Kerbal Space Program Proves Early Access Can Still be a Fan Favorite
Most players’ first experience in Squad’s still-in-development space exploration simulator, Kerbal Space Program, will go something like this:
Step 1: Slap several fuel tanks onto your astronauts’ command module.
Step 2: Place a fat engine on the bottom.
Step 3: Put a couple… no, six… solid fuel boosters on the side.
Step 4: Launch the rocket.
Step 5: Point straight up into the sky until your rocket runs out of fuel, assuming it has not yet exploded.
Step 6: Become concerned as your rocket begins to lose velocity and fall toward the planet Kerbin’s surface.
Step 7: Watch in horror as all astronauts onboard your craft die in a fiery impact on the planet’s surface because you forgot to add a parachute.
In seven simple steps you have effectively killed Kerbin’s bravest heroes… Congratulations! You have now completed your first training exercise toward becoming the engineer, physicist, and lead commander of Kerbal Space Program.
After your first failure, you will realize that this game is not as easy as it looks. KSP walks the line between videogame fun and accurate physics, orbital mechanics, and rocketry. This ensures that you will likely kill again, but you’ll have lots of fun doing it.
Although the game can be difficult and new challenges will arise as you progress, what makes KSP brilliant is the way in which it simplifies the science and mathematics behind the game to make it a thoughtfully fun experience. For example, in order to achieve a successful orbit and avoid the fiery death mentioned above, all you need to do is angle your rocket and then follow your prograde vector to reach a reasonable velocity. Once your apoapsis reaches a sufficient height, make a prograde burn at that point until you have achieved an orbit outside the planet's atmosphere.
If you got lost in all the terminology, don't worry. Thankfully, KSP contains an easy-to-use tool that allows players to plan and adjust their orbits by simply dragging an icon. Once your path has been set the game automatically calculates how long you will need to burn to reach your desired destination.
The game provides enough tools that it is not required to be an astrophysicist to be successful in the game, but you want to be sure you take advantage of those tools. If you plan a mission to land on Kerbin's "mun" by simply pointing your rocket toward it, you will find it will have moved by the time you get there. Once you master orbital mechanics, however, you are then faced with the new challenge of building more powerful rockets to reach distant moons and planets.
There are two game modes, sandbox and career mode. While in sandbox mode you will have the best and most powerful rocket parts available. In career mode you are required to perform science experiments on your home planet and throughout the solar system to earn enough points to unlock new parts on your research tree. This forces you to push the limits of what you can do with the parts currently unlocked and encourages you to explore new areas of the solar system.
Despite this, however, the game currently lacks enough to detail to make exploration a truly immersive experience. Though there are some beautiful moments in the game, such as seeing the sunrise while in orbit over Kerbal, the graphics aren't overly impressive. The game is stunning at times, but with improved graphics could be something on an entirely new level.
While other planets and moons in the game have unique differences, such as their color, atmosphere, and gravity, the lack of detail on these bodies does not always reward extensive exploration on a single object in the solar system.
Though $26.99 may seem like too high a cost for a game still in development, the game contains enough to learn and do to warrant such a price.
After all, KSP may be the closest you ever come to fulfilling your childhood dreams of traveling through space.