Review: Kerbal Space Program (PS4)

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Title: Kerbal Space Program
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.77 GB)
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Squad
Developer: Squad
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: E
Kerbal Space Program is also available on Xbox One, Wii U (TBD), PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Kerbal Space Program has been kicking around the PC scene for many years, launching via Steam Early Access in 2013 before officially launching in 2015. Now it’s time for console owners to get their hands on the game as it hits the PS4.

This is a remarkable game that is both educational and fun despite a few technical shortcomings. It has a simple premise: build rockets and explore space, that’s it. There are three modes: Career, Science and, Sandbox to choose from and each involves building ships and hopefully exploring space.

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In Career, players are tasked with running their own space program which includes budgeting and contract work. In this mode players start simple with only the basic parts to build a rocket. You’ll have to do contract work to earn funds and access more parts.

These contracts start simple like exploring Kerbin and collecting resources. It’s a slow burn before you can attempt to do some flying in space, but it’s done on purpose to gradually introduce players to the mechanics.

Science Mode is similar to Career, but you don’t have to worry about budget. This mode is about collecting science points through various experiments which will unlock more parts.

… I got a lot of highs from playing …
Sandbox mode is a completely open version of the game. Everything is unlocked and nothing is there to limit you but your imagination… and the ability to actually accomplish your own goals.

I spent a lot of time playing Kerbal on the PlayStation 4 and this is after tinkering with the original PC game on and off over the past couple of years. After spending a decent amount of time with the game on both platforms I have come to the conclusion that I am terrible at it.

But I don’t hold that against the game at all. It’s dense and the tutorials could be better, but I got a lot of highs from playing.

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The first time I broke atmo (atmosphere) was exhilarating and I felt a real sense of accomplishment from it. And the first time I reached the Mun (Moon) I felt immense satisfaction.

I should note that while I did technically reach the Mun I may or may not have been able to safely land on it, but I got damn close, multiple times. I basically killed a lot of pilots and engineers to the point that I would not be surprised if I’m wanted for the murder on Kerbin.

… controls are the biggest hurdle …
I would like to think that the pilots signed waivers and the population knows their deaths were for a greater good. Sorry, I sort of made my own story to compensate for the lack of a story in the game, moving on.

The game is difficult, it requires a lot of patience, and it has a steep learning curve. The tutorials go in-depth and take players through the different aspects of the game, but they’re still challenging and require a base understanding of science.

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The controls are the biggest hurdle. They were built with a keyboard and mouse in mind and while the DualShock 4 works, it has issues overcoming a a control scheme it was never meant to handle.

The basic flight controls like controlling the pitch and roll are done using the right stick and shoulder buttons, but everything else is either done using a cursor or hotkeys.

The cursor, being controlled by a combination of the right stick and motion controls, works well enough. The hotkeys are the biggest issue. You’re going to have to learn a lot of different button combinations for various controls and I had difficulties remembering all of them. This led to some failed missions and dead pilots. I’m sure if I dedicated myself more to the game that over time I would learn them all.

… the experimentation is addicting …
I spent a ton of my time playing in the Science and Sandbox modes just because the balancing of budgets was something I didn’t want to deal with after a while. I had the most fun in these two modes though.

I love how the Science mode slowly doles out parts, allowing me to take my time and experiment while learning specific components of a ship.

Sandbox Mode is just downright fun. I spent so much time building the dumbest and worst rocketships that I knew were going to fail, but the experimentation is addicting. This mode gives you access to everything and does little to stop you from creating horrible ideas. It was beautiful and again I killed a lot of pilots, so I was entertained.

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Visuals:
The user interface was tweaked a little from the PC version to accommodate the console, but is a little difficult to get used to. The game was made specifically for the PC and that’s evident here. Players are left scrolling a mouse cursor through menus that look unfriendly for console players.

As for the actual game, it’s quite simple looking with rather plain textures and environments. The homeworld and other planets are fairly barren of life and nature. This is likely because the game is doing a lot of complicated math and requires a lot of attention to details in the flight controls to accomplish any goals.

Surprisingly, despite the simple visual design, the game suffers from framerate issues and texture pop-ins. These technical issues can be distracting and negatively impact landing and general flight if you’re not monitoring the various radars on the screen.

It’s unfortunate that these technical issues occur because the gameplay can be rewarding and there is potential in a better looking space simulator.

… It’s educational and it requires a great deal of dedication to master …
Audio:
Much like the visual design the audio is rather plain and simple. The homeworld is quiet with only subtle sounds of nature and some background music. The rest of the music is the game is solid and light.

I especially enjoy the music that’s played when in space as it evokes the feeling the of discovery and encourages exploration. The sounds coming off the rockets and spaceships seem good, but there is often some audio fading in and out likely due to the framerate issues.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
This one is tough to score because there are technical issues that would usually hurt a game’s score greatly, but Kerbal Space Program is special. It’s educational and it requires a great deal of dedication to master. It offers great modes that cater to people that want to balance a budget, learn flight slowly, or just want to mess around with no limitations.

The controls aren’t great and using the various hotkey button combinations to manage things can make it more complicated than it should be, but console players only have so many buttons. The controls are not impossible to overcome, they just take time. Once I was used to them I enjoyed building insane spaceships just to watch them blow up and react to the realistic physics engine.

I would actually recommend this game to anyone interested in science and space, especially if that person is younger. The game might be difficult, but I feel that if you have a child that’s interested in space, this game would be a great way to encourage their curiosity.

It might not be the best version out there, but it’s still a fun experience.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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