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FTL: Faster Than Light Review

FTL: Faster Than Light, the engaging space combat adventure from Subset Games, is now available from the app store. Originally a hit on PC, FTL has been rejiggered for a touch interface and unleashed upon mobile gamers with fantastic results.

FTL: Faster Than Light Pros:

  • UI works plenty of info into given space without feeling cramped
  • Easy-to-use tap and drag controls
  • Soundtrack is relaxing, adding to the game’s great experience
  • Lots of upgrades, ships, random events, and ways to battle enemies
  • GameCenter integration for more than a dozen achievements

FTL: Faster Than Light Cons:

  • Difficulty level might turn off casual gamers

FTL puts you in command of a spacecraft being tailed across the galaxy by rebel forces bent on retrieving the critical data you’re attempting to deliver to the Federation brass. You’ll need to hop from star to star across eight sectors, defeating enemy craft, searching for resources, and micromanaging all operations of your ship in the process. Your ship is comprised of several systems, including weapons, shields, engines, steering, oxygen, med bay, doors, and sensors. Each system draws power from the reactor, so balancing power to run all systems and upgrading as necessary is a vital function of your command. Doors, sensors, and steering are subsystems that require no power from the reactor. The few crew members at your disposal can be assigned to certain rooms, performing maintenance operations and providing small boosts to their assigned systems. They’ll also fight intruders and put out fires in their rooms, as necessary. Fires can also be extinguished by opening doors and draining oxygen from the affected area until the blaze is quelled. Crew members will be negatively affected by low oxygen, so you’ll need to shunt them to closed quarters. Rooms with low oxygen turn pink to indicate their status, and they’ll return to white once the doors are closed and oxygen levels are reestablished.

Jumping from star to star will use up some of your fuel, which could eventually leave you stranded if you don’t account for this factor. A jump will bring up a star map and usually allow you to choose from several nearby stars to jump to, with one star on the map indicated as the exit. This will be your ultimate goal, as that star will allow you to move to a new sector and bring you closer to delivering your intel. Each jump brings with it the possibility of an encounter with a hostile ship, a decision to make about helping or avoiding contact with others, or the occasional non-event. Combat can get intense, with both ships trading weapon fire back and forth, targeting specific ship systems, starting fires aboard ships, sending crew members to the opposition’s vessel, and more. Thankfully, you can pause the game often and set up your next commands, which will be executed once you unpause the game. Tapping one ship or the other will change your focus.

As you damage their systems, the indicators turn orange and red. When your own systems are damaged, your indicators will change, too, and you might see fires break out or bad guys aboard your ship. Damage to doors will not allow you to open airlocks and vent fires in the event that one breaks out. Sensor damage will darken all unmanned rooms, engine damage will diminish your ability to avoid incoming fire, and so on. So much can go wrong and you’ll need quick wits and quicker fingers to do what you can to right the wrongs and avoid death. When crew members die, they don’t come back (though the Advanced Edition does allow for revival), so you’ll want to keep an eye on their health indicators and keep them safe. Watching an enemy ship break apart after a fierce fight is highly satisfying, though that’s when the real work of patching yourself back up begins. Success in battle will often reward you with additional fuel for jumps, as well as scrap, the interstellar currency that you’ll use to purchase upgrades to your systems and subsystems, increase reactor capacity, upgrade crew member abilities, and buy ship upgrades. Your hull meter indicates your ship’s integrity. When you run out of bars, you’re done and you’re assigned a score. Expect to die early and often, though each playthrough should teach you an important lesson that can be used the next time around.

Graphically, FTL has a bit of a busy UI, though this is necessary given all of the different aspects of the game that you must keep an eye on and manage at a moment’s notice. We feel that Subset has done a commendable job of fitting all of this into the given space without appearing too gaudy or overwhelming. The use of colour-coding to indicate powered systems, system damage, and the like helps to keep things from getting too out of control, and the interface ends up feeling a bit more like instrument gauges of a carefully-crafted cockpit than a hastily thrown together mismash of icons. The hull meter, shield meter, and resource indicators reside in the upper left corner, with scrap counter, a Jump button, and Ship button nearby. The crew member health indicators are on the left side of the screen, with a couple of helpful buttons beneath. Reactor meter, system icons, and subsystem icons appear along the screen bottom, with a large pause button in the lower right corner. Pop-out menus give access to weapon selections and important info about each system, which can easily be hidden again as necessary.

Your ship appears alone in the screen centre, giving a top-down view of its layout and the locations of all systems and crew members. Pop-up screens allow you to tap on options to make choices, while combat situations shrink your ship a bit and shunt it to the left, making room for an image of the hostile ship on the right, with its top-down layout available for view, too. The soundtrack has a dreamy arcade quality that offers a nice backdrop to the action, with the occasional funky mix thrown in for good measure. Sound effects are minimal, but what is present serves the purpose of fleshing out the action. The controls are all tap and drag based, working extremely well for a game that was originally meant to use a mouse pointer for all inputs. Dragging up or down on system icons will increase/decrease power from the reactor, and dragging to the left or right will expose or hide info about a specific system. Selecting doors to open and crew members to move allows for both tapping individuals and swiping across multiples with ease. Button tapping is responsive and the game almost feels like a touch interface was always the way that it was meant to be played.

Replay value is outstanding, as each attempt is different given the randomization of events and the unpredictability of combat. There is so much to do and so many ways to handle any given situation that you’ll discover new and exciting aspects of the game all of the time. Customization options allow you to rename your ship and crew members, and you can unlock varying ship layouts and even access new ships during the course of play. Advanced Edition content can be enabled or disabled, and there are three difficulty levels to choose from, though Easy will probably give most gamers a run for their money. FTL includes more than a dozen GameCenter achievements to earn along the way. An iPad-only app for a premium $9.99 price tag, FTL: Faster Than Light is a 5-Dimple game with the chops to back up its asking price.