Here’s a fun experiment: wade into any random group of videogame fans, bring up FTL: Faster Than Light, and time how long it takes for the groaning to subside! Once you start playing, it’s not difficult to see why. Much like space itself, FTL is cold and unforgiving. But the taste of more content or an ultimate victory hidden behind just one more run is just too beguiling to resist. It’s a bewitching game; exacerbated twofold by FTL’s free ‘Advanced Edition’ expansion and its recent iPad port.
By this point, it feels like everyone with an interest in FTL has already given that game its due, but I feel like I should give it a once-over for clarity’s sake. In FTL, your scrappy little starfighter is the last hope for a Federation of some kind. A nefarious group of Rebels have wounded them, and you’ve got the information necessary to beat the Rebel Flagship and bring an end to this galactic conflict. But the Federation base is eight (increasingly difficult) sectors away, and the Rebel Fleet is always one step behind.
Your ship is outfitted with a series of different systems, each of which play a crucial role in your survival. For example, there’s an engine room that — when fully upgraded and powered — greatly increases your dodge chances. You only have so many power bars, and the upgrade currency (known as “scrap”) is universal. The difficult choice between a shiny new weapon (so you can blow through that next hostile sector) or increased shielding (for surviving that next hostile sector) is one I’m all too familiar with.
Each sector has several beacons you can “jump” to, and each jump requires fuel. Unless you have a certain perk installed, there’s no way of knowing exactly what you’ll find after a jump. Could be a Rebel ship hiding in an asteroid belt, a hostile boarding party, a quest, or a paragraph’s worth of flavor text. There are loads of random events, with different outcomes every time. So you could get some extra scrap from an alien sleep study, or they could invade your ship and blow up everything you have.
FTL: Advanced Edition doesn’t necessarily change any of these core dynamics. There’s brand new stuff to play around with, but it all gels with the existing systems well enough. If anything, Advanced Edition makes the game a little easier.
In terms of systems, players now have access to Hacking, Cloning, Mind Control, and Backup Battery. Hacking disables an enemy system for a short period, Cloning will resurrect dead crew members, Mind Control can force an enemy to fight on your side, and Backup Battery gives you some extra power bars for your systems. There are new weapons, like a Flak cannon that cuts right through shields, and a whole new race, the Lanius.
Thankfully, most of the new additions have their own risk-reward aspect, especially the ones that sound gamebreaking on the surface. For example, Cloning has a fairly high cooldown, and clones don’t have any of the skills their predecessor might have learned. Flak weapons can only be generally aimed, hitting their exact target about 50% of the time, and Lanius literally suck the oxygen from any room they’re in. Backup Battery and Hacking can help make short work of a foe, but they take power and scrap away from other systems that might be more integral to your strategy.
The new random events are fun enough, and it’s nice to see talking things out is more of an option, but it’s the small things that make Advanced Edition really worth a look for returning fans. When choosing a beacon to jump to, the game shows you where you can jump to after choosing that beacon. This completely takes out the guesswork from the previous version of the game, and helps prevent some unwanted Rebel conflicts. Unlocking new ships is also…somewhat easier. If you beat the game with a particular ship, you unlock the next one on the list. Of course, you can always do by crossing your fingers and hoping you find the necessary random event. Hey, I did say “somewhat easier.” You can turn off the Advanced Edition content if you wish to play vanilla FTL, but I don’t know that I’d ever want to do that.
It’s hard to not be legitimately impressed with this free expansion, especially the iPad version. FTL’s transition to tablets has been mostly seamless, even if the touch controls do take some getting used to. It’s also a little difficult to aim beam weapons. Take it from me: use the actual ‘pause’ button instead of relying on auto-pause. Otherwise, you’re stuck with any mistakes you might have made.
But once you get the hang of playing FTL on your tablet of choice, it’s obviously the same experience we all fell in love with. The port’s only real hangup lies not in any inherent flaw, but in the fact that you literally have to start over from the beginning. So that Zoltan ship I’ve gotten used to is no longer available, and I’ve got to plug away at the Flagship with the default cruiser. Again.
If you play FTL often, like I do, maybe you’ll be fine waiting on the tablet port until you’ve got a long plane ride or something. Unless you’ve got the jones for all FTL, all the time, in which case you should absolutely drop the $10. Purchasing Advanced Edition is something of a moot point; if you own the game, well, you’ve already got the expansion. But it’s still absolutely worth playing, even if you swore off FTL a couple years ago. Maybe this is the run where you finally beat the Rebels.
Look, I keep talking about how much I love FTL, but it’s difficult to pin down exactly what about it works so well. The writing is atmospheric and flavorful, the music is spectacular, there’s something ridiculously satisfying about tearing a ship to pieces, you could point to any of these things. That’s not why I love it. FTL is a masterful example of interactive storytelling: this is the story of your ship. It has a beginning, a middle, and a (usually unfortunate) end. It’s not the most immersive space sim ever created, but that’s because it doesn’t have to be.
Find The Love
If you haven't yet discovered why FTL is such a fantastic game, the Advanced Edition is an excellent place to start.