Kerbal Space Program isn’t exactly rocket science. Say what? Calm down, maybe it is, and in this particular instance pretty darn accurate too. With an eclectic mix of realistic orbital physics; from air resistance, gravitational pull and Newtonian dynamics (you might wanna Google that one); with witty humour around a humanoid race that stresses little importance to health and safety, this original space-explorer smashes that final frontier with as big a rocket as inhumanly possible.
The setting is loosely based on our own solar system and includes a total of 8 planets and 9 moons all with individual characteristics from size and mass (and therefore gravitational pull), atmosphere and landscapes. Kerbol (Earth) is where your story begins and, depending on which game mode you delve into first, missions range from simply getting off the ground safely to piloting ships around the cosmos and all the planetary presences within it.
The game originally released on Steam Early Access back in June of 2011 and if you take some time out to watch some videos (we’ll have one up soon by the way!) or get your hands on a copy anyway, there have been some major overhauls in physics and the sheer number of creative options in your armory. It was finally “officially released” in April 2015 and has now arrived on Xbox One, as of 15th July 2016. A lot of its adolescence has been spent on the mouse and keyboard and that certainly shows in some of the button combinations needed for particular commands. This is where one of the few criticisms is apparent – it is a port and, although it’s a damn good one, some functions can be a little tricky with a sometimes over-reactive joystick. Having played both versions for many hours, actual creation and flying especially does feel easier rather than having to hit a multiple of 8+keys on the keyboard, so it’s only a minimal complaint.
The gameplay itself could certainly tick a number of boxes on a genre list. The freestyle sandbox element was the original and only version during early access and the rest of the game has been built around that pillar. Every part has its purpose, from a range of fuel tank sizes to communication arrays – and construction can easily lead to larger ships surpassing hundreds of parts. Sandbox lets you build with whatever the game has to offer but if you’re just getting started, beginning with the tutorials and then moving onto the Science game mode may be a good idea. This adds a small element of RPG with parts becoming unlocked via a gained resource, Science, which can be obtained by completing tasks and activities. It also eases you into the game with a slowly increasing catalogue of items so you get a better understanding of what pieces actually do. Career drops you into the hardcore science fanatic zone and, depending on the difficulty you set it at, is the most brutal. The biggest difference here is the addition of contracts; in-game missions which can usually require you to meet restricted criteria during a flight. For example, testing (ie. igniting) a rocket at a certain altitude while going a certain speed can mean having to retry from launch a number of times.
That’s a Rover right there, you just have to get it there!
Contracts reward you with one of three rewards or resources. Funds can be spent on rockets, building upgrades and astronaut employment (oh yes, if you send Mr Jebediah Kerbin on a mission that leads to him floating around space for the rest of his life, you’ll have to employ another). Reputation is another, and leads to better contracts with greater rewards, as well as some unlocks for buildings, while Science is here again for unlocking new parts.
Delving deeper into what you can do, landing and populating other planets with custom-made moon bases, creating a space station that could dwarf the ISS, or land on everything possible within the Kerbin System (including asteroids) are all loosely directed via missions. But what of pushes this game into its own individual territory is that you are reasonably free to do what you want, especially in Sandbox mode. Want to make the largest rocket possible? Just make sure you’re put enough struts in. There’s so much going on here that you can’t judge this game’s longevity by what’s on offer – only by your imagination and love for building rockets.
Created with the Unity Engine, Kerbals has been both developed and published by a small company based in Mexico; Squad. Previously focusing on digital and interactive services for a range of well-known companies, like Coca-Cola and Sony, KSP is Squad’s debut game. We’re huge – if envious – fans of the breadth of games available to our PC-loving friends. It’s great to see games like this making the leap to console, but at the moment there’s little to compare with Kerbals on the Xbox Store, unless you take Spore into consideration.
So KSP has its niche, and with it being a Top 5 Best Seller on Steam, gaining a number of gaming awards and getting ratings including an 84/100 on OpenCritic, what do we make of it now it’s landed on console?
Well, there are certainly improvements that could be made. The Node system (planning trajectory changes during flights) is one that could do with a little adjusting. And although you won’t be using is straight away, it’s a requirement when leaving orbit and heading off to the stars. During a number of hours play, there have been some occasional system crashes that seem to occur mainly from quick loading and a couple in the VAB – Vehicle Assembly Building. Although this has little long-lasting effects on saved data the initial loading time of the game can mean a 5 minute restart to get back where you were before. We do expect these bugs to be ironed out in the near future too. Finally, the price may dissuade you from what’s technically a five year old game, but in our opinion it’s money well spent!
Kerbal Space Program is available from the Xbox Store now, priced at £31.99.