FTL Faster Than Light game reviewThere's a moment in every nerds life when they wish they could pilot a spacecraft. And by 'spacecraft' I don't mean NASA, though those people certainly do exist, even if NASA sort of doesn't anymore. No, I'm talking about people who want to be Malcolm Reynolds. Or Bill Adama. Or Kathryn Janeway. Or Picard, or Kirk, or Sisko, or anyone who has ferried a ragtag crew of travellers through the perils of space, besieged from without and without by the kind of dangers that make your sexual organs crawl into your stomach for safety.
Star Trek Online, the MMO set in the Star Trek universe, is now free-to-play, and is astoundingly good. It's an underrated, vast and compelling title that expands on Trek lore in the most wonderfully generous way, has regular episodic content and, most importantly, absolutely nails space combat. Eve Online might be a terrifyingly vast, almost impenetrable morass of number crunching and stats, but it, too, provides a pretty marvellous spacefaring experience.
But FTL: Faster Than Light captures the danger, excitement and plate-spinning, nail-biting wonderment of a jaunt through space like no other game I've played in recent years. Developed by Subset Games and birthed thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, FTL looks like a crude little pixellated space sim (which it is), but it's so much more. The overall arc of the game is to perform faster than light jumps through space with an army of rebels hot on your heels, deliver a vital information packet to the Federation, and then challenge the Rebel flagship. Everything between those points is pure, glorious chaos.
The adventures you have in FTL are real adventures, albeit minimal ones; you'll perform rescues, be betrayed, fight and desperately maintain your ship as it threatens to fall apart, lose and gain treasured crew members, and die. You'll die a fair bit here. But fear not: you can unlock new ships, complete with different playstyles, loadouts and crews, and thanks to the randomly generated encounters in the game, no playthrough is the same.
It's a testament to the developers that FTL manages to capture the raw essence of adventure with such a charmingly minimal edifice; FTL looks so very, very simple, but space travel is, it turns out, an absolute bastard. In terms of pace, emotional investment and atmosphere, it's very similar to the superb and brutal board game Space Alert, in which yourself and a group of friends warp into a zone filled with enemies, frantically plan all your moves, jump back, and find out just how badly you all got boned. FTL is like a gorgeous, gleaming, chiptune-fuelled little single player version of this.
It's available right now on Steam for $9.99.