Feel free to either watch the review below or read it, the old-fashioned way. I like to cater to all tastes.
Kerbal Space Program was officially released back in May 2015, but it was released in early access way back in 2011. While I was tempted to give this game a try back in Alpha release, I chose to be patient and wait for the completed version. True I didn’t quite realise at the beginning just how long that wait would be but it got there eventually.
So for those of you not familiar with the Kerbal Space Program, it’s a space flight simulation game. Sounds technical and boring? It’s much more fun than it sounds. Kerbal Space Program is one of those strange games that takes itself both seriously and not seriously at the same time. Physics are what they are and the game doesn’t make any real allowances in terms of difficulty for that. You can reduce the temperatures encountered in re-entry but that’s about as far as if goes. If your rocket is too heavy for your engines, then your rocket won’t get off the ground. If your symmetry is off or you mess up the staging, leading to your engines being out of sync then your rocket’s more likely to end up in the sea than in orbit. So in that respect it’s quite serious. However, if you get a ship out into space either in a stable orbit or past escape velocity then your Kerbal can survive in the rocket, indefinitely. So if you check back in a few years’ time, it won’t be a Kerbal skeleton looking back at you from the cockpit, having run out of air or food, but a still living and smiling Kerbal. And that’s good because failure will likely be a regular occurrence in the early days. If every time you ran out of fuel trying to expand your orbit to match the Mun’s, you were left with a dead Kerbal, the game would quickly get quite morbid. If you choose an easier setting then even a cataclysmic crash landing won’t end in mortality. Your pilots will be listed as lost in action for a set period of time, which differs depending on the difficulty level, and then they’ll reappear none the worse for wear.
I have to confess to have felt elation when my very first rocket design made it up 20,000 km and then I realised that getting a ship into space was actually the easy part, as gravity quickly got the better of it and I realised that I’d saved no fuel for re-entry and on deploying the parachute, it failed owing to pressure being greater that it was designed for due to the high speed. The result was a fast collision with the Kerbin’s ground, but don’t fear, my little Jebediah Kerman turned up again safe and sound a few days later. If your Kerbals get lost in space, you can also send out a rescue mission, as it is possible while in stable orbit or stationary in space to have your Kerbal exit the cockpit and transfer to another craft. Just be sure to save enough fuel for the return trip this time, or you may just have to send out yet another rescue mission or just crash land on Kerbin’s surface.
Of course, if the thought of killing or losing Kerbals in space doesn’t appeal to you then you can also use a remote controlled cockpit, in which your pilot can control the craft safely from Kerbin’s surface. This has the advantage that if the rocket crash lands or gets lost in space then you at least won’t lose your pilot. The disadvantage is that the remote cockpits have only a quite short operational life span, as they are reliant on electricity, so they aren’t really suitable for long range flights. But if you’re trying out a new rocket design and just want to see how far it will go or if it could achieve orbit then a remote cockpit is definitely the way to go, then if it works you can send up a real pilot.
There are three different game modes to play on. Career mode is the most involved of the three. In career mode you start with a certain amount of funding and only a couple of rocket parts with which to build your first spacefaring craft. New parts can be gradually unlocked by performing experiments which reward you with science points, which can then be spent on unlocking further developments, like new parts or experimentation devices. This starts simple with experiments being performed on the launch pad granting you your first science points, so there’s no need to immediately leave the planet’s ground, which is good because with the default rocket parts you’ll be lucky just to reach Kerbin’s upper orbit. Money is gained by completing quests which can be as simple as testing a part at a certain altitude to putting a Kerbal in orbit or on the Mun. You can also upgrade your complex in this mode as by default, you’ll only be able to build rockets and planes to a certain size restriction and only hire a few Kerbals to run it. In order to build bigger and better rockets, it’s necessary to spend money on upgrading your facilities. The cost of this differs depending on the difficulty level on which you play. The easier the setting, the lower the cost of upgrading is.
If you like your games to have structure and defined goals then the career mode is likely for you, as the quest and science requirements ensure there are always goals to shoot for. However, the structure is also quite restrictive and does force you to walk before you try to run, so if your aim is immediately build a powerful rocket and shoot for the Mun, for all Kerbal kind, then you’ll be in for a disappointment in this mode, as the default parts will barely get you off the ground.
Science mode is the next of the three modes. In this mode, funding and contracts are disabled, so you’re free to pursue scientific advancement without the bank manager looming over your shoulder or the need to expend massive amounts of funding upgrading your facilities in order to launch that six booster tall rocket. However, parts are still restricted and you still need to perform experiments in order to collect science points to unlock them. So again, if you’re only interested in aiming big then this mode isn’t for you, but it is more beginner friendly than career mode, as you won’t be losing funding each time you launch a rocket and it bursts into flame.
The final mode is free play, which is a sandbox mode. In free play, all the parts are available from the start and all your facilities are upgraded to maximum. So you can build that ridiculously powerful rocket right from the start and explore that final frontier. Quests, science and funding are all disabled in this mode, and so there won’t be much hand holding or any why don’t you start with this… You will just be plunged into the deep end with the assumption that you can make your own fun rather than be directed to it. But if you’re impatient and want it all now, now, now, then this is your mode. Want to build a space station? Sure. Visit the Mun? Sure. Send out an exploration to deep space? Sure. Just make sure you’ve completed the tutorials first because the game wasn’t made with simplicity in mind.
The tutorials are not really the sort of tutorials you’re likely used to and they’ll be the first thing you need to do. As how to launch/ fly a craft or deal with orbiting, will not be covered in any of the three game modes. The first couple are easy enough, but it quickly gets quite complicated, particularly once you’ve left the surface of Kerbin and are trying to rendezvous with the Mun, in the hopes of landing. If you like simple, easy games then this one really isn’t for you. One small mistake and your epic build rocket will spin out of control and smash into the ground or burn up in re-entry. Pointing your rocket to the sky and turning engines to full will only get you so far and certainly not to a Mun landing so be ready to squat some to start with.
This isn’t the easiest of games to get to grips with and play but with the addition of the extra modes, career and science, you do at least have more structure to steer you gently in the right direction and the satisfaction of finally getting that first ship in orbit or the first ship to the Mun is well worth the effort expended in my opinion. This is a fun take on space exploration and despite the complexity that the game keeps that feeling of light hearted fun is a sign of good games design. If you’ve ever wanted to be an astronaut but couldn’t bring yourself to live without your home comforts, like baths and real food and the ability to walk out your front door whenever you fancy a breath of fresh air then this is certainly your game.
Nice range of modes to play in which allows for different play styles.
The content and challenge of the game will keep you long entertained.
The Kerbals keep the game light and fun, and stop it from being just another boring simulation game.
Tutorials can leave you with a headache or the desire to smash your head against the nearest wall.
This is a fun game but it is rocket science and you do need to be willing to think. Don’t expect and easy win.