FTL: Faster than Light is a spaceship simulation roguelike-alike. It’s easy to miss the excitement and charm of FTL if you haven’t played it. It’s a 2D top-down strategy simulation with text based pop-ups and many menus, but it is impossible to miss the moment you click on “New Game.” Your first choice is to name your ship and crew. I named by first ship Serenity, its Captain Mal, the pilot Wash and my first engineer Kaylee.
Twenty minutes later Serenity jumped into a solar flare that ignited half the ship and was tragically destroyed by a hostile enemy impervious to the heat. I named my second ship the Lady Mac, my Captain Joshua Calvert, my pilot Ashley Hanson and my engineer Warlow. The Lady Mac perished a few minutes later when a Mantis crew boarded them in the first sector and overwhelmed my novice 3-man crew.
I realized then that I was going to name a great many ships. If you love space opera as much as I do, FTL provides an exciting backdrop to relive your days of glory. If you don’t have a rich history to replay or feel inventive, it provides a blank canvas for you to create your own space dramas that will fill you with dread, fury, frustration, exhilaration and finally, eventually, a satisfying sense of accomplish that will make you want to start all over again.
It may look like a bunch of consecutive screens to the untrained eye, but that’s because the best part of the game happens in your imagination. Just like the greatest books look like a bunch of letters on a page, you won’t know how great it is until you play it yourself.
Reasons to play it
Play FTL and you fall in love with it. The game mechanics are simple: Name your ship and crew and begin your journey by leaving the hangar and jumping into Sector 1 whilst an enemy armada is hot on your tail. There will be 8 sectors to navigate, each with multiple jump points where adventure, success, disaster and death awaits. Fail and watch your ship go up in flames, but before the wreckage has cooled, you will click the “Restart” button and try again. And again. And again. It’s exactly what it says on the box.
It’s a strategy game, where the decisions you make are life and death and its often difficult to discern which will turn out well. You are the captain of your ship and its your job to manage your ship’s upgrades, your crew and your resources very carefully. Don’t run out of missiles or drones, never run out of fuel and always leave a little scrap (the currency of FTL) in the bank for hitting up stores when they appear.
It’s a space simulation. I have spent almost as much time reading Captain’s Logs based on FTL as I have spend time playing it. It’s Star Trek’s final frontier, Firefly’s heart and soul, Farscape’s perilous predicament as a single ship runs into uncharted space and unwittingly picks up crew members.
It’s a roguelike with its single-player focus, relatively short play sessions and at times infuriating level randomization and dreaded permadeath. It’s not often that permanent death is employed well and initially, I dreaded it, but once you have died a dozen times or so, it’s clear that death doesn’t ever feel like the end, it’s just another new beginning.
Room for Improvement
Randomness makes it frustrating
At times it feels as if luck plays a bigger role than skill and rolling the dice for success feels unfair when your crew dies a fiery death for the sixth time in the the first sector. It’s possible to uncover great weapons, gain additional rare crew members and win tons of scrap in the first sector or two, but it’s also just as likely that you may loose a crew member, uncover no weapon upgrades, stumble on stores with very little to offer than fuel and the opportunity to repair your hull. At times, the random generator feels too random and a streak of bad luck runs detracts from an otherwise thrilling experience.
Predictable with extended play
The random level design is refreshing in its unpredictability except when it isn’t. The somewhat limited deck of random scenarios shuffled and played each time creates a standard fare of common scenarios that pop-up repeatedly and FTL looses some of its tension and charm.
FTL can be hard to play with low vision. The text size is small and difficult to read, the icons are small, the background can be detailed making it hard to discern the important foreground elements and there is no option to zoom in. Important information is displayed in a UI that fills the screen and it is vital to pay attention to the whole of the screen. This is easy to do with the static view and FTL is very accessible for anyone with visual field defects like tunnel vision.
Motion sickness is only a minor issue when landing in asteroid field that simulate movement and if it bothers you, dynamic backgrounds can be disabled in the Options menu. The colour blind mode makes it accessible for anyone with colour blindness by adding additional icons and indicators and removing some coloured background filling that increases the contrast and makes icons more visible.
There are no subtitles, but none are required as there are also no dialogue. The story and plot is text based. Special effects do provide audio cues, but all audio cues are combined with visual cues. It’s perfectly accessible to those with hearing loss with no requirement for audio at all.
Reaction time is not a factor as the game can be paused at any time and it’s possible to give commands whilst the game is paused. The controls are simple and easy to use. There are no complicated sequences, button mashing or multiple button presses, making it easy to play with one hand or limited use of either hand. It is however impossible to play without a mouse and a high level of precision. You can save and quit anywhere except when in active combat, but combat are very short sequences last at most a few minutes, so it’s hardly restrictive.
Decisions are executed via mouse clicks on very small icons. Most actions do have remappable keyboard short cuts, but not all. Text-pop ups can only be activated by clicking on “Continue…”, individual doors can only be opened by clicking on them and next jump spot is a tiny dot that has to be selected and clicked on with the mouse. Crew members are difficult to select within the ship when they are close together, however the crew list on the left is also clickable and makes it easier.
It’s a text-based adventure and the language used is quite advanced, but the story is simple and easy to follow and enjoy. Text does appear in a static pop-up with no time limit. You can take your time to read and click the continue button, or select your choice when you’re ready. The font is small but standard and on a plain background.
It is a complicated and tough challenge, but the lay-out is user friendly and the menu system easy to understand and navigate. Strategy is based on past-experience and it’s vital to remember new insights gained in each play through. Resource management is an integral part of the game and requires a basic understanding of currency and how to manage your budget and other resources. Navigation is exceptionally well-done with clear choices and the option to show possible paths on hover to help you plan your route to the next sector exit point clearly. There are two difficulty levels, easy and normal and the easy mode is noticeably easier than normal mode.
FTL is a game built around throwing the unexpected and unpredictable at players. Although events can be unexpected and unpredictable, the events happen within a predictable pattern, making it very accessible for people on the autistic spectrum who have great difficulty with unexpected and unpredictable surprises. Knowing exactly when the unexpected is going to occur, i.e. the moment you arrive at a new location after each jump, is a fantastic mechanism that makes it accessible without changing the nature of the game.
The Options Menu has three sections: video, audio and gameplay.
- Five vision options can either be enabled or disabled: 1. Fullscreen, 2. Vertical Sync, 3. Frame Limit, 4. Dynamic Backgrounds, 5. Colorblind Mode.
- Two audio sliders are listed – Sound Volume and Music Volume
- Four Gameplay Options exist. The delay for hotkeys in dialog boxes can be set, enable or disable beacon paths on hover, enable or disable achievement popups and when clicking on option 4 – customiza controls a list of remappable hotkeys pop up.
FTL is a must-play title whether you love space or not, know what rogue-like means or not, have much experience with strategy games or none at all. It is as accessible to newcomers as it is thrilling to genre veterans and it is a tactical game we highly recommend playing. It also shines in its accessibility with only a few minor flaws, most noticeably the small text that can be hard to read with low vision and the significant amount of precision required to mouse-click tiny icons. Overall FTL is a highly accessible and immensely rewarding experience not to be missed.
[stars rating=”5″ type=”Game”]