Ever want to play in space?
The countdown in my head winds down before the rocket launches into the air with a small crew of Kerbals on a mission to go to the Mun, the Kerbal’s moon. There’s a lot to do however. First, the launch must be successful, taking the ship through the atmosphere and out into orbital height. The next stage of the rocket fires thrust that brings it into a steady and stable circular orbit around the planet Kerbal. A handshake and a pat on the back later, the hard part begins and a trajectory is calculated to send the rocket on a sharper orbit that will intersect with the Mun’s gravitational field with a relatively short burst of speed and fuel. This provides a short window of opportunity for the ship to fire its rocket in the opposite direction, slowing it down and allowing the Mun to capture it completely, until the ship can carefully land on the satellite’s dusty surface. Kerbal astronauts hop out onto the Mun’s surface and explore as Kerbalkind cheers to its remarkable progress. Now all that needs to be done is to figure out a way to get them back. They remembered to pack the extra rocket, right?
Kerbal Space Program, developed by Squad, is in short, a massive simulator that accurately depicts a full-scale fictional solar system, and then puts players in control of their own space program. This grants them the power to design their own rocket ship using any and all available pieces, parts, engines, fuel tanks, gizmos, and doodads. Build a one stage rocket to take up a satellite, or a three stage rocket to launch a spacecraft into orbit, or create an aircraft to explore the surface of the planet Kerbal itself. The only real limit is in the imagination and ambition of each player, since it takes a great deal of time and effort and careful planning to reach not just the Mun, but all other planets within that system.
A large part of the process of building a rocket and controlling the different stages of a rocket ship launching and re-entering the atmosphere is simple and easy to use and understand, even in the newly transitioned PS4 version. Sadly, there are some drawbacks to a game being initially developed for PC getting transitioned to a console. To start with, this version is not smaller or lesser than its original counterpart, but the controls are a little bit clumsy and difficult to fine-tune. The game continues to require a cursor that the player can move by using either the motion sensor, the touchpad, or the analog stick, all of which can make for a frustrating experience when trying to click the specific part, or to drag and drop windows from one end of the screen to another. Learning the shortcuts is imperative, which is only really possible by going through the dense tutorial. It’s important to read through it carefully and patiently, otherwise players might not know that they can limit the thrust of each rocket, allowing for a more stable flight and using less fuel in the process. It also offers plenty of tips and tricks to consider when building more advanced rocket ships, and tries to give players all of the mental and actual tools needed to play and explore.
That being said, successfully taking the steps to launch a ship to the moon and further than that can be a long and difficult process. I mean, it is rocket science after all. The game allows players to revert their saves in order to relaunch or rebuild their ship, though it is also possible to simply move on, accept the loss of an astronaut or three, and just build a new rocket. Players will explore through trial and error regardless of whether they read the tutorial or not. But with it, there is at least a skeletal guide of best practices to follow.
KSP provides three modes of gameplay: Career, Science, and Sandbox. All are essentially the same but with a different set of goals. Career forces players to balance reputation, scientific research points, and funding to both run and expand their space program. Science only keeps the need for scientific research points, gained when astronauts perform experiments and return home soundly to provide the research, or send some of the data in a transmission. These points are then used to unlock new rocket and ship parts. However, after a certain point, progress can get slow and a bit tedious. To break this monotony, the Sandbox mode pretty much lets players have access to every part available in the game, allowing them to build pretty much any kind of rocket ship or spaceship design they like. Even if it’s bound to end in a fiery explosive mess.
At the end of the day, Kerbal Space Program is a game and simulator like no other and feels only slightly limited by the transition to console. It continues to offer a challenging experience, one that forces players to try, fail, learn, and think outside the box in the next launch. There’s so much to go through and experiment with, that it’s easy to see myself getting away from it for a few months, and coming back to feel immersed in the experience of just trying to get to the Mun. A welcome recommendation for all spacers and would-be astronauts.