Sunday, July 24, 2016

Kerbal Space Program Review (XONE)

Do you have aspirations to be a rocket scientist but aren’t totally sure yet and don’t want to make the extensive investment of time and money required to go to school only to realize it isn’t really for you?  Good news!  For just $40 you can take a crash course in rocket science by playing Kerbal Space Program instead!  Spend hours building space ships, flying space ships, crashing space ships, blowing up space ships, building new space ships, and crashing those space ships all from the comfort of your couch on Xbox One!  Did I mention crashing space ships?  Cause you’re gonna be crashing the hell out of some space ships!  See our full Xbox One review of Kerbal Space Program for all of the details.   

Game Details

  • Publisher: Squad
  • Developer: Squad, Flying Tiger
  • ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
  • Genre: Flight Sim
  • Pros: Incredibly satisfying; surprising variety; only limit is your imagination
  • Cons: Extremely convoluted controls; steep learning curve; requires lots of patience
  • MSRP: $40

Kerbal Space Program has you taking control of the space program of the planet Kerbin as you build rockets and space ships to help the Kerbal people conquer outer space, on mission at a time.  The game offers three modes – Career, Science, and Sandbox.  Science requires you to research new technology to open up new parts that allow for more complicated missions but you are not limited by budget constraints.  Career mode has you running all aspects of the Kerbal Space Program including funding, R&D, astronaut recruitment, and much more as you really do have to control everything.  Career and Science modes task you with specific missions like going to the Mun, landing on other planets, and more. 

Sandbox mode, on the other hand, just gives you all of the parts from the start with no budget, no mission, and no limit on what you can do.  The interesting thing about Kerbal Space Program is that it isn’t limited to just building traditional rockets and other space stuff.  With some imagination and a little real world engineering know-how, you can build jet fighters, Star Wars ships, space stations, and even land-based vehicles and more with an almost unlimited number of possible designs.  To see the full potential of what you can do with Kerbal Space Program, I highly suggest you check out Robbaz on YouTube.  His channel has a ton of awesome (and funny) KSP builds.

Whether you’re building something crazy and ambitious or just trying to do the simple missions KSP offers, having real world knowledge of science and engineering is a big help.  Doing the tutorials and really studying how everything works is also essential.  The game might feature cute little Kerbals as astronauts, but KSP is a surprisingly realistic physics simulator and if your designs are just a little bit off, your whole ship or rocket can rip itself apart and explode.  Learning how to create a ship with the proper aerodynamics to cut through the atmosphere while having enough fuel to actually reach orbit, and a dozen other factors, is incredibly challenging when you first start playing.  When you move on to multi-stage rockets and other complicated builds, the difficulty ramps up even more.  I dare say it is more difficult and has a steeper learning curve than Elite: Dangerous simply because you not only have to properly fly through outer space in a realistic simulation, but also successfully build the ship you’re flying in the first place!

When you wrap your head around how everything works, Kerbal Space Program can be pretty amazing.  Building your first successful rocket and reaching orbit for the first time is incredibly satisfying.  From there, the entire solar system and beyond is your playground, and that’s pretty awesome.  It takes a lot of effort to get there, though, and builds are usually a matter of hours of planning and careful construction, not just slapping something together in a few minutes.  Kerbal Space Program takes work on your part to really get maximum enjoyment out of it.

Aside from the steep learning curve, Kerbal Space Program on Xbox One has a major issue that can hinder your enjoyment a bit.  Since it is a complicated game to begin with, and was ported from the PC, the control scheme on a controller is incredibly convoluted.  You have a ton of systems and metrics to keep track of, especially while you’re in flight, and having to press multiple combinations of buttons to activate different things or change camera angles or look at data is a huge pain in the butt until you get used to it.  Real talk, the control scheme is kind of terrible, but it is hard to see any way around it on consoles with a game this complicated.  You do get used to it, but man does it take some work.

With that in mind, I have a couple of suggestions for new players to make things slightly easier by changing a couple of things in the options.  First, you can adjust cursor sensitivity – you build everything with what is basically a mouse cursor controlled by your left analog stick – and turning the sensitivity way down makes things a lot easier.  It is much easier to select parts and precisely place them on a build if the cursor moves slower.  My second suggestion is to increase the size of the UI.  The interface (and thus all of the text and everything) is very tiny by default, so by increasing the size in the options menu you’ll actually be able to read important info and see what you’re doing.  Adjusting these two settings has a huge impact and make KSP a lot more playable.

The presentation in Kerbal Space Program is generally nice and clean looking, but nothing is too detailed.  The planet is pretty bland looking, but when you get out to orbit the game is quite beautiful.  Looking out at the planet and stars around you is awesome.  Despite being generally simple looking, however, KSP does have some performance issues when your builds start getting bigger and more complicated.  There are a lot of physics calculations and stuff going on in the background besides just the visuals, of course, which is why KSP pushes not just the XONE or PS4 but also decent PCs so hard.  I didn’t find it ever made the game unplayable, just annoying, so you just sort of have to deal with it.  The sound also gets a shout out for being exactly what you expect – largely rumbling rocket sound effects – but also a surprisingly fun and upbeat yet still subtle and appropriate soundtrack.

All in all, Kerbal Space Program is a fascinating gaming experiment.  I won’t lie, it is incredibly difficult and daunting and overwhelming when you first start trying to play it, but the satisfaction of really building a realistic rocket and exploring space is indescribably amazing.  If you don’t have a ton of patience, a ton of interest in space flight and engineering, or have a lot of time on your hands, however, it probably won’t be for you.  Unfortunately, I also think the price is a bit steep for a game that not only isn’t for everybody (as dumb as that saying is) but likely actually has a fairly narrow band of potential players who will really “get” it, which makes the risk of buying it and then ending up hating it and regretting spending $40 quite high. 

All I can really recommend is that you watch tutorials and watch other people building stuff and decide from there if it’s for you.  As I said in the opening paragraph, though, spending $40 on KSP is a heck of a lot cheaper than becoming a rocket scientist in real life, even if you do struggle to get into it.  If you are one of the folks with the right stuff, Kerbal Space Program is absolutely worth a look.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.