FTL: Advanced Edition
- Street Date:
- April 3rd, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Trevor Ruben
- Review Date:1
- April 11th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Subset Games
- Subset Games
PC version reviewed with a large focus on the new, free 'Advanced Edition' expansion. 'FTL: Advanced Edition' is also available for the iPad.
Hold your butts, faster than light travel just got better. Subset Games initially released 'FTL: Faster Than Light' in 2012 after a successful Kickstarter drive and immediately captured the attention of every 'Star Trek' dreamer with an eye for creative indie games. Would-be Jean-Luc Picards emerged from the shadows to lead their ship through space, cutting power to the life support and beaming crew members into harm's way in a quest to save the federation. 'FTL' is not your typical space-sim. The original game was a challenging roguelike from the top-down point of view, asking that you manage your crew members and ship's systems as you battled one enemy after another, each more difficult than the last. Progress-wiping death, as in any roguelike, is expected as you encounter a randomly generated assortment of enemies and events while you jump across space. You learn, maybe unlock a few things, and go again.
The 'Advanced Edition' layers on the additions, ranging from new ships, weapons, and augmentations to an entirely new species. With so much new content, it's important to recall the original's game balance, which while enormously challenging, towed a very careful line between acceptably difficult and downright frustrating. More important than simply packing in the goodies, the update needs to maintain that balance.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
After a solid runthrough of 'FTL,' win or lose, I generally find myself proud of the strategy I used. Before the 'Advanced Edition' update, it was a combination of crew teleportation and drone defense, or maybe the simple systematic employ of both missiles and lasers, which drove me deeper into the harrowing hardships of faster than light space travel. I can happily say that the new systems, the new ships and the even the new species in the update only further my potential for a prideful smile come my near inevitable destruction.
Here's a spin with new 'Advanced Edition' content enabled:
Approaching the endgame, the Rebel Flagship boss, I had equipped for my Stealth Cruiser a hacking system, a flak gun capable of spewing a ton of highly inaccurate scrap to take down shields, an ion bomb for zapping any enemy system into temporary neutralization, and some burst lasers for finite hull damage. My strategy was alarmingly complex, but also alarmingly effective. You see, I would attach a hacking drone to the ship's piloting system and then allow all of my weapons to completely charge up. Being a Stealth Cruiser, I allowed myself the vital time to do all of this by going invisible.
Eventually, activating the hack meant taking down the flagship's dodge chance to zero, which then guaranteed that both my ion bomb and flak weapons would strike down the shields completely, finally opening up the hull for the lasers. Of course, as any seasoned player will know, throwing in a teleporting crew to eradicate those pesky and devastating triple missile strikes didn't hurt, but I'm fully convinced of my own elaborate ingenuity and execution of the strategy. Even when the flagship threw a defense drone at my hacking system, I persevered, and was able to continue the attack.
But, of course, 'FTL' rarely goes that well. It's in the chaos that a true ship captain thrives. Venting out half the ship's oxygen to suffocate a fire, only to have the life support system go down, keeping the shields recharging fast enough to protect against an enemy ship and incoming asteroids while conserving drone parts, or making the jump to light and abandoning your boarding party on an enemy ship, it all continues to spell what 'FTL' means as a game. New events, some genuinely surprising and some just text, should satisfy those who still pay attention to that stuff. I tend to immediately categorize each ship, space station, etc. into threat or non-threat and go from there. I do, however, regret not consuming the context when a certain enemy ship made a surprise appearance.
All in all, this is still 'FTL,' buffed up and layered thick with new complexities that should give plenty of veterans a lot to take in. That there are new enemy variants as well, themselves packed with anything you might find for your own ship, basically doubles down on the expansion.
Alongside the new hacking system and the absolutely delightful flak weapons are a long list of goodies to play with. You've got mind control, a way to temporary turn an enemy crew member into a friendly (works great with teleport), charge weapons of a variety of projectile types that improve in one way or another after each charge (more shots, faster charge, etc.), and even some devastating and creative new drones. The Ion Intruder is a boarding drone only concerned with targeting systems instead of killing people. He's a wildcard.
One important note on the additions is that for the most part, the total amount of installed systems, drone types, weapons, etc. per ship remains the same. One can't simply add everything in the game, and some systems, like the clone bay, can only be had at the expense of another system, like the med bay.
