Kerbal Space Program has received plenty of praise from critics and players alike in its relatively successful release on PC. As a console gamer, I hate missing out on games that do well and upon learning that this particular one was getting porting to the latest generation of consoles, I was looking forward to getting my hands on the space flight simulator. Have developers Squad managed to introduce us to a whole new and expansive world that we’ll never want to leave?
Eh, don’t go enrolling in the program just yet.
Getting the pleasantries out of the way first, this provides a platform for space exploration enthusiasts as the main aim is to discover and reach all the planets of the solar system, collecting data for the purpose of furthering scientific research. You’ll do it with the help of the Kerbin (the home of the space program) inhabitants, Kerbals, whom are small creatures that will make up the flight crews.
How you propose to do such things will depend on your game mode of choice, with options being Sandbox, Science or Career. In Sandbox, everything is unlocked and players can build spacecrafts using any of the plentiful parts included to then send it up into space and beyond, without any budget constraints or goals to worry about. Career mode places the program in a player’s control to manage the funding, build reputation, take on mission-like contracts and show progression in the field of science. The Science mode meets in the middle of those two, removing contracts but still needing to earn equipment through experiments.
If all that doesn’t satisfy your needs, then there are a set of Scenarios to try your hand at; such as redirecting an asteroid (a mission created in collaboration with NASA), extravehicular activities on various planets and refuelling in orbit.
As physics based flight simulators go, the amount of detail gone into that side of the gameplay is something to be admired. Navigating your craft through space towards a mission target can be affected by a number of factors including the strength of the throttle in comparison to the weight of the ship, the orbital pull of the nearest planet and ensuring you’re trajectory is aligned. Just launching into space takes guile.
With a whole load of depth to the components for building a ship, many planets to discover such as Moho, Duna and Dres, and plenty of modes, there’s no doubt that this is a game with bags of potential.
Buckle up now though, because here’s where Kerbal Space Program goes for a nosedive into an unrecoverable oblivion. It’s not just one negative thing; I’ve got a list longer than the Great Wall of China.
With great depth, comes an even greater learning curve. I spent way too much time going over and over the tutorials included yet there were still manoeuvres I couldn’t understand how to perform. There were icons on the Navigation Ball that were glossed over, a ridiculous amount of scientific terms that went over my head and a handful of tutorials which left me in the lurch, wondering what to do next. It was the gaming equivalent of a trust fall; I fell back and Kerbal stepped aside, laughing at my stupidity. This won’t be a problem for the genuine rocket scientists out there but for it to be aimed at gamers of all ages, professing to be easy to pick up and play, it’s completely missed the mark.
Casting the difficulty to the side for a moment and another set of problems come to the forefront. That of unresponsive button commands and random buggy parts. There’s a real joy when you finally make it to orbit, planning a manoeuvre in space to get sucked into the orbit of a neighbouring planet, only to realise nothing is responding and the perfect time to throttle to a new world passes you by. All because it wouldn’t let me plot a manoeuvre on the course and actual control over the spacecraft was removed from my possession. I was lost in space. It’s amazing how many times I would click something and either nothing would happen or it’d ruin my life.
It’s almost like I’ve grabbed a PC game, shoved it into my Xbox One console and the machine is thinking ‘dude, you know this isn’t going to work right?’ The developers have had it literally ported over to the console market seemingly without an ounce of consideration towards the platform it’s arriving on. Everything about the controls is counter-intuitive, to the point where even trying to do the simplest of things, like repositioning the camera, takes a combination of buttons to achieve. It can take a while to navigate the cursor to exactly where it needs to be which isn’t ideal when you’re attempting to put the parts together to build a spacecraft.
Graphics aren’t Kerbal Space Program’s strong point either. The components and subsequently the spacecrafts look pretty cool, however the rest of the universe’s textures are way behind the times. Simplistic visuals for Kerbin carry over into space too and don’t get me started on the explosions; they are laughable.
People may be wondering how a PC hit has come across so badly. Well most of it boils down to functionality. When everything feels wrong in regards to the controls being clunky and not intuitive in the slightest, that doesn’t help. Throw in the steep learning curve when you’re trying to master the controls, as well as being hindered by text boxes that are too small to read and the sporadic bugs popping up, it severely undermines the brilliance of the physics. I’d go as far as saying it could have benefitted from a stint in the Preview Program to adapt to the console way of life over a period of time.
There’s a lot in Kerbal Space Program to get stuck into, but at £31.99, and in its current state, it’s a costly mistake that will leave you baffled and confused.