Kerbal Space Program Enhanced Edition Review – It IS Rocket Science (PS4)
Kerbal Space Program is a physics-based space flight simulator that boasts a silly exterior, yet hides layers of complexity underneath the faces of these adorable alien beings. KSP is notorious for being an exceptionally accurate representation of the many physics and factors involved with space flight, even attracting the attention of NASA and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. It’s been in public release since 2011, then entered beta in 2014 before receiving a full release in 2015. It was ported to consoles in 2016, but was reportedly a buggy mess with poor optimization. Kerbal Space Program Enhanced Edition replaces that original console release, developed from the ground up for consoles to fix the many issues it had.
I was surprised to learn this after I had been playing (or at least attempting to play) KSP Enhanced Edition. As someone who doesn’t play games on PC, and missed the boat on the first Kerbal Space Program console release, this was my first hands on experience with the game. Despite preening that was was a from-the-ground-up development for consoles, Enhanced Edition still feels like an awkward port. The game’s inherent complexity bleeds into the modified DualShock 4 control scheme, and instead of modifying the game to fit with a controller (like one might expect from a dedicated console development), they simply built overly complex control inputs that are short of intuitive. Don’t even think about just jumping into the game without some training.
Let me be clear: there is a massive learning curve, to the point where it’s not so much a curve as it is a wall. It’s a difficulty spike of unreal proportions that begins the moment you boot up the game. After being utterly confused when selecting New Game, I spent more than three hours in the separate tutorials and the KSPedia (an encyclopedia of everything there is to know about playing Kerbal Space Program) before jumping back into the actual game, and I still felt like I had only scratched the surface. Kerbal Space Program is literally rocket science, and I felt like I had to go to school just to learn how to play.
I had hoped that the career mode might offer some kind of steady path towards actually learning how to play–building ships, launching them, sub-orbital and orbital space flight, etc.–but it just kind of throws you in without so much as a word on how to do things. Being developed anew for the Enhanced Edition, I would think it would have been easy enough to work the tutorials into the career and actually provide a ramps for players. As the game currently stands, you have to play through all of the tutorials to even begin to understand how to do anything, and then start from scratch again once you jump into career mode.
It seems that most of the re-development for the console Enhanced Edition was to remove the bugs from the original and create a control scheme that didn’t necessitate the use of the cursor at all times. The rest of KSP Enhanced Edition remains little more than a port of its PC counterpart, which seems like a huge missed opportunity to make the game more accessible to new players. I’m not talking about dumbing down the science. That’s an enormous part of what makes Kerbal Space Program so great. I’m asking for a better ramp to understanding the systems of the game, implemented into the game itself, instead of sectioned off in separate tutorials and a readable encyclopedia of knowledge. Those things are great to have available, but starting career mode with literally given no direction at all on my next move feels like poor game design.
After futzing around with the tutorials and KSPedia for hours, and then wasting a bunch of time trying to figure out exactly what all of the buildings in my space center were for. I finally got the opportunity to build a rocket–or rather, I got the chance to build and launch the same trash can with a control module that I had made in the first tutorial. This is the best part, and launching rockets is a lot of fun. After a little more time I was getting a bit more comfortable with completing missions, assigning crew members, and researching new tech so that I could build better space craft.
Eventually, it’s possible to reach the point of launching missions to other planets, including multiple rocket stages that would allow for landing, relaunch, reentry, and recovering astronauts from where they land back on home. Kerbal Space Program makes that dream feel about as far away as hopping on an actual rocket to the moon, though, failing to provide a clear path to players, even in the career mode that is supposed to have more of that guidance. I can see a lot of new players expecting this to be a really fun rocket sim, and then getting frustrated when there’s very little in-game direction on the science of why your rocket exploded before it ever got off the launch pad (which could have been anything from fuel to balance of propulsion, to weakness of bonding joints, to improperly staging each section of the space craft), or how to build up and advance your space center.
A Physics Sandbox
It’s a lot of fun to fail and screw around with the physics engine, and for this, the sandbox mode unlocks everything so that you can just play around with building absurd multi-stage rockets and launching them into the sun (if they can even make it off the ground). When you want to start actually simulating successful space missions though, don’t expect Kerbal Space Program to hold your hand, and don’t expect that the Enhanced Edition for consoles will acquiesce to those who might want a more guided experience. There’s an exceptionally fun game at the heart of Kerbal Space Program, but you’ll have to climb a cliff-face while earning a college degree to find it.
For those who love hyper-detailed simulators, Kerbal Space Program has that in spades, and for that alone, Kerbal Space Program deserves high marks. In my experience, though, that audience is far more prevalent on PC, which makes it disappointing to see that the console specific Enhanced Edition still feels like a poor console port of a heavily PC-based title. That said, it did fix many of the rampant bugs present in the original console release, and offers a better control scheme that makes use of the DualShock 4. Once I took myself to many hours of Kerbal Space Program school, I finally started to have a lot of fun, but the learning curve is far too steep for players that want a more guided and gradual approach, especially in a re-release that was developed from the ground up for consoles. That’s basic game design. It’s not rocket science.
Kerbal Space Program Enhanced Edition review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.