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FTL: Faster Than Light
GD Star RatingFTL,
FTL is sort of a cross between the Fantasy Flight comedy classic Red November and a worker placement game turned single player real-time strategy game. The resulting whole is much greater than the sum of it’s parts, and it’s easy to see why the iPad implementation of this indie neo-classic is considered the best. Do you feel the need for speed?
FTL is set in a far away galaxy and tasks you with the mission of taking a small, underwhelming spaceship across 8 sectors of hostile space to deliver information vital to the survival of the Federation. If this sounds familiar, it should – this is classic space opera stuff, and FTL plays it to the hilt.
You must first select a ship. Initially you only have access to the weakest configuration of the weakest ship; performing certain in-game quests, unlocking various achievements, and defeating the Rebel flagship will all unlock either new ships or new configurations of old favorites. Once you’ve selected your ship, you enter your first sector.
Each ship has several stations that can be manned. Shields and weapons recharge more quickly with a crew member; manning the helm is necessary for travel and gives you dodge advantage; manning the engines increases the speed with which you can jump to the next beacon, and so on. You start the game with a limited crew (usually 3, sometimes more or less) and must move them around the ship as necessary to gain the vital bonuses. Crewmembers gain experience as they perform their roles, making them more efficient, and you can gain or lose crew as the game proceeds.
Each sector will require you to jump through several beacons, each of which connects to one or more other beacons. Each beacon, in turn, will provide you with a store, a brief rest, or a random encounter. The most common encounter is a ship to fight, but this is by no means the only option; you may find yourself rescuing marooned starfairers, participating in alien studies, saving lonely stations overrun by giant spiders…the list goes on. Certain equipment or crewmembers can give you access to options not otherwise available, and most encounters have several possible outcomes – so even if you see the same encounter more than once, the outcome is by no means guaranteed.
Merchants allow you to repair and upgrade your ship over the course of the game, and you’ll need it to stand a chance in the final showdown against the Rebel Flagship. The universal currency of “scrap” is used both to trade for new goods and to do patchwork upgrades on your ship, upgrading systems or the reactor necessary to power them. Just don’t take too long – the Rebel fleet is constantly pursuing you across each sector, and if they catch you at a beacon, you’ll have an extra-tough fight to survive before you can jump away. You win the game if you somehow manage to survive all the way to the end and successfully face down the Rebel flagship. Don’t expect this to happen quickly, or too often.
FTL began its life as a hit indie PC game, and the iPad implementation thus represents the best possible iteration of the game. This is partly due to the optimizations for touch interface (the game is much more intuitive with a finger than a mouse) and partly due to the game offering the advanced expansion content out of the box.
Aside from clicking on options during encounters and shopping trips, there are two main touch interfaces you’ll be utilizing throughout the game. You’ll move your crew around the various stations within the ship by simply tapping on them, and then tapping a destination space. Generally speaking there is no stacking in a given space – the sole exception is hand to hand combat, during which both fighters may occupy the same space until one of them finally succumbs. The game conveniently auto-pauses when a crewmember is selected, and resumes when its destination is set.
The other is power management. Your reactor has an upper limit on the power it can put out, and your ships’ various systems require power to function. Most of the time you won’t have enough to power everything, so you’ll have to interactively raise and lower the power levels a given system is drawing. This is done just like in Star Trek, by tapping an on-screen slider and adjusting the power up and down. Your weapon and drone systems simply indicate how many items you can power at once, and you can turn various items on or off to power other items as necessary.
Combat is managed in real time. Each weapon has a certain amount of time required to recharge (which is shortened with a skilled gunner at the controls). Once it’s charged, its icon appears green in your weapon status display. Tapping the icon will autopause the game and bring up a detailed schematic of the opposing ship; tapping a room on the ship will target that room with the selected weapon. You can also double-tap a weapon to set a target for the weapon to just keep pounding – useful when your opponent has beamed an away party on board and you need to manage that while still bombarding your foe – or, indeed, if you beam one over yourself…
The interaction of the various weapon systems is complex. Lasers do solid damage but take a long time to recharge and are thwarted by shields. Rockets and bombs penetrate shields but have discrete and easily depleted ammo. Ion weapons can lock various systems for a time but do no physical damage. Beam weapons can target multiple rooms and can start fires. And to top it all off, most weapons can also appear as self-contained drones that either assist you or harass your foe autonomously.
Similarly, the universe of the game is highly detailed. The graphics are stunning, capturing perfectly the feel of a sprawling galactic epic. The game features 6 distinct alien races, each of which offer different strengths and weaknesses as crewmembers, and each of which have distinct ship designs, both in terms of aesthetics and in terms of functional layout. Toss in the ships unique to the Rebels, the pirates, and random civilians, and you have enough content to keep you busy for days.
The game’s only real limitation is that it isn’t universal, but we don’t see any way it could be. FTL is a game dense with information, and every square centimeter of the screen is used for some purpose. Besides which, the gameplay elements, while not cramped or uncomfortable, are very precise and verging on the small side. The average adult finger would be too big to comfortably play this game on an iPhone screen, and even the iPad Mini might be pushing it.
Red November was a cooperative game in which players tried to guide a gnomish submarine to safety while effecting repairs and fighting of various random menaces of the deep, with nothing more than their sub’s floorplan as a guide. FTL improves on the concept in every conceivable way while changing it from a coop to single player experience. The various crewmembers you can acquire each have their own strengths, weaknesses, skills and specialties, adding a rich worker placement option to an already deep game of strategy and exploration. It is rare to find $10 games in the top positions on the App Store charts, but it’s easy to see why this is one of them. FTL is a unique experience, and one that carries our highest recommendation.