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Video Game Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than Light Kestrel

FTL: Faster Than Light is a star-hopping adventure that captures the appeal of space exploration and the excitement of running a crew of people in real time. If you’re a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly or Battlestar Galactica, this space flight simulator is absolutely for you.

The game mechanics are simple. You command a ship with rooms housing the various systems that you have installed. Man the guns, fly the ship, run the shields and keep the oxygen flowing to keep your crew alive. Instruct your crew to make repairs, put out fires and battle intruders. If those intruders teleport onto your ship beside an airlock, you can vent the oxygen and watch them suffocate.

Later in the game, you get the opportunity to install more advanced systems like drone control, a teleporter, and a cloaking device. The enemies get progressively difficult as you jump from star to star through eight different systems before facing off against the Federation Mothership at the end. You’ve got the Federation fleet hot on your heels the whole way, so it takes some strategic thinking to hit as many stars as possible without being overtaken by the fleet.

It’s easy to nail down the basics and difficult to master the intricacies of FTL. No matter how good you get, this roguelike game also requires some luck, as each star system is a randomly generated series of encounters and multiple choice events with randomized outcomes. Like a losing gambler at the roulette table, the chance element will keep you coming back, determined to do better next time.

And even when you beat the game with the default human cruiser, there are alien ships and alien species to keep you coming back for more space exploration.

There are 9 different ships to pilot, but they’re not all available right away. Each one is unlocked by performing some feat or completing a quest. The quest unlocks can be particularly frustrating, as they, too, are randomized. The Crystalline Cruiser is especially difficult to obtain because it requires three different random events to occur early enough for you to complete each one.

The aliens are a little easier to recruit. There are 6 basic species and one rare crystal alien available to you. Humans are the most basic, while each alien has a different special ability and weakness. Rock men are tough and immune to fire; slugs can telepathically detect enemies; Engi are fantastic at repairing your ship. Alien crew also occasionally provide you with special options in multiple choice events.

FTL debuted in September and is available for PC and Mac on Steam for just $10. It was made by Subset Games and assisted by Kickstarter. As a result, there are many Easter eggs for donors (including the aforementioned crystal alien and ship). And the investment was well worth it: FTL is an inventive little game with a lot of imagination and great game mechanics.

FTL is wonderfully simple at first and entrancingly complex after a playthrough or two. It’ll quickly rope you in with its small, star-by-star encounter format, sweeping you along to the mantra of “just one more jump.”

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