FTL: Faster Than Light iPad and Advanced Edition Review
Since the release of the Advanced Edition on PC and iPad last week, FTL: Faster Than Light has been rocking my world. I fire it up with the intention of just putting in a quick ten minutes, but end up hooked to the screen for the next hour and a half. I’m not sure how I even managed to pull myself away long enough to type this up, but I do know I’ll be jumping straight back in after.
For those who don’t know, FTL is a ship-to-ship combat game in space, with some rogue-like elements thrown in. I’m not usually one for rogue-likes, but here I make an exception. The aim of the game is to deliver vital information to the remnants of the Federation Fleet, with the overwhelming force of the Rebel fleet nipping at your heels, forcing you to get a move on or die. Along the way, your ship needs upgrading, repairing and refueling, all paid for from the same pile of money, so bad decisions can doom an otherwise good run. Go ahead and buy that massive laser gun, but it won’t do much good if you run out of fuel four jumps from the nearest shop, leaving you at the mercy of the game’s random events. Each new beacon you jump to pops up a new random event via text pop-ups, which can range from salvaging abandoned ships, aiding an outpost hit by disease, asteroid fields, or, more likely, enemy ships.
Ship-to-ship combat is what FTL revolves around. Even when you’re not in a fight, you’re always preparing for the next one by upgrading and repairing. Combat is one-on-one, presented top down, floor plan style, with the crew of your ship scurrying around like ants. Here, you can power up or down various ship systems, direct the crew around, and target the enemy ship with your weapons. With the new content, FTL now has eight different races to make a crew from, each with different characteristics. My favorite are the Zoltan, who contribute power to any system they’re currently manning. Assigning power to each system is a big deal, since it’s in limited supply. Can you afford to reroute power from shields to weapons in the hope of firing off a desperate volley, or should you put everything you can into the engines to get the hell out of there?
To win a battle, the enemy ship’s hull must be damaged to the point that they surrender or explode, or the enemy crew wiped out. Getting to that point requires more than sheer fire-power though. Weapons can be targeted at different systems, crippling the ship if they go down. A good tactic is bringing down the shielding system, then hammering at their weapons to prevent them from firing back, but it’s not the only one. You can teleport your crew in for some close-quarters-combat, set fires to burn the crew and damage their systems, or even cut off their oxygen supply and suffocate them to death. Each ship has their strengths and weakness, so even if a ship has nigh-impenetrable shields, you can try teleporting in and take them down from the inside. Mixing and matching new tactics is not only necessary, it’s a blast.
I mentioned earlier that FTL has some rogue-like elements, in this case randomized encounters, which I talked about earlier, and perma-death. Every tough battle and poor decision has significance, because there’s no reloading, and once you die it’s back to the beginning to start all over again. Since the release of the new content last week I’ve restarted about 15 times, and have only managed to finish it once (with the type A Stealth Cruiser, in case you’re wondering). It can be upsetting to see your last hour of work go down the toilet with an asteroid field, solar flare and a brutally tough fight all in a row, but when you triumph, it’s that much sweeter. My heart has never beat so fast as when I finally had a shot at beating the final encounter, knowing that I wouldn’t have a shot like this again in a long time.
FTL is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. Seeing a promising run end in ruin is crushing, but the thrill of barely scraping through up until that point makes it all worth it. With a ton of ships to unlock, each with their own strengths, I constantly found reasons to start again, seeing if this time my luck, and my ship’s hull, would hold out long to see the end.
The advanced edition content is a free add-on for anyone who buys the game, and in a nice touch, can be switched on or off when starting a run, so if you’re an FTL purist there’s nothing to worry about. The new content adds a new race, although I’m yet to have the pleasure of meeting them, a new layout to most of the existing ships, a hard mode for absolute masochists (I’m still waiting to graduate from easy mode) and new ship systems. The new systems are mind control, so you can force an enemy crew member to turn traitor for a short time, and hacking, which I never got around to using but some of the later enemies loved using it, causing my ship to malfunction. The content seems cool, but since luck plays such a big role, it’s difficult to seek it out.
I can speak for the new iPad version though, which is equivalent to the PC version in everything but being able to apply mods. To compensate for the less definite controls of a touch screen, the game auto-pauses when selecting a crew member or weapon, un-pausing when you’ve given an order, which works well. Also compensating for the lack of a mouse, powering up or down each system is done by sliding your finger up or down the corresponding part of the screen, rather than clicking directly on the bar you want to power the system to. I actually prefer playing on the iPad, so I can play sprawled out on the sofa rather than tethered to a desk. Each version is the same though, so don’t worry about which you pick up.