A torpedo rips through the hull, causing a fire that traps Felicia, a freed slave, as she fights off the enemy’s away team. The other crewmen evacuate the starboard side of the ship to safety, leaving the girl behind the blast doors. She was the best marksman in the entire crew, a valuable asset, and the commander knows that if he doesn’t flush those fires out, he could lose the entire ship. He makes the tough decision; he opens the airlocks, snuffing out the fires, suffocating the enemies, and sacrificing Felicia.

Queue anything by John Williams

It’s just another day in the life of a starship commander in Faster Than Light, the Kickstarter-funded “roguelike-like” from Subset Games. The game will force you to make tough decisions and adapt to difficult situations. The goal is simple, get a piece of data to your Federation allies while the Rebel fleet chase you across the galaxy.

Roguelikes are Hard

Wikipedia says that a roguelike is characterized by level randomization, permanent death and turn-based movement. FTL incorporates all these things, and even removes your ability to have multiple save points. Crew members learn skills as they travel with you, but if they get killed in your journey, you will lose them forever. Remember those times when you re-loaded your Mass Effect save game because you thought you made a bad decision? You can’t do that here. Every choice and mistake is permanent until you beat the game or fail. Despite the cute graphics and sounds, the game can get very intense, especially near the end when the stakes get so high and the hours you spent with your crew and your ship can all be destroyed with one bad choice. This is the most difficult aspect of the game, and will be the hardest part for most gamers, particularly ones not used to the hardcore single player experiences, to cope with.

Time to do it all over again

The overall game is actually pretty simple to pick up. You have a reactor that has a set amount of power bars that you can upgrade. These power bars are used to power the different systems on your ship, like the engines, oxygen control and medbay. At any time you can choose to power down the non-essential stations to power others instead. This makes for great “REROUTE ALL POWER TO SHIELDS” science-fiction moments because the game heavily relies on good reactor management.

Combat, unlike movement, takes place in real time. Weapons will charge up before they are fired and you must choose which parts of the enemy ship you wish to destroy. Do you want to disrupt the enemy’s engines with an ion pulse so they’re easier to hit? Do you want to destroy their oxygen reserves and start fires in their medbay? Defeating a powerful ship with no casualties is a pretty satisfying experience, especially when you do it creatively. Almost all of your commands can be done by your mouse, the hotkeys are simple (too simple, but more on that later). You can pause at any time to develop your strategy, or just in case you are not very fast on the mouse. The game feels slow at first, but when the opponents become better equipped and more ruthless, the battles become faster and more intense.

Never Underestimate this Game

When beginning a new game, you get the option to choose your ship and crew. Afterwards, you are placed in the middle of nowhere and must travel 8 randomly generated maps before reaching the end game.

It sounds easy, and short, but the randomly generated galaxies you’ll be traversing are full of dangers and dozens of unique encounters. Every sector you explore will have a random event, ranging from your standard battle, communicating with a new alien race and dealing with slavers. Naturally, after playing a couple run-throughs, you will know which choices are better than others, but there is also a random factor to most of them. You may find a scientist in trouble, and helping him results in him stealing your cargo; during another playthrough, he may give you a new weapon instead. This game isn’t like Mass Effect, not everyone you help is actually asking for help – you will get cheated.

For some encounters you are given story or conversation choices, with extra options becoming unlocked if you have the equipment upgraded to a high enough level. For example, your sensors will pick up a supply cache being guarded by a group of pirates. If your ship has the cloak ability, an option to sneak by and steal the cache will be available to you. It will not work 100%, however, there is always a chance for failure.

Unfortunately, because the galaxies are randomly generated, finding a repair station or a store may be hard to come by if you are unlucky. At times you will find two stores adjacent to each other in the same sector. Other times, you will not find a single store.
Remember when I said that the Rebel fleet is chasing you across the galaxy? Every sector you pass will eventually be overrun by the rebel fleet. They are a constant danger that you must be aware of at all times. Most of their ships are powerful, and if you stay too long in Rebel space you will get easily gunned down.

The Rebel threat is always there

Sci-Fi in Low-Fi

There’s definitely appeal in the retro-style RPG graphics that FTL provides. The graphics are reminiscent of those hardcore games we all used to play back in the DOS glory days. Lots of enemy models get overused, but that is only a minor quip. The sounds are great and the music sounds like synthesised, 16-bit Mass Effect. The game itself is less than 200mb big with low computer requirements. This is a great, simple game that almost everyone with a PC has access to.

From a technical perspective, the game is lacking in two departments. We live in a modern age and just because a game has a classic look and feel doesn’t mean that it has an excuse to miss some basic PC features. Minimum and maximum resolution is 1280×720, so if you’re playing it windowed, you can’t resize it. There is also the issue of hotkeys; not only are you unable to set your own, but the only keyboard buttons in this strategy-sim that can be used are escape, enter and the numerical keys. There aren’t efficient ways to quickly select your crew members and administer power levels, making micromanaging during an enemy attack a little difficult if you’re in a small ship with a lot of units. The game does allow you to pause to make all these decisions slowly and carefully, Dragon Age style, but to me, the battles become less intense when I get to pause and slowly plan.

Finally, the game has a few extras like 9 unlockable ships with vastly different early game playstyles and a statistics menu that includes personal grand totals and high scores. FTL also includes some run-of-the-mill achievements, some of which are ship specific. Getting these specific achievements unlocks a second “type” for the ship which slightly changes the its configuration.

All in all, a fantastic buy for the price. Faster than Light is a great experience because it really captures the feeling and the tension of a high-stakes space odyssey – plus, tough battles and the threat of permanent death makes achieving victory all the more sweeter.