As part of a new series about older games, I’m revisiting a personal favourite of mine. It’s a roguelite / roguelike-like I always enjoy writing about, and it goes by the name of FTL: Faster Than Light.

I came across this absolute gem of a game when it first took to Kickstarter, and I’ve been playing it ever since on both PC and tablet. I mostly play the Advanced Edition on my tablet after it released on iOS in 2014, although I started out on PC back in 2012.

What is FTL Faster Than Light?

In FTL you captain a small spaceship and use it to bunny-hop across the galaxy in an attempt to run away from a relentless wave of spaceships intent on blasting you into fiery oblivion. This Rebel Fleet is represented by an alarming red wave that advances closer every turn. Once you’re caught in it, you’ll be dragged into constant space battles and the odds against start to stack.

A Rebel ship has destroyed the player-controller ship after a real-time top-down space battle.

The aim of the game is to stay ahead of the fleet, jumping between different systems and building strength as you go. During your journey you move between a series of procedurally generated sectors, each one filled with a web of systems that you can use your FTL drive to navigate.

Each ship has a number of different systems, and you’ll need a crew to man each station. You start each game with a skeleton crew, but it’s not long before you can start to recruit strange alien folks, increasing your tactical options. At the very least you’ll want your core ship systems fully manned, so you can escape quickly, but there’s so much nuance to the ship management that you can set things up in a number of ways.

As you play, the main currency is scrap, which you get from wreckages and a variety of non-violent encounters. This scrap can be sold at vendors to repair your ship, buy ammo and new systems, and even recruit new shipmates. You can also spend it on upgrading your ship directly, expanding your individual ship systems to suit your tactics.

It’s a constant balancing act as you look to make yourself as spiky as possible with new augments, while also staying away from the fleet that’s always chasing you. Then there’s the small matter of avoiding nefarious pirates and slave traders. And the giant space spiders – watch out for those, too.

The player ship battles a pirate while asteroids pelt both ships.

Space battles in FTL

Combat is varied thanks to an array of different tactical options. There are various ships to unlock to use in later attempts, and you can specialise them further by adding a good mix of different systems. For example, you might use energy weapons to disable enemy shields and then missiles to take out key systems.

I’m always partial to getting a drone system up and running, as sending one over to an enemy can keep them very busy. During that time, I can move my crew around to repair any damage and keep the lasers firing, pinning down their key systems and supplementing my attacks with the odd well-time missile.

FTL will let you teleport your crew onto alien ships and use drones to patch up your hull. Or it will let you focus on weapon strength, so your ship bristles with lethal lasers and rockets. Whatever strategy you go for, you’ll have access to an array of highly tactical weapon systems.

Another pirate, this one has teleported two of their own alien crewmates over to sabotage key systems.

FTL soundtrack and story

Perhaps the thing I find most charming about the game is the way that FTL implements choose-your-own-adventure story beats to keep the action flowing. Each scenario is well written and there are always several interesting decisions to make as you advance through each sector.

Another point worth highlighting is the soundtrack by Ben Prunty, which is extremely zen. If you want it, the music can enhance the atmosphere, but this is also a game that you can have on mute while something plays on the TV. I’d put at least one earbud in, though.

The bite-size missions also make this an excellent game to pick up and play, which is why it’s in my list of the best roguelike games. I’ve come back to FTL again and again over the years. It’s not quite my all-time favourite, but it does occupy a special place in my heart. That possibly has something to do with the fact that I frequently play it with my boys, who also love it.

It’s an oldie but a goodie and I recommend you check it out immediately if you haven’t already. The game still holds up well after more than a decade, and there are loads of great mods out there to further enhance your experience. FTL Faster Than Light is out now on Steam PC (Linux, Mac, Windows) and iOS for iPad.


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