Released alongside the Advanced Edition on PC and Mac, the iPad version of FTL: Faster Than Light includes all of the updates and improvements found in the new-look version launched on home computers. There's plenty of tweaks and adjustments, and that's on top of a selection of new scenarios and content that breathes freshness into what was already a good game. We really liked FTL before, but thanks to the changes made by Subset Games, now we absolutely love it.
For those who're blissfully unaware of what FTL is, it's a roguelike RPG space adventure that brilliantly facilitates the starship captain fantasy. You jump through systems, stumbling upon random encounters, battling enemies via tactical fire fights, developing your ship and expanding your crew. The narrative that underpins this plethora of random and unexpected events is a do or die mission; the Federation is under threat and you have information vital to its survival that must be taken across eight increasingly dangerous sectors.
There's two versions of the game now, so first we'll cover the functionality of the iPad version, and examine how the game manages the transition from monitor to tablet. Then we'll move forward to the new content that appears across both versions.
Jump to Tablet
Those already fluent in the systems of FTL will take to the iPad version like a duck to water, so to speak. It's an intuitive adaptation that makes the most of the iPad's touch screen. We played on an iPad Mini and, despite the smaller screen size, it didn't feel too small or tricky to issue commands. None of our deaths were down to troubles with the interface (as before, our deaths are usually linked to a distinct lack of oxygen).
Tapping on one of the systems - the weapons were the ones most often used - brings up more information and allows you to easily access subsystems (in this case, different weapons). Swiping across a subsystem reveals more specific details, such such as damage and effect. When you do get into battles with other ships - which, let's face it, happens all the time - tapping on either your ship or your opponent's highlights the craft and allows you to more easily identify what's going on and what needs to be done. It's very intuitive, and if there's any doubt as to how to navigate the touch-screen menus, there's a handy tutorial that will ease in new players and veterans alike.
As before, each ship has different strengths and weaknesses, and each model (you unlock new vessels the further you get with each) comes with different weapons and systems. Different ships require changing tactics, but one universal truth is the requirement to closely monitor what's happening in battle, tweaking and adjusting settings to suit each exchange. Another necessity is to make sure you upgrade as often as possible when the opportunity arises. There's four resources that can be collected during your journey: fuel, missiles, drone parts, and scrap. Scrap is both currency and the means of upgrading and improving your ship. You can either spend it on crew, parts or repairs at the many stores dotted across the galaxy, or you can use it to directly improve your ship's systems and energy output.
Each turn sees you drop into a new random encounter. Sometimes there's nothing there and there's not much to do but make another jump, other times you'll hop into a battle next to a burning sun, forced to dance with rockets while solar flares scorch the hull of your ship. The key thing is you never know what you're going to get, and so you must prepare for every possible outcome as best you can. Fighting other ships doesn't look glamorous, it's more strategy and tactics than action, but there's layers of depth that only become apparent after many hours of play, with different weapons fulfilling different roles, and shield strength often settling a battle.
During conflict your crew - initially just three members - scurries around at your behest. They can repair damage to individual systems mid-battle, but they can't fix hull damage; that needs to be done at a store. As you explore further, inevitably you'll find more crew members to help you, and these new characters (that you can now name both before you start and mid-game) can be assigned to specific stations on your ship, in the process buffing the abilities of your weapon systems and shields and whatnot.
The Advanced Edition includes new content that can be enabled for both versions of the game (you can, if you want, still play the game as it was when released in 2012). All areas have gently swollen, adding longevity and variety to the mix via new systems, events, and features.
There's a new sector that appears in the map, and a selection of new events to experience as you make your way across the galaxy. The content has been written by Tom Jubert (The Swapper) and Chris Avellone (Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2), and it maintains the level of quality that was already present. The pair have added a series of new events that have been sprinkled throughout the game, in the process offering a deeper narrative well for the game to draw from.
There's a brand new sector, called the ‘Abandoned Sector' and it plays host to the new species that's been thrown into the mix. The Lanius are, for us at least, particularly difficult enemies to tackle thanks to their propensity to sap oxygen from their opponents during battle. They've got new ships to battle that require a tactical shift, and they've got a distinct aesthetic that sits nicely within the range of different species already in the game. Lanius craft are also playable and among several new unlockable ship layouts.
On top of the new content that's waiting to be discovered, there's also new systems for the player to take advantage of. Mind control and hacking are now viable tactical options (for your opponents as well), allowing players to affect their opponent vessels/crews in new ways. There's also a new clone bay, which replaces the medbay in your ship, and instead of healing your characters it just replicates them if they die during combat (though not, as we discovered, if they all die at the same time). Adding each and any of these systems requires a tactical rethink, and necessitates a slight change of approach.
There's more changes than just the major systems mentioned above, and many of these are subtle improvements, the virtue of which may only become apparent after several hours of play. You can now assign your crew to specific rooms and send them there via a hotkey command (very handy if you're boarded by an enemy and need to move your crew to intercept before sending them back to their stations to better deal with a battle raging out in space). There's a hard mode for masochists. When making a jump you can select a planet and see what other planets it's linked to and so better plan your path through a sector. The new music by Ben Prunty is wonderful.
They're all subtle changes and additions, but they do really bolster the overall quality of the package. The fact that the content is free if you've already got the PC version is just the icing on the cake. When most big studios would happily charge half the full retail price for an upgrade of this sort, it's a classy move by Subset Games to give this content to existing players for free.
The iPad version is equally successful. FTL absolutely makes the transition to the tablet, and nobody should be put off by the premium price point; just because this isn't a couple of (insert currency here) doesn't mean that it isn't worth your time and money. On the contrary, it's an outstanding game that's well worth the price of admission. It plays great on tablet (though you need iPad 2 or better), and if you don't have an iPad it'll be on Android and touch-screen PCs sooner or later, though it's not heading to smartphones.
When we first reviewed FTL: Faster Than Light, we complimented it (actually, it was a bit of a gushy love letter) but noted that there was room for it to grow. The Advanced Edition represents a jump forward, and with that expansion it finally feels like the complete experience. If you've already got a copy, fire it up and give it another go. If you've never played it before, download with confidence.