Space has always captured the imagination of many – myself included. There’s something magical about the thought of humanity one day being able to conquer the stars and venture away from the Earth. However, there is one game that allows you to become a rocket scientist in the safety of your own home. Kerbal Space Program lets you build and manage rockets and spacecraft as you explore the cosmos, and now it’s arrived on consoles.
• Developer: Squad
• Publisher: Squad
• Reviewed on: Xbox One
• Also Available on: PlayStation 4, PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Upon its announcement for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, I was both excited and sceptical over Kerbal Space Program. On the plus side, it gives new players a chance to check out what is undeniably an interesting and unique game that brings out the creativity in most people that play it. But on the downside, it was hard for me to figure out how the game would be able to adapt to a controller when it definitely favours mouse and keyboard controls.
Excitement and scepticism were definitely warranted as Kerbal Space Program is still fun on consoles but to get to the fun part you have to get past the monstrosity that is the UI and awful controls. I feel as if I need to address this elephant in the room as it nearly killed the entire experience for me before I’d even got into the game properly.
I was expecting the UI to have noticeable differences to accommodate console players and controllers – as most PC to console ports do – but that simply isn’t the case. It’s unwieldy, clunky and a nightmare to navigate. Scroll bars, tabs and other UI elements you’d associate with a PC version are here, untouched. Using your thumbsticks to control an onscreen cursor like a mouse is awful. There’s no precision to it and it becomes overly frustrating in a matter of moments. But it’s not just UI navigation that is clunky, the building portion of the game suffers due to the lack of precision too, and the camera controls are a complete nightmare. Rotation of parts is done via the d-pad and they hardly ever rotate in the direction that you want them to.
Having played Kerbal Space Program a significant amount on PC I was ready to just give up on the console version after a measly hour of play time. But giving it the benefit of the doubt I finally got a ship constructed after much blood, sweat and tears were shed. Getting a ship into orbit works surprisingly well on a controller. Button placements and configurations still aren’t great but performing manoeuvres in your ship using the thumbsticks and triggers feels surprisingly natural.
Managing your fuel and making sure your ships/satellites stage properly is immensely rewarding. Once you’ve broken out of the atmosphere the battle to get into a stable orbit begins. You’ll probably suffer many failures trying to do this, but failure is part of the process of perfecting your designs. You can look at an in-game map to see how the progress of your orbital alignments are going, and seeing my first satellite get into orbit for the first time was a great feeling.
Aside from putting satellites in orbit around Kerbin – the in-game representation of Earth – you can also travel to multiple planets and moons using different atmospheres and landscapes that you’ll need to adjust spacecraft and landing craft to.
If you’re new to Kerbal Space Program there’s also a tutorial mode, however it doesn’t explain things very well. You’ll be met with walls of (unbearably small) text interspersed with gameplay but you’ll still be scratching your head afterwards in some cases. When you need to go and look up tutorials on YouTube to figure out what you’re doing, the in-game tutorial is definitely doing something wrong. In some cases you’ll even end up teaching yourself how the game works, which shouldn’t be the case.
There are a number of modes to play in such as sandbox, science and career. In sandbox you’ll get access to all of the items to build your crafts without the worry of funding. Science mode allows you to conduct experiments within your craft without having to worry about contracts and funding that you’ll find in career. Career is for those players who are after a genuine challenge, conducting experiments, undertaking contracts and having the restrictions of funding as well. There’s something for every player in Kerbal Space Program.
The console version of Kerbal Space Program is undeniably inferior when compared to its PC counterpart and it’s disheartening to have to say that, as it’s a great game on PC – which also has a tonne of mod support as well. I can’t help but feel that the game could have used some extra time in development to iron out the (massive) kinks in the controls. It would maybe have even benefitted to being on Xbox Game Preview to help perfect the game on a console platform. There’s fun to be had but the UI and controls are undoubtedly going to be enough to throw a lot of people off and infuriate them in the process. If you’re going to pick up Kerbal Space Program, pick it up on PC.