FTL is the new standard for space strategy games with it’s iconic pseudo 8-bit graphics and unforgettable soundtrack. For those who have wanted to command the bridge of a starship, FTL brings style and fun together in sweet perfection that will have you spending countless hours contemplating tactics and trying out different play styles. Captain your ship, command your crew, prepare your weapons, upgrade your systems and navigate to the Federation homeworlds as you are chased by the rebel fleet tasked with your utter annihilation.
This review is going to be a little bit different, as it isn’t a new game by any means. FTL is a game that I played to death a while ago, almost two years ago, and then kind of forgot about. I was bored this weekend though and decided to pick it up for cheap on Steam ($3.99!!) which included the Advanced Edition which I hadn’t yet played.
Back when I was playing it, I knew I had something special. In fact, I played it so much that I also devoted a bit of time to modding it. Unfortunetly, it isn’t the most mod-able game though. Despite that, if there’s a will, there’s a way.
Anyway, I’ve found myself playing this again. It’s a lot different from other strategy-type games and has inspired a lot of knock-offs in the recent years. At it’s core, FTL is a top-down spaceship combat game that challenges you to manage your ship’s crew, weapons, and systems in your effort to defeat the rebel (scum). You navigate systems, picking up upgrades to your ship and different crew members along the way, battling pirates, rebels and anyone else you think you can take on. Manage power to shields, send a boarding party to attack the other ship’s interior, fire missiles and lasers and more as your ship flies to the Federation homeworlds. There are many, many text-based encounters that force you to make choices that will affect your ship, for better or for worse.
The game forgoes any sort of movement / navigation during a battle for a simpler battle sequence that actually works real well. There are many skills your crew can pick up, not to mention upgrades to the ship, that can help improve your evade to keep you alive. Use the many weapons to target enemy ship sections to disable shielding or knock out critical weapons that threaten your ship. I go into detail with the weaponry below.
As a free upgrade to all steam (and iPad) owners, FTL also has a newer Advanced Edition that adds many new events, ships, weapons, augmentations and more on top of the base content, not to mention a new race.
I’ll go into the story/lore below as I rate out each of the game’s important categories.
Gameplay – 18/20
FTL scores very high in gameplay. There’s very few games that do spaceship combat like FTL and FTL does it well. It’s a very fun approach to being a captain of a ship, for anyone who wanted to be on the bridge of the Enterprise, delegating power to subsystems and weaponry alike. There are many different ships and weapons to choose from to suit a myriad of playstyles, with dozens of ships to earn in a number of ways, through in-game quests and achievements. I like to use shield-piercing missiles to strike at critical ship components then use lasers to finish the ship off.
One of the biggest upsides that contributes to the score is the wealth of weaponry that FTL has, which contributes to a multitude of playstyles. Missiles require ammunition so require constant attention of their use, but can penetrate shielding. Bombs are the same way, teleporting directly into a ships hull and wreaking havoc on systems and crew. Lasers require energy but are a good standard weapon not requiring ammunition and beam lasers fire a long arc that can take out multiple rooms at once, provided the enemy’s shields are down. There’s also drones, boarding parties, hacking and mind control, specialized artillery, ion weaponry and more. It is extremely well balanced in that you’ll always have something to improve on and will always be looking out for that enemy that specializes in your weakness. I find myself always dreading a boarding party, as I favor a smaller, weaker crew that isn’t always prepared to deal it.
Graphics & Sound – 19/20
I can’t stress enough how perfect the soundtrack is, not to mention the near-perfect graphics. A timeless work of art, the ships and people of FTL deserve to be put up there with the rest as far as visual styling goes. The brilliant psuedo-8-bit graphics go hand in hand with FTL’s gameplay.
Controls & UI – 14/15
Great and simple UI. Pretty straightforward, with nothing spectactular here. Very easy to use and extremely easy to understand and pick up, which is important when getting to know your ship or trying to read the different power read outs and weaponry at a glance. Some of the minor components and such could use better iconography but nothing to really detract from.
Replayability – 12/15
Despite FTL not having a built-in endless mode (which I’ll go into detail about in a moment), the replayability is very high. The 10 base ships with 3 variants each present different starting scenarios, challenges and high scores each time. One ship might start with a few better weapons but 1 less crew member, or another ship might have extra shields but one one measley laser, or another might sport attack drones or a cloak. Each presents a new, exciting challenge that will make you push yourself to achieve higher scores and unlock new variants, ships and crew.
Immersion – 6/10
Quite a few might disagree with me and I won’t be angry, but this is where the game upsets me a bit. I’m not a big fan of the lore of FTL. Not really the lore as a whole, just how it relates to the game and how it influences gameplay. The premise of the game is that you’re a Federation captain who has discovered the rebellion and you must race to the Federation homeworlds to warn them before the Rebels manage to overtake you or destroy you along the way. You must trudge through many sectors of space (which can be friendlier or much more hostile), upgrading your ship and crew along the way, to finally warn the Federation and then destroy the Rebel Flagship, a series of major boss fights.
As I said, I’m not a fan of this for a few reasons. I’m not a big fan of boss fights in general in games, and this one creates a very set timeline from start to finish. You cannot endlessly roam the galaxy, taking loot as you will. If you dally in sectors, the pursuing rebel fleet will catch you and will make short work of you. I would have loved to see an open-ended game-style (in addition to the high-score oriented current version) that challenged you to survive as long as you can earning money by trading, looting and more. There’s a lot (and I mean a lot) of space trader-type games that are successful and fun to play and I’d like to see a few elements incorporated into it. Vanilla FTL doesn’t really have any sort of trading feature built into it (I say vanilla for a reason, and will point out mods later) which really kills the trader or smuggler style gameplay completely.
Challenge Level – 9/10
FTL has one of my favorite gameplay features in games that you just don’t see anymore: permadeath. Did your ship blow up? Then game over. You can’t reload, or start from a previous system. So every action you take must be carefully considered because it will affect you for the remainder of the game. If you happened to lose two crew members to giant spiders, or lack of oxygen, then you better figure out a way to get new ones.
There’s also varying levels of difficulty, with an easier mode giving you more scrap and loot.
Mods & Modability – 7/10
This scored lower merely because of the game’s modability, or lack thereof. Usually space games like FTL are quite moddable to appease many who like to take it upon themselves to turn it into a Star Wars, Star Trek, Warhammer, Stargate, etc universe. This usually consists of skinning ships to look like their favorite iconic star destroyer and such. More ambitious projects overhaul gameplay, or balance it in more realistic or better ways. FTL has quite a few, certainly, but I can say with 100% certainty that the number of mods the game would have would be tripled at least if the game was easier to mod.
Again, despite the difficulty, there is a fair share of great mods, from graphical to special ship mods, to gameplay/ overhaul mods. My favorite would be Captain’s Edition, which not only features a limitless mode, but adds many new weapons, ships, systems, stations and a crude trading system. In addition, it also adds many more random encounters, civilians (and the ability to be a rogue pirate) and more.
OVERALL SCORE – 85
FTL is a great game, plain and simple and for anything short of $20, it’s a steal. $3.99 is robbery! It’s a lot of fun and just want to share this great game. It transcends a few genres, overall making for a great strategy game. I highly recommend it! I’d like to hear what you think of the game and my review here: https://bandofothersgaming.com/forum/showthread.php/2581-FTL-Review?p=25302#post25302