Publisher: Subset Games / Developer: Subset Games / Platform: PC

Kickstarter has done some wonderful things for the world of video games recently.  From Tim Schafer’s newest project to the return of the Infinity Engine RPG (I’M SO EXCITED), Kickstarter has helped many a development dream come closer to reality.  One of the more recent fruits of the Kickstarted labor is FTL: Faster Than Light, a 2D space adventure that could best be described as Firefly-meets-Nethack.  Oh yeah, it’s that good.

For those of you who may not follow popular Kickstarter projects but may have their interest piqued at the idea of Nathan Fillion paired up with the brassiest-balled RPG ever created, FTL puts you in the command seat of a newly-minted spaceship, and tasks you with flying across the ‘verse to warn the Federation about the oncoming wave of Rebellion ships.  Yes, this goes against just about every sci-fi storyline ever.  No, there is no way to play for the other side.  I’ll get to that later.  On your way, you’ll jump from system to system, flying through different parts of your map to trigger events and generally try to get through to the other side in one piece.

The roguelike portion of FTL comes from the randomly-generated events you’ll stumble across, like shops, slavers (some friendly, others not so much), and other forms of things that probably want to kill you and steal what’s left of your ship.  FTL is harsh, unforgiving, and at times unfair.  You will die.  A lot. But the nature of the game makes these deaths quick and painless, and just like that you’re buckling up for another ride.

Just about the entirety of FTL is made up of staring at a top-down cutaway view of your ship, rerouting power when needed, and telling your crew what to do.  Crew members gain experience the more they do the same task so it’s best to have someone dedicated to navigation, engines, shields, etc.  When a system becomes damaged (and it will), you can guide crew to the damaged area and have them repair it.  Fires may start up, which you can have crew extinguish or simply open up the airlocks and flush it out.  Sometimes you’ll get boarded by enemy crew, in which case you’ll have to fight them off with your own.  There are a multitude of things that can in will go wrong inside your ship in FTL, and juggling that alongside trying to shoot down the enemy ship in front of you may seem daunting, but the game mechanics are surprisingly easy to get used to.

My main gripe about FTL is the lack of choice, despite the open nature of the game.  You are a Federation ship and your enemy is the Rebellion, and that’s it.  You can choose to rob damaged ships for money, or side with pirates to take down a larger civillian ship, but these choices have no real bearing over the rest of the game.  Every choice you make is isolated aside from a few random quests.  Likewise, your choices in how you utilize your ship are surprisingly narrow.  You can purchase a cloaking device, or nonlethal ion weapons that disable systems rather than destroy them and focus on charging your FTL drives as quickly as possible to jump away, but by the end you still have to fight the final battle.  You have to fight to survive, and that’s it.  There’s no diplomacy, no stealthfully slipping away to complete an objective, and no focusing on just being a science vessel.

If you can get past this and focus on how good the combat is that FTL is forcing you to do, you’ll have a good time.  The game mechanics work well together, downing an enemy ship feels good every time, and there is enough weapon parts, alien races, unlockable ships and things to find that you’ll soon forget you’re really just doing the same thing over and over.  As I mentioned earlier, FTL is a very hard game, and at times seems unfair, but you’ll want to keep playing if only to see what awaits on the next planet, and the next planet, and the next…