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Kerbal Space Program Review

A common phrase used to denote the fact that something isn’t as difficult as one makes it out to be is “it’s not rocket science”.

Well, Kerbal Space Program is rocket science. While the learning curve is rather steep, what the game sets out to do, it does extremely well. Let your imagination run wild, craft the most ridiculous (or efficient, if you’re into that) ship, and head into orbit.

Ever wanted to be an astronaut? Of course you have, you were a kid once! Kerbal Space Program is a space exploration simulator that gives you the controls over every minuscule aspect of the journey, from financing to the yaw of the ship. It is a lot to take in. If the player chooses so, every imaginable detail of the flight is placed in their hands. It’s a sandbox of creativity that beckons the most innovative minds to push their intellectual boundaries. Whether you want to build your fantasy spaceship with 18 engines and watch it flail uncontrollably or you want to meticulously craft the most effective vessel, there’s a way to achieve that goal. With Kerbal Space Program, your imagination truly is the only limit.

Generally, most gamers will see the word “tutorial” and laugh it off. “I’m not a beginner,” you’ll scoff. “I’ve been gaming for years, tutorials are for chumps!” When it comes to this game, those are the famous last words of someone who just destroyed a spaceship, its crew, and wasted all the money and resources on the planet of Kerbin. Although there is a large number of tutorials, they will all greatly increase the likelihood of mission success. From basic to advanced construction, the 101 on orbital flight, all the way to redirecting asteroids, these tutorials will get you well acquainted with the insane amount of detail this game contains. After the hour or so of tutorials (seriously, do them) it’s time to get to work on mastering the game without having your hand held. You have four choices: Sandbox, Science, Career, or Scenario.

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With the knowledge gained from tutorials, Sandbox is probably the best place to start. Here, there are no restrictions on financing and no mission parameters to abide to. It’s just you and your brain. Imagine, build, tweak, then head to the launch pad and see if your math was right. If you’re anything like me, it’ll take a while until you build something from scratch that actually leaves the atmosphere, but it is a great accomplishment when it does. Sandbox is, basically, Kerbal Space Program‘s “easy” mode. Science and Scenario modes are a good place to test your more advanced knowledge of the game. Science mode bridges the gap between Sandbox and Career, giving you basic scientific missions to carry out. Scenario, obviously, drops you into a pre-loaded situation with an end goal already designed for you. Try these when you start gaining more confidence in yourself as a player.

When Science and Scenario modes run their course, and the masochist within you burns, Career mode waits. If Sandbox is easy mode, Career mode is expert. Everything is under your control. Balance budgets, finance missions, select your crew, plan your routes. You definitely need your big boy pants for this part of the game. The freedom of Sandbox still exists, but advanced tools necessary for prolonged space flights are locked until you have the means to access them. Failure lurks around every corner in Career mode. Had this been real life, I’d have been fired after about 30 minutes. But because of the failures, success is all that much sweeter. When you plan the flight, build the shuttle, finance the whole thing, and bring your crew back safely, you feel like a superhero. Career mode blends the worlds of resource management and sandbox creativity effortlessly, creating a genuinely remarkable experience.

What is truly amazing about Kerbal Space Program is its attention to detail. I’m no rocket scientist, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find another game that comes close to making astrophysics understandable and fun. From the moment the shuttle leaves the launch pad, the player controls every movement, every change in pitch or yaw. Even the staging of the shuttle (the removal of a non-integral part) is done wonderfully. While the amount of information and pressure is daunting, the game does give you every resource you could possibly need. EVA’s (extra vehicular activity) are a blast once you get the hang of them, as well as asteroid redirecting. The fact that the game is basically devoid of sound and music while in space is beautiful, as well. And of course, it wouldn’t be space travel without a good ol’ moon landing.

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Kerbal Space Program exceeds expectation in every possible way. It goes without saying that a disclaimer of “Not For Everyone” is slapped over this game, and you shouldn’t come into this game thinking it’ll suit you because you like space. But it is undeniably victorious in its effort to capture the essence and wonderment of space exploration. Surprisingly engaging to play alone, yet leads to some great moments with a group of friends building a spaceship together. I built a ship with a few buddies and we stood up and high-fived after it successfully reached orbit like we were in mission control. Kerbal Space Program is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that transcends multiple genres. Fun, challenging, creative, rewarding; bust out your old sketchbooks and build that dream machine from your childhood. Just remember, it’s “Mün or Bust”.

Kerbal Space Program is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the PS4 version.
Matt has been an avid gamer since he first ventured to Zebes in Super Metroid. If he's not there, he's probably racking his mind over a puzzler, running through a JRPG, or grinding Dark Souls again. You can find him at your local bookstore, disc golf course, or friendly Smash Bros. tournament otherwise. With a background in Linguistics and Creative Writing, he loves writing about anything from gaming to semiotics.