Have you ever played FTL: Faster Than Light? It’s a rogue-like spaceship simulator released by Subset Games in 2012 with a free (that’s right, totally free!) advanced edition released in 2014 that added even more to the game.
It got great reviews, and even a few awards, for its simple but addictive design and has one of the best soundtracks in all of gaming in my opinion.
FTL sees the player controlling a ship and leading it through 8 sectors of space battles and moral decisions. There are ten different classes of ships and two to three categories within those classes, giving a huge variety for players from the get go.
In game, you can switch around your crew and upgrade your vessel with better weaponry, shields, droids, etc. You can focus on teleporting onto ships and killing the entire enemy crew before they fire a shot, or you can choose to rip them apart with lasers and missiles. The choice is really up to you, one of the many reasons it’s such a highly praised game.
That being said, the last real update was done in 2014. Will FTL stand up to its name if we play through it again in 2017?
The Osprey Takes Flight
We’ll be playing through the game with a randomly selected ship to see if it still has that spark and appeal that it used to. We’ll follow the adventures of the vessel and her crew, and decide at the end if FTL is still a top-tier game.
Our ship, the Osprey, left the space docks with a single mission: to bring vital information to what remained of the federation fleet.
The crew were a diverse bunch. Caldwell was an Engi, a race made up of thousands of tiny nanobots, and worked the engines. Berko, a massive rockman reminiscent of the Thing, was in control of the weaponry. Emma, a mantis specializing in close quarters combat, was ironically in charge of keeping the shields up and running.
They were led by the human Captain Kletzkin, a man I liked to imagine would have been a grizzled old veteran if there were enough pixels in his face for scars and five o’clock shadow.
The Osprey itself was a long thin ship, built around the massive artillery laser beam that served as its main weapon. It took ages to charge but when it fired, it was one of the most powerful weapons in the game.
The first sector proved easy for the Osprey and her crew, pirates and automated rebel ships quickly falling beneath it’s guns. Kletzkin led his crew through flaring suns and secret outposts, his primary mission never leaving his mind.
Sectors 2-3: Tragedy Aboard the Osprey
Sector 2 began to prove more difficult. While approaching a distress beacon, a number of rockmen teleported onto the ship. Berko and captain Kletzkin faced off against one but the other entered the engine room, going after Caldwell.
While the Engi were famed for their skill with technology, they were not particularly good fighters. Luckily Emma was able to arrive, slicing up the opposing rockman and saving Caldwell’s life. They hired another rockman named Maxim as they left the sector, the captain putting him on sensors.
The ship was beginning to grow more powerful as they entered the third sector. It’s shields were getting thicker and the artillery laser was firing twice as quickly as before. As things began to look up, the Osprey was beset by Mantis pirates.
Four of the attackers teleported onto the ship. Emma and Berko fought off two, but Maxim was stuck battling the other two alone. In a daring act of valor, Captain Kletzkin left the helm to Caldwell and ran to Maxim’s aid.
The rockman was doing his best to run from the fight but he was so slow the Mantis threatened to rip him apart before he reached the medical bay. Luckily the captain arrived in time, holding them off and allowing Maxim to receive medical attention.
The captain unfortunately paid with his life. By the time Emma and Berko arrived, Captain Kletzkin had been hacked apart by the mantis.
The enemy ship fell, but Maxim was forced to take over the duty of piloting. I imagine that Caldwell became the new acting captain at this point. He wouldn’t have wanted to leave the duty to the newcomer. They found a shop to repair the damage to the ship, and even hired a second mantis named Xin Xin.
They also installed a teleporter, with the plan of sending Emma and Xin Xin over to slaughter the enemy crew before picking the opposing vessel clean. Not long after, they reached the end of the sector but the pursuing rebels had gotten there first.
A tense space battle ensued with the enemy fleet firing massive artillery cannons at the Osprey and nearly ripping the ship apart. It was able to flee to the fourth sector but not before losing nearly half of its hull integrity.
To me one of FTL’s flaws at the end of the day is the ease at which your ship can be torn to shreds. Some enemy will dismantle your engines, or raid your shields, and suddenly you find yourself completely vulnerable.
This can be a good thing, the game wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy, but it can quickly become frustrating. You devote an hour or two into a ship and out of nowhere it will be broadsided by some giant rock guy because he claims you offended him (a real thing that happens in FTL). Then you have to completely start over, hoping it doesn’t happen again.
Sectors 4-5: The Rise and Fall of Virus
Entering the fourth sector, the Osprey happened upon an Engi ship with an overreacting engine. They were able to pull a crewman from it named Varnas before it exploded, who offered to work the shields in exchange for saving his life.
The Osprey even found a small repair shop which fixed the ship up. Once again, things began to look good. Pirate vessel after pirate vessel fell to the Osprey’s guns.
During one engagement, a pair of Engi boarded the ship. Emma and Xin Xin quickly ripped them apart, but Caldwell began acting strange. As they approached the end of the sector, the Osprey was stopped by an official Engi envoy.
They claimed there was a virus aboard the ship, and ordered the Osprey to hand over Caldwell. The crew refused and loaded up their weapons. Before the battle began however, Caldwell disintegrated. Emma and Xin Xin teleported onto the Engi ship and quickly cut the enemy down. They returned and began to mourn the loss of their captain, but his nanobots began to reform.
He went by the name Virus and had perfect stats in legitimately everything. As they arrived in the fifth sector they even found a shop and bought a mind control system. Per usual as things began to look up, they immediately took a turn for the worse.
