Space… That enormous, beautiful, uncharted territory filled with planets, stars, and everything in between. Now ever since I started watching Joss Whedon’s magnificent – yet short lived – Firefly, I was aching for something to deliver a similar experience in an interactive way. This review is just about that.
Faster Than Light is Subset Games’ first entry in the gaming market, drawing inspirations from the likes of Firefly and Star Trek. If either of those names trigger your geek senses, you’ll absolutely adore Faster Than Light. Now without me going on and on about how amazing the game is (because trust me, no friend of mine has not heard me blab over how awesome this game is for at least a half an hour) I’ll cut to the chase. Err… Pun not intended.
The game is a rogue like space exploration that is mostly text based, yet retains certain elements of game-play lest it be classified as an Oregon Trail like game, which it isn’t, but draws from the same formula. Initially you have only one ship to captain, The Kestrel. You can customize your crew before you start the game, and by customize I mean give them names and choose whether they are male or female, nothing more than that, though it should be noted that due to the minimalist nature of the game’s visuals, more customization would have been redundant.
You start out in a point in space where you use your faster than light systems to jump between points, and subsequently sectors of space, each sector inhabited by a different species of life form, or simply uncharted nebulae. You are followed by the Rebels that want to bring you down, and each jump through space points move the Rebels closer to you, so you need to plan out your path carefully in order to get the most out of the sector you’re in, and avoid a confrontation with the Rebels. Each point you arrive to will either have a random event that can reward, harm, or absolutely do nothing to you, or you can find a pirate ship that you usually will be forced to fight.
Battle in Faster Than Light consists of resource management more than anything, actually the entire game emphasizes on resource management, but in battle you may use missiles and drones, both can be acquired by either destroying ships or buying them at the store you may find while traveling. Another aspect of resource management during battle is your energy level, systems need energy to run and your ship is no exception, your weaponry need energy to fire and depending on the type of weaponry, they may need either missiles or drones as mentioned earlier. Speaking about weapon types, there is absolutely no shortage of that in Faster Than Light, you have your laser based and beam based weapons that consume no other resources than the energy allocated to them, yet have no shield penetration properties, and beams can’t even destroy shields at all, bar the Zoltan shield which I’ll get to in a while. You have your missiles that can penetrate shields, mines, EMP based weapons that do no damage but they’re useful at disabling systems and shields temporarily. There’s also fire weapons that can cause, well, fires. Then you have the drones which vary from the defensive drones that hover around your own ship to ward off missiles and lasers to repair drones, in-ship attack drones, and attack drones that hover around your enemy dealing damage to them. The idea of battle in Faster Than Light is simple, you hit fast and you hit hard until the enemy is destroyed, or in some other cases, beg for mercy and offer you a little something something to let them go, it’s then up to you to either destroy them like the scum of the universe that they are, or let them live another day. Both scenarios will net you some loot consisting usually of Scrap which you use to upgrade your ship, fuel, missiles, and/or drone parts, you can also sometimes get weapons or systems from destroying an enemy.
Random Events play a big role in the world of Faster Than Light, you can be cruising around in deep space, minding your own business, and then you get a distress call from someone nearby. More often than not, it’s usually someone in need of help, whether to be escorted, to be aided with some fuel, or to be rescued from a pirate ship attacking them, and usually you get rewarded for your efforts, sometimes though it ends up being an ambush or a decaying signal that someone left before getting destroyed in the deep emptiness of space. Sometimes a random event like such can trigger a mission, successfully completing it can unlock another ship to use. Other times, particularly when cruising through nebulae, you can encounter a plasma storm which eliminates most of your energy, or an asteroid belt which can do constant damage to your hull if you don’t have a good enough shield.
Your ship can also be upgraded in means of adding more energy to use more weapons/drones to upgrading your systems so you can dodge better, have a more dense shield, have more weapons, or even heal quicker, among a slew of other upgrades. Though your ship menu isn’t the only means of upgrading, you can usually find upgrades in shops scattered around space, ranging from extra weapons to more systems that you can install, to extra crew you can hire with each specie bringing something different to the table. The Mantis for instance has the highest attack attribute, making said species the best for warding off intruders, Rockmen are immune to fire, and the Zoltans offer extra energy to whichever system they’re working.
Faster Than Light’s single game session can be over in anything between 5 minutes to an hour and a half, maybe even more, if you’re destroyed, that’s it, you’re done, you have to start over and change your strategy to try and reach further into space, or you can try not to answer as many distress calls, or try to fly under the radar as much as you can. Whichever way you try to play the game you’ll come to the conclusion that the game is hard, even on the easy difficulty. The game demands a lot of risk taking and strategic planning in order to make it further than your earlier efforts. However this in no way hinders the experience, on the contrary, if anything it makes it all the more engaging.
The game features very simplistic visuals and not much in the way of animation except for the flying missile or laser beam. That however gives the game its charm, keeping things in perspective, while you may die a hundred times before reaching a good point in space, the colorful visuals and minimalist animations will keep you coming back for more, along with the splendid soundtrack which I will discuss right now.
To say Faster Than Light excels in the soundtrack department would be an understatement, the game’s 8 bit soundtrack compliments the visuals and the theme of the game perfectly, giving you a level of immersion that is truly amazing. Sound effects in the game are also good, keeping true to the entire theme of the game.
Due to the nature of the game it has a very high replay-ability value, you will die, a lot, and you’ll restart the game. The list of ships available only encourage you to try them out, changing your play style drastically with each ship.
Faster Than Light is nothing less than an astounding take on the space exploration genre that both entertains and offers a nostalgic value because of the visuals and the loved shows the game draws inspiration from. As final words, allow me to quote Firefly’s Wash:
I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar.
(Review written by: Pierre J. Iskandar)