Review: FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL: Faster Than Light deals with dueling ships in space, as well as a variety of side quests that tests the players own morality and critical thinking skills. Photo courtesy of

FTL: Faster Than Light deals with dueling ships in space, as well as a variety of side quests that tests the player’s own morality and critical thinking skills. Photo courtesy of

Justin Farris

It came down to a duel in the end. This was no paltry standoff of two brazen cowboys with a blatant disregard for their own lives fighting over petty personal rivalries. No, it was much bigger than that. Just two ships. One, an old Kestrel scrambled for service, bearing the scars of fighting its way across the galaxy to deliver news of its opponent- the rebel flagship. Two, the rebel flagship, a titanic monster with a giant crew, powerful AI, experimental weaponry and enough firepower to spill the guts of anything that so much as glanced its way. The little Kestrel ship, running its reactor hot, unpainted armor plates covering old wounds and bristling with the deadliest weapons scavenged from a hundred life or death battles, was facing down a behemoth as space burned around them. 

This was the duel. 

This was the Last Stand. 

Welcome to FTL: Faster Than Light. You are the captain of a Federation ship, trusted with data vital to the war effort- the knowledge of a rebel flagship that threatens to drive the final nail into the Federation’s coffin. For all intents and purposes, the Federation has already lost the war. The Rebels, a group of human supremacists bent on bringing the Federation to its knees, have taken most of the galaxy and begun placing nonhumans into concentration camps. There is but one final hope for the Federation: you. If you can make it across seven full sectors, you will arrive at the Federation stronghold, where a last ditch defense makes ready to face the Rebel fleet. 

This is the plot of FTL. You start with a simple ship. No glaring weaknesses, no outstanding strengths. You need to get to the other side of the galaxy in one piece and it quickly becomes apparent that the trip won’t be easy. When you first jump into FTL, you will likely die a lot. The game is in a top down view and you target specific rooms on the enemy ship with your weapons in combat. Pick the wrong targets and you’ll get torn to pieces; however, if you do manage to pull out the other side, you’ll likely be rewarded with scrap.

Scrap is currency in FTL and you want as much as you can get. It’s used to buy crew and weapons at stores, repair your ship and upgrade systems (like better engines for dodge chance or better weapons so you can have more operational firepower). In addition, your ship has a reactor in it and you can’t power more stuff on the ship than your reactor has spare juice. So throughout the game, you’ll need to upgrade your reactor with said scrap if you actually want to use any fancy ship upgrades. There are multiple conflicts and tasks at hand, making for an incredibly stimulating situation. 

It doesn’t end there either. FTL is a strategic game. You’ll need to think about what systems and weapons to use, how much scrap you can afford to spend and when to repair your ship or leave it damaged so you can use the money elsewhere. In combat, you need to look at your enemy and prioritize targets. Are they dealing damage with weapons or drones? Are they dodging shots too often? Are their shields stopping too much damage? These questions are crucial not only to winning fights, but knowing when to run. Sometimes in FTL, the only way to get out alive is to jump away as fast as possible. 

Now, the rebel fleet approaching the Federation’s last base is not just cosmetic or a piece of the story. It’s a very real part of the game. The rebel fleet is on your heels and if you take too long exploring, they will catch you. Get caught and you’ll have to fight a rebel ace while other ships fire long range anti-ship batteries at you. You might walk away from one of these fights, maybe even two, but don’t bank on it. If you find yourself trapped deep in rebel territory, all you can do is keep running and pray. You are on the back foot and you have a time limit, so make the most of every jump you get.

In addition, FTL is not just a combat game. There are random events that can occur whenever you jump to a new location. Terraforming crews ask for help, then proceed with their mission after it’s discovered they’ll eradicate a planet’s wildlife. Pirates trapped in an asteroid field due to illegal mining. A lab fire burning down a space station. I’ll give you one warning: giant alien spiders are no joke. Some of these events can also give you scrap or random rewards and a select few are pretty unique. These side quests can give you special crew members and permanently unlock new ships to play the game with. It makes for a more freeform experience. 

At the end of the day, FTL also has an interesting relationship with violence and morality. When you encounter the rebels, they almost unswervingly give you no recourse. They shoot on sight. You are acting in self-defense and protecting your lives, your government and the freedom of every alien species. However, the waters can get a bit muddier. 

Let’s consider pirates. They kill and steal and pillage. It would be a safer galaxy without them, but what if they’re trapped in an asteroid field after trying to mine illegally? Practically sitting ducks to take out, all it takes is a few shots. Does the fact that they’re pirates make it ok to kill them when they’re defenseless and not actively hurting anyone? What about smugglers? They run dangerous drugs and weapons. They could be working with the Rebels. This train of thought continues up to the point of choosing whether to take a bribe to stay out of it as pirates blow up a civilian ship. What will you do? There’s no clear moral answer to some of these questions. What there is, is money to be made. You earn a lot more scrap by killing as many ships as you can. But, are you willing to do that? To leave a trail of twisted, burning space hulks behind you, refuse the enemy terms of surrender over and over for a few more scrap? Are you willing to become the monster the Rebels claim you to be? Is there any other way to survive?

If you can survive everything the galaxy has to offer, eventually you’ll come to face the Rebel flagship. The rest of the Federation fleet is already engaged and ironically, after your trek across the galaxy, you’re probably one of the best equipped ships remaining in the Federation. So the ship that heralded the arrival of the end is the one to face it. Your little ship, your tiny crew, held together by scrap and tape and hope, faces a monster you have no right to beat. 

You die. The flagship is a monster, its weapons devastating, its shields deflecting all but the strongest volleys, its cloaking allowing it to turn invisible and return with a blistering hail of lasers and missiles and death. But there’s still one hope (for the next game, that is). Though it seemed insurmountable, you did something remarkable. You managed to hit it.

So you come back over and over. The slugfest is brutal. First two, then three, then five heroic crews floating cold in the vacuum of space until finally, after three long, bloody rounds in the ring, it happens. Your weapons are on fire, the shields are destroyed, the engine room has a breach directly into space and your captain is the last living crew member. The Flagship whines as its reactor overcharges again, preparing to finish you. You have one laser weapon left and the Flagship’s shields are down. You take the shot. 

Three bursts of light. Still so small, so insignificant to the sheer scale of the ship in front of you, even after both of its sides have been shorn off, twisted metal jutting out like the ship was hacked at with a giant rusty saw. Something finally gives. The first shot slams into the flagship’s cockpit, finally shattering the beaten glass of the bridge window. The second pierces straight through the rebel captain and the blast door behind him. The third finds the shield generators just behind the door, barely holding together as machines spark. The last laser hits a power cell and the flagship is torn apart in a brilliant explosion. 

The captain smiles as she holds one hand to the gaping slash through her torso and raises the other in salute. Fire spreads through the ship. She feels lightheaded. Her crew is dead, but they did it. She smiles bitterly. A shame none of them would live to see it. She reaches for the comms and sends out her last transmission. “Federation High Command, scratch one flagship.” Her voice is fading fast. 

She looks out at the battle raging around her. It was close. The news of the flagship’s fall would turn the battle in the Federation’s favor. They’d win. They’d better, or she was going to haunt every last survivor. “Captain Janus, signing off.” Her voice trails into a near delirious whisper as she slumps on the command console. She remembers the words of the base commander as they peeled their ship out of a dockyard mere days before the rebel fleet caught up, the old commander knowing he was a dead man walking. “Would the last one out… please get the light.” Her eyes drift closed.

Welcome to FTL.