When Kerbal Space Program first rocketed onto the scene, I missed the shuttle. I openly admit to my preference of console games over those on PC, and thusly I?m usually late getting on board with every Indie darling that finds its way onto Steam. It?s not that I?m living under a rock and don?t hear of these games, to be clear. It?s just that, when not reviewing the occasional PC title for EGM, I instead often wait for them to inevitably go on sale?or, in this case, get ported to a different platform. So, it was with great zeal that I got a chance recently to finally try the fun, yet educational, game that has the likes of Elon Musk and scientists at NASA buzzing alongside the gaming community on the PlayStation 4.
For those completely unaware, Kerbal Space Program puts you in charge of a new space program on the planet Kerbin, modeled after that on our own Earth. You must construct rockets and other spacecraft in a state of the art space center, using those creations to then explore the solar system and its various planets and moons. Along the way, you?ll have to complete challenges that further the Kerbal people?s quest to better understand their universe, while also furthering your own space-faring knowledge.
As soon as the demo kicked off, I was tasked with building my own rocket ship. With far more parts unlocked for me than what you would start with at the beginning of the game, my creation could be described as nothing short of Frankenstein?s monster-like as I mixed and matched through the various ship component categories. Small thrusters connected to giant fuel tanks, with a mid-sized cockpit and a radar dish on the cone just for kicks. With his mouth agape in horror at my concoction, KSP producer Jose Luis Vives shakily told me to take it for a test drive.
Surprisingly, my rocket actually made it off the ground. With absolutely no balance, however, and my inexperience with the controls, the ship quickly came back down to the ground and began pinwheeling almost instantly. I found my abomination bouncing along the terrain before shattering into several pieces, and the thrusters flying off into the horizon before exploding.
For better or worse, though, I was hooked. I wanted to know how to make the proper spaceship. I wanted to learn and create in this universe laid out before me, and bring my newfound knowledge to the green humanoid masses of Kerbin. And if a few explosions happened along the ways of my trials and errors, well, so be it.
It was then decided I should instead see what a fully functional ship could do, so one of the team?s saved designs was loaded up?and this only made me fall more in love with what KSP was doing. This was a rocket ship, the kind you see in history books and old footage from the Apollo landings. After being walked through the controls, I took off, heading for the great unknown. My own personal mission, though, was just to make it to the moon.
As I jettisoned used fuel canisters and unnecessary sections of the ship, it wasn?t long before I had broken atmosphere. It was here, though, where my mission went awry. I found myself fighting with the controller often during my demo, the actually piloting portion of the gameplay for KSP requiring a more delicate touch than either the PS4 controller or I could provide. I wasted a lot of fuel course-correcting on my way up into orbit, and because of that, just as I kissed the blackness of deep space, I found myself being pulled down towards the ground faster than I left it due to Kerbin?s gravitational pull.
Human error was clearly a factor in my failure, but after having had a chance to familiarize myself more with the controls, I felt this was one area that the port was lacking. I?m fine with a port between systems simply repackaging the same game and just including previous add-ons and what not considering it’s the first time a new audience may be seeing it. But optimizing your controls for that new system is critical, and the more I learned about KSP, the more I saw that this was still an experience where a mouse and keyboard holds far greater appeal than a standard controller.
The button layout was not intuitive to what I needed to perform well, and while a deeper look showed some controller options, the defaults felt unnatural. Again, playing the game from the start might alleviate some of the difficulty I continued to have over my hour with the title, but clicking down on the controller?s sticks even brought up a mouse reticle to select different options on screen?showing that as far as the Kerbin people might travel into space, KSP had not traveled very far in its port over to consoles.
Poor controls aside, I refused to be deterred. I hopped into a new version of the previously saved ship, conveniently reconstructed for me by the Kerbal people, and again took off for the stars, this time breaking free of Kerbin?s pull. With enough fuel?and a straight enough trajectory?to steer towards a celestial body, my original goal of the moon was within sight. Once in the emptiness of space, I could finally truly plan my course. Pulling out to map view, I set a maneuver node?a device that would automatically correct my ship towards a particular path (great for deep space exploration)?to plot a course for my ship and my ragtag three-Kerbal crew. What I failed to take into consideration, though, was that the moon would continue to orbit as I made a beeline for it. And I had, again, run out of fuel. I drifted harmlessly by the moon, set off on an endless course into the abyss, having never reached my goal by the time my session finished up.
So, besides me being an awful astronaut, what did I learn during my experience with Kerbal Space Program for consoles? That it?s true in capturing the spirit of the original game, and is coming over with all the bells and whistles that had slowly been added over time on PC. Unfortunately, the controls are also a little too true to form, and had me longing for a mouse and keyboard. Still, it has me chomping at the bit to grab my space helmet and suit up alongside the Kerbin again when Kerbal Space Program drops sometime in the first half of 2016 on Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4.