Kerbal Space Program - PS4 Review

A Persistent Voyage Beyond Creativity.

If you were a citizen of planet Kerbin and happened to be stargazing anytime between July 15th-22nd, you may have noticed a large, spherical glimmer of light, flickering then instantly fading into the surrounding heavenly bodies. Was it a tame comet gently passing through the solar system? A UFO that meandered into an asteroid because the alien pilot was as "high" as a UAV drone on its species' version of meth? Maybe it was the residual luminosity of the Death Star that was blown asunder by a squinting farmboy a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

In all actuality, it was my little green, insensible astronaut and his trashily manufactured rocket tragically detonating in and beyond the planet's atmosphere, as though the space program were rehearsing a kamikaze-like method for defending Kerbin from a theoretical Extinction Level Event.

What?! You think you can do better? You believe you wield the aerodynamic know-how and fundamental understanding of physics to construct a rocket that can withstand the urge to somersault into a drastic yet entertaining light show of aerial devastation? Then allow your faux optimism to take hold and join the Kerbal Space Program! You'll have the opportunity to manage your own Space Center, conceive a rocket of fantastically redundant specifications, and, if you're patient enough to learn the complexities of space flight, be the first Kerbal to survey the planets and moons of the solar system!

For even with KSPs inadequacies -- being staggered by an occasionally crawling framerate, a user interface that can take some time to adapt to, and a learning curve that might have you hissing at a laser-printed portrait of Sir Isaac Newton -- it's an ingenious, educational space simulation that whets the desire for exploration and creative experimentation.

At KSP, you're more than just a test dummy deprived of gravity and oxygen for the sake of scientific advancement; you're the boss, the intellectual overlord. As such, you have a choice between three game modes: Sandbox Mode, which removes all restrictions and opens access to all vehicle parts, allowing you to take on any mission with a vehicle designed by your inner genius or megalomaniac, free of ramifications; Science Mode, where you complete tasks and experiments to unlock science points that grant access to parts; and Career Mode, where you manage everything from research, reputation, and funding while accepting contracts.

Although each mode is a gift from the galaxy, depending on how frivolous or earnest your mood, Career Mode is the soul of the KSP, since smartly superintending the funding and reputation aspects (the latter of which affects the quality and quantity of available contracts) adds a conceited satisfaction to even missions of near-success.

When you begin your career, you're given the bare minimum of contracts and ship scraps (parts). With these contracts and scraps, you earn science points by completing undemanding tasks (by rocket science standards), such as launching a rocket beyond a specific elevation, and reporting the effects of acceleration and zero gravity on a malleable goo. With each completed task, you allocate science points that unlock research tiers on an expansive skill tree. The more research you unlock, the more tools you're afforded to ensure you meet the terms of your contracts, leading to an increase in reputation and funding.

Eventually, in the time it takes you to grasp the techniques of space-trouser-removal, you'll go from launching a rocket to orbiting the planet to actually embarking on a voyage to Kerbin's moon! That is, as long as you took the time to study the lengthy tutorials offered in the main menu, and experimented with their tips and procedures.

Because even if you did review everything from "basic ship construction" to "advanced orbiting for dummies," it's almost guaranteed that you'll either bewilderingly fail to apply these principles during a mission (generally resulting in an incinerated pod), or have no clue as to how the hell you're supposed to fulfill a contractual objective -- until you forfeit your astro-ice-cream in defeat and employ the aid of instructional Wikis and YouTube videos.

All this potential incompetence and confusion is expected, considering that everything needs to be micromanaged, from fuel to flight path, in a world governed by Newtonian dynamics. Just one miscalculation is enough to send your rocket into a doomsday nosedive; however, this level of preciseness multiplies the pride of success. You're encouraged to utilize your understanding of rocket science, as the game teaches it, and exercise trial-and-error to gradually solve the problems keeping you from completing your goals. While proudly trapped in my space-trousers, I must admit: completing said goals is a feeling equivalent to being the first human to perform handstand pushups -- on the surface of Mars.

Even though I love everything KSP stands for, it does have a few flaws that do little to suppress the simulation's overall brilliance. I mentioned the long tutorials in the main menu and how they're a prerequisite before even considering a fitting for a space helmet. Well, they are adequate and humorous, thanks to a bit of Kerbal disposition, yet I can't help but think they'd be better understood if incorporated into the campaign. Doing so would probably compromise the experimental, no-hand-holding approach the developers meant to prescribe. But when I see how effectively Grand Ages: Medieval, a freakin' global economics simulator, was able to accomplish it, I'm optimistic for how the same approach would work with KSP.

Also, keeping in mind that KSP was originally a PC juggernaut, the controls and user interface take some time to adjust to, while the framerate can tiptoe along when transitioning between Shuttle and Space points-of-view. Regarding UI, it can be a pain in the thumbs trying to get the cursor to click on seemingly nanoscale objects, but it's a nuisance that eventually comes to pass. In terms of transitioning from a mouse and keyboard to a PS4 controller, I believe the developers mapped the game's many functions in the most intuitive way possible, yet this doesn't diminish the fact that, when performing an action that requires a combination of button presses, you may not always execute the desired action.

Several times, I've taken to the skies and exploded. Several times, I've wanted to snatch a Kerbal by his unconcerned cheeks and scream, "Don't just sit there in slack-jawed amazement! Fly this thing, dammit!" But with all that failure and frustration followed intense self-congratulation -- the moment I realized I got a ship shaped like a pizza to fly, or the second I safely returned my Kerbal physicist from a successful Mun (Moon) orbit. Through persistence, trial-and-error, and learning the fundamentals of actual space travel, I somehow met with success. It's the type of success that's intoxicating, and, if you have a penchant for physics or space exploration, completely necessary.

Game Information

PlayStation 4
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
Xbox One

Article by Jedediah
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