member in a specific area builds up certain bonuses; for example, if a cadet is placed in the engine room the ship will receive faster jump cool-downs as well as a bonus chance to dodge attacks. Making strategic use of the crew can be the difference between life and death, and often you will find yourself feeling truly as if you are the captain of a star cruiser, issuing orders and taking control while chaos threatens to take your ship.

Along their intergalactic journey through FTL players will come across many alien races that have their own signature abilities and characteristics, many of which can help or hinder certain situations like weapon strength or evasion.

With a wide array of items to augment your ship, FTL keeps gameplay fresh and opens new doors for many different styles of play. From high grade lasers and explosive missiles to helpful drones and augmentations that provide bonuses, players can spend their well-earned Scrap Metal to buy precious commodities and upgrades that are sure to fend off even the peskiest of renegade space pirates.

FTL‘s scope is pretty epic and it features a save feature which is helpful…however if you die, you can’t continue your game. You have to start all the way over again. This makes it feel somewhat like an arcade game; however it can be frustrating as you can get quite far only to make a few mistakes and end up having to restart. This is why players must weigh every decision carefully while trying to think ahead…but since everything is random, there’s no way of telling.

Personally I have mixed feelings about this concept, and believe that gamers should have a means of continuing, having a few penalties to balance it out. This dynamic, however frustrating, is realistic and keeps to the authentic feel of arcade-style space simulators.

The game always has a sense of urgency as gamers are constantly pursued by the merciless Rebellion. As they near, the star chart screen where jump paths are selected fills more and more with the Rebel fleet, and eventually they consume the entire screen. This dynamic keeps players on their toes and constantly on the run, further adding to the realistic feel of a dire galactic mission that can change the course of history.

Subset Games goes beyond the call with the game’s overall incredible and authentic atmosphere: the visuals and sounds truly imbue a sense of everything gamers associate with space. Ben Prunty’s musical score is highly enjoyable and seems to fully capture the essence and wonder of space exploration, all while keeping that distinct Indie sound. Jumping from planet to planet and exploring the different systems, each of them having a completely different visual style than the last, is one of the best parts of this game.

Another unique feature found in FTL is how often decisions and choices can weigh on certain situations. Many times players will find themselves having to make difficult choices that can have many different outcomes. Morality and urgency play into this as well, as players may find that the risk of imminent attack from the Rebels is worth trying to help helpless victims of a oxygen-deprived space station. This adds a sense of realism in that the selections players make–based on what they feel or the risks involved–affect others in the universe.

Final Truth: Faster Than Light from Subset Games makes for a great gaming experience and is highly recommended for all gamers who enjoy sci-fi-based tactical games. FTL captures many genres and rolls them together in an exceptionally original way to provide hours of unique gameplay filled to the brim with space exploration, tactical battles where strategy is key, a variety of characters and races each with their own stories and personalities, and the overall realistic space-adventuring feel.

With an inspired array of weapons and items, a host of unlockable ships and achievements, and intriguing gameplay mechanics wherein players can customize everything from crew member names to their personal playing style, Faster Than Light is a PC Indie you don’t want to miss out on.

[xrr label=”Rating: 8/10″ rating=8/10]

+ Huge array of weapons, ships, and items
+ High replay value
+ Very original gameplay mechanics
+ Mashup of roguelike, strategy, and sci-fi adventure elements
+ Incredible soundtrack
Windowed-mode save error
Losing progress when dying

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About the Author

I'm an aspiring games journalist who writes articles focused on everything from Indie Games to next-gen titles. [Twitter] @Mr_Deeke [E-Mail] derek.s(at)gamingtruth(dot)com

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