The Osprey was investigating a distress beacon. It led them to a derelict ship that had life signs, but wasn’t responding to their hails. Virus led an away party to check out what was happening.
When they found what was left of the crew, they discovered that they had become mad cannibals. Virus and the away party began sprinting back to the ship but the cannibals were gaining on them. In a last desperate act to save his men, Virus shut himself in with the cannibals and locked the doors down.
The away party escaped, but Virus was lost. With his death Varnas was moved to the engines, and the pilot Maxim now officially wore the mantel of captain of the Osprey.
This brings out another small flaw in FTL. While the player chooses whether to investigate things like distress beacons and secret federation bases, the player doesn’t choose which crewmembers go. It’s not a major issue but it can become annoying seeing someone like Virus, the guy with the greatest stats in the game, die because he was sent out on a mission.
Sectors 6-8: One Last Mission
Maxim’s time as captain of the Osprey had a rocky start. A single ship in the sixth sector brought the vessel down to a single hull point. Both Emma and Xin Xin were nearly killed while on the opposing ship, and Varnas was seconds away from being burnt alive as he scrambled to repair the engines and get them to safety.
Yet the crew had hope. They had one sector left before they reached the federation fleet, then it would be out of their hands.
They hired a rockwoman named Lana to work the engines so Varnas could return to the shields and coasted through the seventh sector, finding a repair shop that brought the Osprey to fighting condition once more. The crew celebrated as they entered the eighth sector, their duty was complete.
Captain Maxim teleported to the federation base with Emma and Berko. They explained their mission, telling the admirals that the weakness of the rebel fleet was its flagship. If it could be brought down the entire enemy fleet would fall apart.
The admirals discussed it but realized they didn’t have the manpower to hold back the rebel warships and attack the flagship. With a heavy heart Captain Maxim stood up, offering to take on the duty with the Osprey.
The Fate of the Osprey
The flagship was massive. it was bristling with weapons and cloaked itself as soon as combat began. Whe their cloaking device ran out Emma and Xin Xin teleported directly into their missile systems and began to work at tearing the weaponry apart.
Captain Maxim roared orders to his crew, keeping the ship afloat as the artillery laser charged and fired, cutting deep into the flagship. As Emma and Xin Xin returned, the artillery laser fired once more. The enemy ship fled as a third of it was cut off.
Sensing victory, Captain Maxim led his crew into battle once more. The cloaking system had been destroyed in the first battle and the flagship diverted the extra power into its drones system. Emma and Xin Xin teleported onto the enemy ship to destroy their weapons system once more as boarding drones pierced the hull of the Osprey.
As oxygen was sucked out of the shields room, Varnas was forced to flee to the medical bay. The drones ripped apart the shields systems and the enemy flagship began to lay into the Osprey. Lasers and missiles pierced its hull.
Diverting power to the artillery laser, Captain Maxim was able to drive off the enemy flagship a second time just as Emma and Xin Xin returned. They had won the second bout but it came at a price. Their hull integrity was at 33% at best.
Captain Maxim gathered his crew onto the bridge, “That flagship’s likely only got one fight left in it.”
“The same goes for us captain.” Emma pointed out. The Osprey was barely holding together. If their shields went down, a single barrage would rip them apart.
“Then let’s make this last one a good one.” Maxim whispered. His crew had been hardened by the flames of war, they would follow him to the end.
They found the rebel flagship, now with some sort of super shield around it. Emma and Xin Xin wouldn’t be able to teleport onto the ship until it was down. Worse still, the artillery laser couldn’t pierce it. Berko fired every secondary weapon the Osprey had, doing his best to focus it down.
Varnas kept their own shields as strong as he could as Maxim and Lana worked as one to avoid the incoming missiles and laser fire. Emma and Xin Xin ran throughout the Osprey, cutting down any enemy crewmembers who dared to teleport onto their ship.
“The super shield is down! Emma, Xin Xin, get to the teleporter now!” Maxim roared over the ship’s crackling systems. The pair sprinted through the crumbling ship, their own defenses now faltering. As they entered the teleportation chamber Maxim’s voice came to them one last time.
“Finish this, make this universe remember the crew of the Osprey.” Maxim slammed down on the teleport button, sending Emma and Xin Xin to the flagship as one last missile smashed into the Osprey, tearing it apart.
Unfortunately, that’s the end of the game. It ends when your ship is destroyed, even if some of your crew still lives. Maybe Emma and Xin Xin were able to take the rebel flagship down from the inside. There were only two enemy crew members left after all. They’d be no match for a pair of hardened Mantis warriors.
If it was a movie, I imagine Xin Xin would have died, giving his life so Emma could get into an escape pod just as they set some charges or overloaded the reactor or something. The federation would have picked her up hours later when they discovered the fate of the Osprey and the rebel flagship.
She’d pop out of the escape pod and say some gritty thing about how her crew died, and she was one of the original members, and blah blah blah. But that’s not this story.
In the end, FTL was just as fun as I remember. The victories remained satisfying, and there was a strong sense of progression as upgrades to the ship slowly turned it from a messenger to a weapon of war.
Even the side stories that I already knew all of the endings to were a blast to play through. On top of that the music remains one of my favorite game soundtracks of all time. The songs flow from peaceful to intense as the ship switches from exploration to combat, never missing a beat and breaking the player’s immersion.
You should really get this game if you haven’t tried it yet. It’s a joy to play and there’s enough variety in it to be able to replay it again and again.