So I picked up FTL on Steam (as of this moment, it’s on sale! Nine bucks!) on the strength of a couple of reviews (yes, that latter review is from Ben Kuchera, the guy who not only said that he enjoyed the Mass Effect 3 ending (no accounting for┬átaste, after all) but went on to┬ásay that I should have enjoyed it… but I paid attention to his review of gameplay rather than story/theme). (“Jaybird, are you still bitter about Mass Effect 3?” “Lemme check… yep.”)

I digress. I picked up FTL on Steam.

I’ve spent three hours with it. Maybe four. First off, let me just say that this game is not particularly spoilable. The plot, such as it is, is fairly straightforward. You’re a crew of three on a fairly small standard ship. You’ve got the usual rooms on the ship: engines, shields, weapons, life support, piloting, medical. Shields protect against lazers but not missiles, but lazers are unlimited and you have to buy more missiles to shoot more missiles. You’ve got the usual mission: you’re part of the federation and you’ve got to get a message from hither to yon. All you have to do is get from here… to there. Easy peasy, right?

Well, it’s a Roguelike. That is to say: randomly generated maps, no saved games, brutal learning curve, and nothing is ever as simple as it appears. You never have enough currency, you always feel in want of repairs, you’re constantly looking at how quickly your oxygen levels count down and how slowly your weapons charge up, how your engines never seem to generate enough power to generate your shields *AND* power your lazers *AND* keep life support running, how you only have this much fuel left or this many missiles left or this many crew left and the Federation is never around when you need them.

It’s inventory management, and dice rolling (for example, you never know whether the distress beacon you respond to will be a ship that will totally reward you for helping or a pirate who will make you wish you had just minded your own business) and minimalist storytelling that paints more compelling stories with a few sentences than I’ve seen in most of the full motion video graphics from some of the more cutting edge games. (You go down to the moon and find a crashed ship with a single survivor who has obviously been here years… he seems healthy but his mental state is off. Do you ask him on board your ship?)

The difficulty is, as I’ve said, high. You’re going to die the first twenty times you play (even on easy). The first fifty. You’re going to get to the fourth star system and then help a merchant because you’re running low on fuel and you’re going to end up dead. Or you’re going to be riding high after helping a bunch of merchants and get in a fight with some slavers and end up dead. Or you’re just going to be caught by the rebels and end up dead.

And then you’ll say “well, just one more try. I think I’m getting the hang of it this time.”


Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com


  1. What, you finally decided to start using Steam?

    See, this sounds like my kind of game.

  2. Oh, man, that’s the sort of horror that I’ll dive into and never come out.

  3. I thought about buying FTL, but then I thought about Dwarf Fortress…and woke up hours later mewling in a closet. Have you played Dwarf Fortress? If not, I wouldn’t wish it on you, but you might be interested nonetheless. If so, how does FTL compare in difficulty?

    • Now, I’ve not played Dwarf Fortress but the big comparison people make when they talk about FTL is the Kobayashi Maru.

      Which isn’t a good sign.

      But FTL does have a handful of people out there who claim to have beaten the game. So it may be worse than that… it’s the Kobayashi Maru except there are people out there who talk about how they’ve beaten it.

  4. I am not sure how many times I would like to ram my head against the Kobayashi Maru. It might be fun a couple of time, but then I would like to move on to something I can win.

      • I am well acquainted with that thing (which is generally when I find that someone has teleported into my ship and started killin’ my dudez).

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