FTL is a game that does not look real; its programmer pixel art won’t be the thing that draws you in. But it feels real; it feels like what you’d imagine controlling a vessel struggling to survive in deep space to be like. It asks you to make hard decisions at every turn, to take risks in hopes of greater rewards.
Verisimilitude. It’s a quality that has fallen by the wayside as more and more games pursue either realism or the complete lack thereof. But realism isn’t what pulls you into a game or a book or a movie, it’s verisimilitude. It’s that thing Walt Disney called the illusion of life, not the direct duplication of it. It’s how believable the world feels compared to what we know.
FTL is an amazing game because it oozes verisimilitude. You take command – command, not control, an important distinction – of a Federation scout vessel fleeing across the galaxy, attempting to outrun a vicious Rebel fleet and deliver vital information to your superiors, information that can very well turn the tide of a war that your side is currently losing.
Your ship is small, cramped, and under-manned—there are four stations but only three crew, though you can pick up more over time—with no furniture and very little empty space. There’s some room for additional systems if you find them, but that’s it. There isn’t even a proper quarters for the crew. The exterior is bland, angular and unadorned, lacking in decoration and other useless bits. All the other ships you encounter are similarly constructed, and this is exactly what I’d expect space-faring vessels to be like: claustrophobic, utilitarian, built for efficiency at the sacrifice of comfort. Like a submarine, but immersed in a sea of stars.
Unlike a submarine, however, you can do silly things like open the external doors and vent oxygen into space, which turns out to be an effective method of putting out fires and killing intruders, as well as your own crew if you’re not careful. It’s important to know this because fires can quickly become disastrous—as anyone who knows anything about enclosed, oxygenated environments will expect—so extinguishing them is a top priority. And you’ll have to extinguish many because FTL’s universe is a hostile place and most of your time in it will be spent in combat.
In order to fight you’ll have to power up weapons, which usually means powering down some other system to free up reactor output because there’s rarely enough. You’ll also have to choose your targets carefully. Blasting away willy-nilly at a hostile craft is ill-advised. Rather, you need to make some important tactical decisions. Do you take out their weapons systems, so they won’t be able to shoot back, or their shields, so they’ll die faster? Or maybe you should hit their oxygen supply and slowly suffocate the crew. Whatever you decide, you’ll have to act fast, because the enemy crew won’t just be sitting around. They’ll be scrambling to fix any damaged systems, and will often have things operational again before you can take advantage of the situation. That can be remedied, though, by killing the crew if you have the means to.
And, of course, while you’re whacking at them they’ll be responding in kind, and your own crew will be scrambling about, fighting off boarding parties, putting out fires, repairing damage, and manning vital systems if they have time. Your guys are obedient little soldiers, too, and will carry out their assigned task right up until their last breath, so you’ll have to make sure to order them to the med bay if they’re badly hurt… if the med bay is operational that is. Losing a crewmember is a terrible thing, not just because of the loss of life but also the loss of skill that person accrued through experience. Your superstar gunner can be replaced, sure, but the new guy or girl or alien slug thing will not do as good a job, not at first anyway.
Successfully defeat the enemy either by destroying the ship, killing the crew, or smacking them around until they surrender and you’ll be rewarded with vital supplies. Missiles can bypass shields and wreak all sorts of havoc on the enemy. Drone parts allow you to deploy powerful drones, but only if you have the proper systems installed. Scrap can be used to upgrade your ship and also as a currency for trading in stores. Fuel… fuel is life. Run out of it and you’ll have to no choice but to wait and watch as the rebel fleet slowly catches up and kills you. Or you can take your chances by activating your distress beacon, which could attract either a helpful friend or a murderous enemy.
FTL is a game that does not look real; its programmer pixel art won’t be the thing that draws you in. But it feels real; it feels like what you’d imagine controlling a vessel struggling to survive in deep space to be like. It asks you to make hard decisions at every turn, to take risks in hopes of greater rewards. Some of these decisions aren’t combat-related either. Maybe you have to decide whether or not to explore an abandoned ship, or respond to a distress signal, or help an allied vessel fend off a pirate attack, or other things besides. Sometimes your choice will pay off nicely, rewarding you with supplies, equipment and crew, but sometimes you’ll lose more than you gain, and many more times you’ll just lose, period. Then you’ll sit back and laugh and maybe have a drink and try again. Maybe this time you’ll play it on easy, so you can get more scrap and less challenging battles. Or maybe you’ll try out the new ship you’ve unlocked, which changes the way the way you’ll approach the game.
Or maybe you’ll sit back, close your eyes, and listen to the main menu’s amazing music, dreaming of how your next adventure will unfold.
Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?
Yes, it is. Sometimes that’s all that needs to be said.