Do Not Try This on Console
You are powerful. You are intelligent and sophisticated. You are destined for greatness. You are a gamer. But you’re probably not having these thoughts while you play Squad’s Kerbal Space Program.
In Kerbal, you’re charged with the difficult task of keeping the Kerbals (an alien race aiming for the stars) safe while they endeavor to launch their very own space program. In this simulator, you will construct new space shuttles for the Kerbals to explore in, you’ll guide flights to space, into orbit, onto foreign planets, and back home, all in the name of furthering the Kerbals understanding of the universe. By conducting experiments in space and bringing the results back home, the little green guys and gals will unlock new technologies that will then allow for more advanced vehicles and parts.
Kerbal Space Program originally launched on Steam’s Early Access on March 20, 2013, and officially released on PC on April 27, 2015. It’s long-awaited console debut is here as it has already launched on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. So, how does the port fare?
While some gamers may have been watching as this game’s progress to console soared nearer, it seems much of that wait may have been in vain. Even if you’re someone who loved Kerbal Space Program on PC, you’re probably better off continuing to play it there. Not much has changed in the game, except maybe that it’s slightly harder to play. Yes, I said harder.
You see, much of KSP is about experimentation. No, I’m not talking about the research you take to space to craft new, cool technologies. Knowing a rocket’s perfect trajectory into orbit while conserving fuel for a prolonged journey, correctly adjusting thruster output to ensure your pilots don’t plummet to their doom, knowing when to release a shuttle’s parachute, knowing when not to release a shuttle’s parachute, building a spacecraft that is aerodynamic and has an appropriately powerful engine for the amount of weight it’s carrying, etc. etc., Squad certainly did its homework when putting this game together. Unfortunately, on PS4, it’s not helped by things as small as bugs that prevent you from navigating settings options or as broad as development decisions that make you feel like you’re playing a PC game without a mouse and keyboard.
Instead of taking a step back from the PC version of the game to assess what makes console gaming fundamentally different from PC and determining how those differences might require different gameplay functionality, it seems that Squad took one version of the game and inserted it into a new platform. Selecting options, navigating in-game windows, and even adjusting sliders to increase or decrease an item’s statistic is all done by dragging the cursor across the screen and pressing X to select (as opposed to possibly using the D-Pad). The cursor’s movement is controlled by movement of the analog stick, and its default speed is set very high for a game that requires precision. Additionally, Squad made the odd choice of enabling the gamepad’s motion controls in order to move the cursor, making even the slightest jostle an infuriating affair. If you’re in-game and need to make adjustments to these settings, you’ll find that there’s a little bug that doesn’t allow you to scroll down through the menus, so even if there was a solution, you wouldn’t know it until exiting the game and entering the main menu settings section.
Upon starting the game, I completely ignored the Training section on the main menu, and was instead tempted to dive straight into the Career Mode just to give the game a try. As a complete Kerbal n00b, I was quickly confronted with messages telling me that I could learn to play the game in its tutorial. It didn’t even attempt to teach me by starting Career Mode. This would have been less of an issue if there weren’t 14 different, lengthy Training missions, many of which will likely require multiple attempts for the common gamer to master. And adding further insult to injury, while teaching the game’s lofty mechanics at a snail’s pace, Squad decided to do so by providing the smallest possible text size in a font that seems to randomly fade away at the tails. Sitting only a few feet from my 42” plasma television, I didn’t expect that eye-strain would be one of the greatest obstacles preventing me from launching into orbit.
Of course, there’s much more to this game than the fact that it falls short of translating well to the console market. There were actually moments I enjoyed between shaking my fists in frustration. Although the game can seem needlessly complicated in certain ways, it’s important to remember that it is meant to simulate some of the very real intricacies of space travel. There’s actually a lot of content here if you’re feeling up to the astrophysical challenge. Finally figuring out what I’d been doing wrong in the construction of one of my early shuttles to force it to spiral within the lower atmosphere flipped a switch in my brain that I can only compare to defeating a particularly difficult boss in a Souls game. Still, those experiences were few and far between the greater hazards of playing on the wrong platform. I couldn’t help but wish that I was investing my time into something that was more fun than work.
KSP’s music and presentation are nothing to praise, which is a little disappointing for a game that often gives you nothing interesting to pay attention to while in the midst of constructing a ship or waiting for your crew to reach a point of interest. Although you don’t always have to sit and wait for your expeditions to span the solar system thanks to the game’s fast-forward feature, it reveals just how sluggish Kerbal’s performance actually is on console. I quickly became hesitant to use this feature since the game proved to not be responsive enough to my inputs to stop my ships from flying 500 mph into oblivion.
The Verdict: 5.4 out of 10
I can’t help but wish that my first experience with Kerbal Space Program had been on PC. Squad has put a lot of effort into making their game a truly daunting experience, but it finds difficulty getting a foothold in the console market. It could be easy to assume that since you enjoyed Kerbal on PC, you might be interested in giving it a go on another platform; don’t do that thing. Sometimes PC gaming and console gaming should remain separate. This is one of those cases.
A review copy has been provided by Squad for this review.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Jordan Loeffler is Editor in Chief for MONG who drives a 2006 Pontiac Vibe with Minnesota license plates even though he lives in Portland, OR. She’s seafoam green, and she drives like a wave. You can also follow him on IGN and on Twitter.