The crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter has been getting a lot of attention recently. Designed to allow greater freedom for creative types by having their ideas funded outside of studio systems and corporations, the site has already led to the development of a Veronica Mars movie, assisted by fans of the cancelled TV series. Amongst all this, a small, retro space game seems to have flown under the radar. Enter Faster Than Light.
FTL (as the game is frequently abbreviated to) is a top-down spaceship ‘simulator’ with an endearing retro feel. The objective is simple: each game involves you making your way to the end of a path of eight different sectors and defeating the rebel flagship at the end. Along the way, there is the chance to buy upgrades from scrap, answer distress signals and battle pirates. The execution, however, is where the simplicity ends.
FTL seeks to make you experience the hazards that would occur on an actual spaceship. Beginning with a sparse crew and little in the way of upgrades, you must keep one eye on all the vital systems of your ship as you traverse the various galaxies. If your oxygen capacity is knocked out, your crew will suffocate in minutes. If your shields go down, you’ll be decimated by enemy fire. Relaxing this game is not.
Though confusing at first, you can get to grips with the game in about half an hour. Notice how I didn’t say ‘master it’, because you won’t. The random nature of your encounters on the way to the final boss means that sometimes you won’t even make it past the first sector. The difficulty curve is punishing: whether you’re blown apart in seconds at your very first stop or inches from the finish, it never gets less frustrating. I would advise you don’t name your character after yourself or loved ones, by the way. Guiding them into the far reaches of space inevitably leads to you getting quite attached, and watching your compatriots die a lonely, airless death in the engine room is heartbreakingly traumatic. Either that, or I didn’t go outside much while I was playing.
That aside, FTL is the sort of game that, though seemingly limited in replay value, you will waste hours on without realising. There are always new ships to unlock, and no one playthrough is ever the same. Still not convinced? It’s the closest you’ll ever get to becoming Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly. And if that hasn’t got your interest, I don’t know what will.
FTL is now available on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.