BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
Indie games have been growing in popularity for the last few years, for the simple reason that for a few bucks players can have a few hours enjoyment. Despite the expectation of low quality, most people are surprised by some innovative and challenging gameplay and sometimes even impressive graphics (which generally account of a large part of a game's budget). Faster Than Light is an indie game that really focuses on polish and gameplay more than anything else, and players will easily turn out dozens of hours' worth of fun for the insignificant $10 asking price (and half that during Steam sales and such).
Attributing a genre to this game is difficult: it's certainly sci-fi as players man a spaceship that needs cross the galaxy to warn their nation about the weak points of a rebel flagship. Gameplay-wise, players control a ship and its crew. The ship has a number of stations (engine, guns, shields...) that can be manned to increase their effectiveness. Each spaceship compartment has doors that can be opened to vent the oxygen in case of fire or intruders, and each station can be damaged by enemy weapons (rendering the corresponding machines inoperable). Players' crew can be used to fix said stations, put out fires, and both defend from enemy crew or to teleport into other ships to take control. While things like weapons can be controlled and directed to fire in certain areas of the enemy ship (like taking shields out before taking guns out), the ship itself is not piloted by the player, who's only control in that regard is deciding where to make the next FTL jump. Really what this game brings to mind is an RPG/strategy game with a Star Trek-esque influence.
Why the RPG genre? Both players' ships and crew start very barebones. One or two ship weapons, and one to four crew. Each crew member can level up depending on how much they man a station when active (i.e. for every weapon firing the guy manning the gun increases his experience in that area). Once levelled they give a further bonus to their activity, and because it's nearly impossible to level crew members with more than one specialty, they become important (and players will grow surprisingly attached to individual crew members). In the same way, during the adventures players obtain new weapons/modules (ranging from ion weapons to breaching bombs that teleport into the enemy ship) but also scrap. The scrap can be used to upgrade each part of the ship with limited power to go around. This leads to tough decisions depending on how players want to use their ship.
Both ships and crew can be from a number of different species (7 in total for both), and while adventurers only start with 1-4 crew depending on the ship, they can have as many as 8 on their ship at one time. Each species and ship has their strengths and weaknesses, and the varying challenges that come from flying the different spaceships are thoroughly enjoyable. Players only start with one shiptype, but can unlock the others by going through small storyline events, just as they can obtain more crew (either through events or through stores). Each ship type also has an unlockable different layout, unlocked after obtaining two of three achievements for the ship class, with different weapons and crew.
TEARING YOUR HAIR OUT
No, this isn't a reference to bugs or lack of polish. If anything the interface is immaculate, and players are unlikely to encounter anything frustrating during their gameplay. The music is enjoyable and goes well with the quirky 2D visuals that work very well for this kind of game. Going through the entire storyline will only take 2-3 hours. However, be prepared to not make it that far many, many times. Whether from encountering a stronger ship than expected, losing the O2 producer on the ship (and suffocating the whole crew), or having enemies teleport on board and kill everyone, players will lose their ships a lot. The clincher? There are no checkpoints: when the ship explodes, it's back to square one. Hence tearing hair out, banging head on desk, and slamming keyboards. But players are guaranteed to give it another go, and if they've learned the lesson of the last explosion, they'll modify their ship/strategy accordingly. Thus the first time one finally managed to take out the rebel flagship resulted in much jubilation and cries of joy.
Die rebel scum!
As previously noted, the game doesn't stop there. It becomes easy to create challenges by trying to unlock the other ships, using them to get to the end, using the same ship with a different layout etc. In terms of play time, this game will easily outlast many AAA titles out there, and it certainly is a refreshing experience. If the 7 provided ships with their alternate hulls aren't enough, modders are already coming out of the woodworks with iconic ships like the Enterprise or a Star Destroyer that will add to the fun.
There are a few niggling things that may annoy people. Every now and then, players encounter a jump that is just a little bit too far away from an exit route, meaning they have to go back through the rebel fleet (which is dangerous and of little benefit). Some events are a little too random, so much so that players may feel that a failed playthrough was more due to luck than anything else (although it could be seen as forcing the player to adapt to the situation presented rather than going along a fixed plan).
All in all, it's difficult to see how one could better use $10 if you are into games like this. On Steam, FTL even hit $4.99 during a sale. Even a double quarter pounder doesn't stack up for price...