The whirling siren continues to blare in your ears as you are once again rocketed from your command chair. To your right, your second in command desperately attempts to return power to your engines in hopes of avoiding the oncoming onslaught. The command console informs you that a fire has broken out in your storage room, but your powered doors are unresponsive and you can’t vent the flames. Strapping in, you hail the crew and shout another command. “Launch a probe at their weapons! We can’t take many more hits like this!” A small droid from your vessel pierces the enemy shields and scrambles their targeting computers. The few moments this buys you is enough for your copilot to repower the engines, allowing you to now manually avoid the incoming laser blasts.
Your chief gunner informs you that your Hermes Missile Launcher is loaded and ready to be fired. You target the enemy ship’s shield generator and the projectile blasts away. Though it is successfully, the damage only weakened the shields and they are still functioning at half capacity. “Captain!” your gunner comms in, “we’ve only got one missile left and scans indicate that the enemy weapons will fire in ten seconds!”
A grin appears on your face in defiance of the situation. You’ve come this far and don’t plan on dying to the hands of some Mantis pirates today. You smash the comms button and deliver another message. “Change of plans men! We’re not winning this one, but we’re also not dying today! Divert power to our engines. We’re blasting away before these bugs can fire!” With some clever rerouting, your weapons and medbay go offline and your engines begin to operate at triple capacity. Gripping your armrest, you nervously watch your engines charge level rise. Finally, the FTL Drive is fully powered and you are ready to warp. Just before you can hit the jump button, a bright green light flashes from your viewport. It seems the enemy ship also diverted power, but to their weapons. A hailstorm of laser bolts sear towards your vessel and rapidly puncture your vital systems. The explosion causes you to miss the engine button, but it doesn’t matter much now anyways. Your last moments are a sea of green light and regret.
Crap. And this was “Easy” difficulty too!
Welcome to FTL! A space fairing roguelike game where you get to be the commander of your own spaceship. Developed by Subset Games, FTL is a game about traveling through space and micromanaging your own spaceship and crew. You start every game by selecting a ship from your roster and blasting off into space in order to deliver vital information necessary to quelling a rebel uprising. As a loyal federation captain, it is your sworn duty to travel to the federation home base and defend your way of life from these rebel scum.
I will come out and say it now: FTL is very fun.
But like most games I enjoy, it is fond of kicking you when you’re down and continuing to kick until you give up and restart. As a roguelike, your journey will be different every time you play. Each time you jump, a random event will occur ranging anywhere from a dire space battle to a much appreciated moment of peace. One jump, you’ll be caught in an asteroid field while trying to fight off pirates who have teleported onto your ship. Another might lead you to a suspicious merchant who you persuade into sharing his wares. Or maybe you accidentally fly through a nebula and half of your systems are unresponsive. It’s always something new and no decision can be taken lightly.
In standard Charpentier fashion, I must briefly gush about the music in the game.
What? I can’t get away with a two word synopsis? Damnit, fine.
The music is FTL is best described as hauntingly appropriate. You severely miss out if you have your game muted, as the atmosphere and tone of the game is extremely enhanced by the soundtrack. Calm moments in an unoccupied nebula feel lonesome and sorrowful as you stare out your window into the vast emptiness of space. Conflicts with Rebel scouts feel dire and stressful as you desperately attempt disable their engines before they can warp away and relay your position. Communications with dastardly slavers become strong moral moments as you decide whether it is better to support their wicked lifestyle or risk your safety by engaging them. All of these and more and magnified by the wonderfully composed soundtrack present in the game.
There, music gush over. Let’s get onto the gameplay!
As stated before, you will mostly be micromanaging your crew and ship during ship-to-ship battles. With a limited amount of energy and ammo, you’ll have to decide what to power and what isn’t necessary. Your crew will also grow and develop and you’ll want to reassign them in order to make sure your systems are in the best hands.
During your travels, you’ll acquire precious scrap metal necessary for upgrading your ship. Do you want stronger weapons, or an extra shield layer? Should you develop an auto pilot in case your human pilot is knocked out, or do you want stronger doors to prevent intruders? Will you buy a device that lets you mind control enemy crew, or is cloaking technology a smarter purchase? You’ll constantly be making these tough decisions along your journey and only death will let you know if you made the wrong choice.
Since the galaxy is vast, you’ll also come across various species and creatures. Some of them may side with your plight and join your crew. Some of them are only out for themselves and will outright attack you. And some of them are simply mindless creatures that you could sell in order to make a quick profit. It is entirely random just what you’ll experience on your flight, but if you’re smart, you’ll find a way to put these precious acquisitions to good use.
The game revolves around your ship attempting to stay one step ahead of an oncoming rebel fleet. You and you alone possess vital information that could save the Federation, so you have to get to your home base quickly. However, the path you choose is up to you. While you could make a beeline for each warp station, you also want to explore each system in hopes of gaining new weapons or scrap. Every jump is risky, but if you play your cards right, you’ll stay ahead of the rebels and slowly power up.
Every destination is another gamble with your lives, as pirates, asteroid fields, automated search vessels, ion nebulas, and exploding suns threaten your mission. As captain, all decisions are left up to you and you’ll often be presented with tough choices. Rebels might be harassing a mining colony, do you want to play hero or avoid potential damage? A nearby planet is broadcasting a distress beacon, will you investigate or do you think it’s a trap? FTL has an immense number of random events, but my favorite thing about them is that there is no one right answer. On subsequent playthroughs, the same decision might have wildly different outcomes. It really makes you stop and think about each choice as the lives of your crew hang in the balance.
However, the majority of the time, you will be fighting other ships. When another vessel threatens your own, it’s up to your leadership to dispatch of them however you best see fit. Will you bombard their hull until it breaks into a million pieces? Will you teleport aboard their ship and take their crew out from the inside? Or will you disable their weapons long enough for your FTL drive to recharge and get you the hell out of there? How you fight is up to you, are they are so many different paths to take. Eventually, you’ll come face to face with the Rebel Flagship; a massive behemoth of a spaceship hell-bent on destroying you and the Federation. It is here that all your choices are laid out on the table, success dependent on if you made the right calls.
While the game is a single player game, I personally enjoy playing with friends. You are able to rename your crew, so it is always fun to hand the keyboard and mouse to one player to enact the choices the others shout at him in desperation. I mean, how many other opportunities will you get to force your friends to call you “Captain”?
All in all, the game is frantic and unforgiving, but it is definitely one of the best representations of what it might be like to be a space captain. You’ll get sucked in to the cold, vast world of FTL instantly and only watching your ship break apart will bring you back to modern times. Recently, I’ve also discovered there is a pretty extensive modding community for this game. A lot of pretty great mods exist already for FTL, including mods that add a crap ton of additional weapons, ships, and events for the game and mods that allow you to ignore the rebel pursuit and simply infinitely travel space to your heart’s content. So if you are interested in space travel, being in charge of your own ship, the random nature of rougelikes, or you just want to live out fantasies of being Mal from Firefly, I highly recommend you try out FTL.