Written by Maxwell Nighswander
Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulation video game developed by Squad and available for Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U. In the game, players direct the space program of an alien race known as Kerbals, building spacecraft and blowing them up dramatically sending them on missions throughout the Kerbals’ solar system.
Unlike the vast majority of space sim games, KSP takes its physics very seriously. Spacecraft follow a Newtonian physics model which accurately portrays orbital mechanics, and can be torn apart by excessive force. While the game takes some breaks from reality for the sake of fun (particularly in regards to the games’ abnormally small planets), many of these can be corrected if wished by taking advantage of the extensive modding community.
The extreme realism means that the game has quite a steep learning curve – one can expect to see their craft crash and burn many times before they first achieve orbit – which makes it all the more satisfying when one aerobrakes a lander onto the surface of Laythe after a multi-year long gravity assist transfer. At the same time, it manages to present physics concepts in a remarkably intuitive, particularly orbital mechanics, making it useful for learning about basic aerospace concepts in an easy, fun manner.
The game has three modes: Sandbox, Science and Career. In the first, you start with unlimited funds and all available parts, allowing you to build whatever you want within the limitations of the game’s physics engine. This makes it a good way to start with the game, or do whatever craziness you wish once you’ve mastered it. The second one, Science, still has unlimited funds, but you start with only a few of the available parts and must collect scientific data from throughout the solar system to unlock more. I enjoyed this one less; it lacks the options of Sandbox mode and the goals of Career mode. The final mode, Career, fully simulates the Kerbals’ space program. You must collect scientific data to unlock parts, gain funds to launch missions and upgrade your space center by performing missions for contractors while maintaining a good reputation with outsiders. Overall I mostly played in this mode; it had the greatest challenges and the most goals out of the available options.
Graphics wise the game is rather unimpressive; while the CGI models are decent they aren’t particularly detailed. The music’s the same; it gets the job done, but it’s nothing special.