Finally, it’s time to scream, “Divert power to the shields” at your monitor again! Subset Games, the makers of FTL: Faster Than Light, released their Advanced Edition update on April 3. Free to all current and future owners of the game, the update adds new weapons, new systems, a new race, and new ships and layouts to the rogue-like combat game. It is essentially a reboot, providing incentive to replay old ships and races to unlock new ones, and adding new play styles to the tried-and-true.
The basic premise of FTL remains unchanged in the update. You are the commander of a Federation vessel that has just stolen vital intelligence for the war effort. You must return to the Federation base before being caught by the rebel scum and win the war. Along the way, you’re confronted with pirates and all manner of aliens, both friendly and hostile. Each system presents you with a dialogue of what is occurring and occasionally you’re given roleplay-style choices as to how to proceed. Sometimes stealth is the way to go, and sometimes it’s better to blast your way through.
For returning players, the Advanced Edition is a breath of fresh air into a game we’ve played, raged at, and come back to time and time again. It comes with a new Hard difficulty, complete with bare-bones scrap rewards, that offers a challenge to those who dare to say they had gotten good at this game. You can man doors and sensors, rename and customize your crew mid-game to keep them straight, and save their manned stations for a quick return post-battle.
The update embraces the game’s rogue-like roots with its addition of the Hacking, Mind Control, Clone Bay and Backup Battery systems. Hacking allows you to confer negative affects on the enemy ship, like draining its shields or forcing its boarding party to leave your ship, while Mind Control can force an enemy unit to attack his own crew or even repair your systems. Each is powerful on their own, but when used together the combination is priceless. I laughed with glee as I was able to force a twin Mantid assault team to return back to their ship and then mind controlled them into destroying the teleporter. The only downside is that you cannot give orders to the mind controlled—the AI takes care of that, but nearly always sends the unit to an important system to destroy or repair it.
The Clone Bay replaces the Medical Bay, and instead of healing crew inside of it, acts as a protection against untimely crew member demise. When a crew member dies in combat or as a result of story events, it is revived in the clone bay, for a small penalty in a skill. In addition, it heals the whole crew a small amount per jump, which can be upgraded by giving it more power, of course. While I missed being able to pitch battles inside the Med Bay, healing my crew while killing off intruders, the ability to recover from silly deaths to well-placed meteors or spider attacks kept me playing the game, and not rage quitting when my level two shield booster suddenly died while trying to help innocent civilians.
For new players, the Advanced Edition comes with a bunch of interface improvements that experienced players can appreciate as well. When buying crew members at a store, you can now see exactly the skills they excel in, rather than having to decrypt RP-style descriptions. Story dialogue boxes have a clearer visual representation of the costs and bonuses involved, and some additional writing allows for more powerful rewards, like boosts to your ship’s reactor.
But what about the new races and ships, you ask? The update introduces us to the Lanius, a race of metal beings who do not need oxygen to survive, and actually drain oxygen from the room they are in. While not a very good skill offensively, it does help to have some Lanius to suffocate a boarding party, especially when your ship comes equipped with a Clone Bay waiting to revive them if they die in combat. Every ship, save the Lanius and Crystal ships, come with a new “layout C” that you can unlock by getting to sector 8 with the B layout and Advanced mode turned on.
As if that wasn’t enough, FTL: Advanced Edition also brings every single one of these features to iOS, with an iPad version released simultaneously with the PC expansion. After a couple quick games, the touch controls are spot-on, allowing you to send your crew quickly and accurately as well as divert power from system to system in the heat of battle, using a sliding mechanism that makes you feel like Commander Data. Subset Games offering a full mobile version of FTL alongside the PC version is commendable, and it is clear they took the time to redesign for the platform, not make a tap-capable port for more money.
Such an expansive update in a game focused in no small part on maximizing the value you get out of every jump and salvaged piece of scrap is going to make waves. In later sectors, having enemies mind controlling your crew, hacking your systems, and teleporting aboard while you do the same to them gets hectic. I had all of this happen in the middle of an asteroid field, and trying to determine who was under my control and who was the enemy was difficult, as the mind control indicator is small and red, which blends in with health bars. But Subset anticipated this, and allowed the new edition to be toggled on or off at will at the beginning of the game. So I turned it off, readjusted to playing FTL again, and turned it back on when I was ready for the madness to re-ensue.
In the end, FTL: Advanced Edition is way more than we deserve for its price, which is zero dollars. Whether you're overcharging the new time-based weapons to fire volleys of five lasers into the enemy hull, mind controlling them to kill one another, or silently suffocating all who dare to trespass aboard your vessel, you're guaranteed to play this game in a way you've never done before.