Listing and describing every little change there is would take, at the very least, an encyclopedic rendering, so here's a full list directly from developer Subset Games. But I won't go without mentioning another wildly important addition.
The Lanius are the brand new species, and boy do they mix things up quite a bit. It didn't really hit me until I used the teleporter-equipped Lanius ship, but this species may very well eclipse the deadly Mantis fighters as the superior boarding crew. Here's why: they drain any room they're in of oxygen, forcing enemy crew members out of the room and allowing them to take down whatever system they want. Naturally I went for weapons. That's a very different, and arguably more advantageous tactic.
But the Lanius ship isn't the only new addition to the hangar. As a matter of fact, including those for the Lanius species, there are actually nine new ships. One new variant for each non-Crystal ship, and two for the newcomers. Naturally, these new variants focus on the 'Advanced Edition's' new systems in place. In particular, a lot of them use the clone bay instead of a healing deck, beckoning that you let your crew members die and be reborn, another wonderfully odd shakeup to the formula. I was a bit disappointed with the seemingly random mishmash of systems on some of these ships (the new Zoltan ship is a diabolical exception), as most of the variants from the vanilla code tended to encourage a very specific strategy as a starting point. These new ships are less clever this time around, but still make the game fresh from the word go.
My only significant disappointment with the update is the halfhearted improvement of The Last Stand, the final sector containing the boss. You're no longer forced to race the Rebel Flagship to your base anymore, as even if he gets there first you now have time to catch up. Still, the battle itself remains dramatically different than the preceding sectors' experience with joyous randomness cut out for the sake of the multi-phase battle. While he does have some of the new systems, nothing will ever beat a teleporter and a defense drone mark II combination as a methodical and relatively safe takedown. At the beginning of this review I mentioned an emergent strategy I used, but thus far I'm still underwhelmed with how pigeonholing the climax remains.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
What visual upgrades come to 'FTL' in the update aren't that of style or fidelity. It's never been a breathtakingly visual experience. Instead, Subset Games chose to pick out some pragmatic upgrades, such as icons used to represent fuel, drones and missiles on offer during any given event instead of text. The UI now actively lights up as crew members improve skills. The map screen has also seen some slight improvement, but nothing too drastic.
Most notably, crew sprites now vary in color, while the Lanius themselves bring a similar alien nobility as the mysterious Crystal species. Their ships are angular and futuristic, even in a game about space travel. Importantly, they fit, visually, into the 'FTL' universe while still feeling new.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Far more impactful than the slight visual alterations are the brand new tracks guiding you through 'FTL.' The four of them, to be exact, have been composed with the confidence of someone who knows this time around that people are going to listen, which is to say they come across with more personality and less subtlety. Ben Prunty is that composer, and he's continued to do a fine job of setting the stark and desperate tone of seemingly endless space.
The rest of the game's sound design remains as stout and usefully informing as ever, whether it is sucking sound or an oxygen depleting hull breach, or single pulse of ion weapon.
It's possible I've played 'FTL' more than any other game over the past two years, so for me to assess any part of it as less than infinitely replayable would merely be an attempt to reconcile a clear lack of sanity. More ships, more augmentations, more weapons, more, more, more – all stacked on a game built to be played and learned until your faculties are completely exhausted. Please someone save me. Or rather, leave me the hell alone until I destroy that flagship.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Not only is the 'Advanced Edition' content free for a game already packed with depth and achievement keyed unlockables (each new unlocked ship is a new reason to play), but it can be enabled or disabled at the beginning of each game, keeping the original version intact. I doubt I'll use it now, but it's good for peace of mind for such a beloved game. There's also a new hard mode for the hardest of core to take on. The Steam version's cloud sync is extremely useful for playing on multiple PCs both for resuming a midgame campaign, and for avoiding having to re-unlock everything multiple times.
The game hasn't been broken, only improved, and to improve upon something already so great is a multilayered achievement in itself. Subset Games throws this freebie at us like it's nothing (well, except as a possible way to promote the iPad version), and we should do nothing less than consume it.
'FTL' is one of the best Roguelikes among a small era of Roguelikes, a genre which in turn is meant to be played over and over again. Unfortunately, the 'Advanced Edition' hasn't availed my tragic ailment, and thus I remain thoroughly addicted. Everything new is a compounding of that addiction. I am forever lost in a quest to save the Federation.
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