You are a Federation ship (no, not that Federation) running from the rebels with some vital information that can put a stop to the rebels once and for all. The rebels are pursuing you, hoping to catch you before you can make it into friendly space. Your ship will have random encounters as you flee from point-to-point across the sectors of explored and unexplored space. You need to stay ahead of the rebels, but you also need fuel for the light speed jumps, ammo to keep your missile silos ready for action, and scrap to pay for them. Which means you can’t just take the most linear route across the sector and be safe. Well you can, but you may pay for it in the next sector at the hands of a ship full of pirates or hostile aliens that you’re not prepared enough to take on.
FTL is a resource management style game with combat thrown in on top. It’s also of the philosophy that death is a dish best served on the permanent scale, so once your hull’s been breached or your crew snuffed out by mantis-like aliens, then you get to start again from the beginning. You have five regular systems (shields, engines, oxygen, weapons, medbay) and three subsystems (piloting, sensors, doors) to keep track of and repair if needed when an enemy ship attacks you. Some of the systems have cool abilities, like the doors. If your ship’s on fire, (and it will be at some point, I assure you) then you can open the hull doors and let the oxygen out of the room, thereby stopping the fire. Forget to shut the doors, and your ship will soon lose all its oxygen and your crew will die. Other systems, when manned by crew, give the ship small bonuses. And you want every bonus you can get in this game. Combat is fairly fast paced, you fire lasers and missiles until the other ship’s destroyed or so damaged they surrender and give you some loot for not killing them. There are plenty of upgrades available both on the ship and through traders at stores located in each sector. Sometimes there’s one and sometimes there’s more, but all of them have a random assortment of equipment or crew as well as the standard refills of missile and fuel and a hull repair station. It would be nice, actually if the equipment found there wasn’t quite so random. I found on a few occasions, upgrades for things my ship didn’t have at the time (like a cloaking device) which was annoying because that item was taking the place of something I might have been able to use.
FTL definitely captures the feel of being a ship fleeing across the galaxy by its random encounters at each point. You never know what you’ll find when you go from one spot to another, it might be someone you can help, or it might be pirates waiting to take your ship. The only thing you can be sure of, is that if you spend too much time in one sector, then the rebel fleet will eventually not be too far behind you. Ship-to-ship combat is straightforward, you fire missiles or lasers to take out the other ship. You can target specific systems on each ship to knock out weapons so they can’t fire back, or engines so they can’t run away. The enemy can likewise target sections of your ship, which results in fires that need to be extinguished by the crew or by opening the airlock and letting the air out. One aspect of combat I wasn’t a fan of was getting boarded by the enemy, because the crew is pretty ineffective at hand-to-hand, which means unless you outnumber the enemy, they’ll wipe you out fairly quickly. I did find that alien races tended to survive combat a bit better than the humans, but getting one for you crew is a matter of luck.
Perma-death kind of blunts the fun of FTL a little, especially if you’re near the end of the game, but FTL is very very addictive, so dying won’t really bother you too much because you’ll be too busy starting over so you can see what happens this time. This is not an easy game, even on the level that’s supposed to be less difficult. I found though, that if you start with the upgrades you can do yourself on the ship that I tended to live a little bit longer because my ship was able to withstand that much more punishment than it had been at the beginning. Part of the fun of this game is finding a modification of the ship that makes it stronger, and then building on that the next time around and hoping to gain something that makes your run a whole lot easier, like a really big laser.
FTL is available for PC on Steam.