Although it’s not a brand-new game, FTL: Faster Than Light ($10) has just been released for iPad by Subset Games. The winner of several awards and accolades, FTL is a space-based RPG that encourages quick thinking, and punishes failure. It’s the kind of game that allows players to get further and further as they put more time into it.
Once installed, FTL encourages going through a five-minute tutorial, which is a smart idea. With controls and information spread all along the top and bottom borders of the screen, this walkthrough does a good job of explaining what’s where, and how to play the game. Your task is to control a spaceship, viewed from a top-down perspective set against the expanse of space; this is the main action screen. You must hop from location to location, avoiding the rebels that are tailing you.
The gameplay is broken down into three levels. At the top is the sector map. Each time you start a game, you begin at the first sector, which is itself broken down into a number of nebulas. Your goal is to move from one end of the nebula to the exit at the other, stopping at beacons along the way. Once you reach an exit, you can advance to the next sector.
Whenever you land on a new beacon, you’ll be presented with one of many text-based encounters. Perhaps there’ll be blank space, and you can move on without any interactions. There might be an enemy ready to fight, a shop offering upgrades for your ship, a slave trader looking to sell you crew, or any number of other options. Sometimes you can choose what action you’d like to take, and your choice will have an effect on the result of the interaction. Every game is different, so the beacons will be laid out differently each time, and no two paths will ever be the same.
FTL is all about resource management and decision making. This is best exemplified when you approach an enemy combatant. Each ship has a certain amount of energy that can be allocated to weapons, shields, the engine, and other components of the ship. In addition, your crew can help bolster the strengths of the different areas. For example, having a crew member in the engine room will help recharge the engines faster, allowing for an escape if necessary. It’s up to you to determine the best course of action, the one that will allow you to not only survive, but move forward.
As you’re engaged in battle, different rooms in the ship may take damage, which will require your attention. The oxygen room may be hit, cutting off the air to the ship and slowly suffocating your crew. You’ll need to assign a crew member to fixing it, but that means you’ll need to talk him or her away from their task at hand. If the ship’s shields give out, or the crew dies, you lose the game and have to start all the way back at the beginning. That’s what the developers describe as “permadeath.” There’s no picking up where you died; you’re right back at the start.
FTL doesn’t necessary take advantage of the iPad’s graphics processing power. The game looks like something out of the 16-bit era, although the graphics are nice and sharp on the Retina display. Touch controls work well on a game like this, with tapping and sliding making a lot of sense. We wish it took further advantage of gestures though. For example, it would be great to be able to zoom in on the ship and its individuals rooms by pinching. There’s no real soundtrack to speak of, but rather, ambient space sounds and sci-fi sound effects.
You’re not going to beat FTL on your first try, or likely, on many of the subsequent attempts. But the further you get, the more abilities, ships, and weapons you’ll unlock, which will allow you to progress further into the game. We put several hours into testing the game, getting as far as the third or fourth sector. FTL can be frustrating at times, especially when you feel overwhelmed with all the different actions and your limited resources. That’s where the fun comes in though. If you die taking a certain approach, you can try a different one next time to see if it fares any better. For some, this may be too stressful and frustrating, but it can be truly rewarding when you get it right. FTL earns our strong recommendation for this reason; it’s simply going to be too much for some players. Serious strategists will really like it though, and will be happy to spend the $10.
iLounge Rating: B+