Randomized brutality seems to be all the rage with indie games as of late. The iOS adaptation of the PC hit FTL: Faster Than Light takes the harsh elements of the sci-fi roguelike and brings them to touch platforms everywhere, allowing more gamers than ever before to relish in the feeling of having their spaceships repeatedly obliterated by a harsh, uncaring universe.
In FTL, you're the captain of a federation starship on the run from a vicious rebel alliance. During your adventures you'll make use of your highly customizable vessel, crew and equipment, jumping from waypoint to waypoint in the hopes of making it to the edges of the universe to find safety. After choosing a ship (all but one of which are locked out until you've played the game a bit), customizing your crew and selecting from several difficulty options, you're off to the dark reaches of space.
To safely survive you'll need to keep a steady supply of fuel, missiles and drones ready, keep an eye on your ship’s many systems to make sure you don't, say, run out of oxygen at an inopportune moment, and make crucial decisions about randomized events which occur. After one FTL jump you may encounter a derelict craft; you could board the new ship to discover a wealth of supplies, or a horde of insane, cannibalistic crew ready to eat your peeps right up. The choice of whether to board it or ignore it is yours. Each jump typically brings with it some sort of random event like that, and part of the fun of FTL is seeing how these choices play out during each new playthrough.
As should be evident by its rather in-depth tutorial, FTL's learning curve is quite steep. Tooltips and in-game information all explain things quite nicely, but there are so many things to learn that it takes a few go-throughs before you finally get the hang of things. Come in expecting to die quite a bit. Even on the easiest setting, FTL is no cakewalk; random events can cripple you or slaughter your crew, and combat ranges from challenging to near impossible. During the many ship-to-ship battles you'll engage in, you'll have a slew of tactical choices to make at any moment. Do you want to target the enemy ship's shields to make it easier to finish them off, or disable their drones so they can't cripple you? Or, if things are going badly, will you risk powering up your warp core to get the hell out of there? Combat may seem overwhelming, at first, but through a bit of trial-and-error you begin to get a better feel for things, and learn how to deal with different types of opponents. Like most roguelikes, half the fun of FTL is in failure.
Speaking of which, FTL's touch controls, while not entirely unsuccessful, aren't exactly a breeze to use, either. This game asks for many precise taps out of players, such as opening and closing doors to prevent oxygen loss/the spread of fires, or telling which of your crew members to be where during critical events. Things pause automatically once you begin doling out the more complex orders, but expect to mis-tap your commands constantly, which, thanks to this auto-pausing system, isn’t so much a hindrance as it is just mildly annoying.
FTL: Faster Than Light proved to be a hit on the PC, with its massive replayability, intelligently-designed gameplay and minimalist interface, and those same qualities are what make it a success on iOS as well. FTL may not be flashy, but for those who aren't too shallow to look past its appearance you'll find a uniquely challenging experience that slaps your hand away every time you reach for assistance, and makes you a stronger gamer for it.
This review is based on a downloaded copy of FTL: Faster Than Light for iOS.