Kerbal Space Program puts you in charge of a fictional version of NASA located on the planet known as, Kerbal. Your job is… well, you don’t actually have a job. Instead you are dropped into the spaceport with a collection of parts that, when properly assembled, allow you to perform an array of space-related missions. Think of it as a giant sandbox where the only things standing between you and the stars is your own ingenuity and the reality of physics.
It’s not a game for those who are impatient or unable to commit. Putting together a basic rocket and brute-forcing your way out of the atmosphere is simple enough, but constructing more intricate systems takes a lot of time, thought, and experimentation. That experimentation bit is key, because the game doesn’t teach you how to use the different components effectively. The four tutorials currently included go over the basics of the interface and introduce some basic orbital maneuvers, but after that you’re left to your own devices.
It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but the fun in KSP lies in trying to figure it all out. The game is essentially a giant puzzle, except you’re inventing the problems for yourself. So, for example, you’ll set a goal of building a rocket that can get into space. Once you’ve figured that out, you might decide to try making a successful orbit then returning safely back home. Then you might try going on a trip to the Mun (Kerbal’s moon). When you’re ready for the ultimate challenge, you could even try reaching a different planet. Each of these activities require different solutions, and some might even be multi-mission projects. Getting to another planet may require you to build a space station first, for example.
If you don’t want to mess around with the ship-building aspect, there are four pre-made scenarios you can play. The first of these is boring and only exists to let you experiment with extra-vehicular activity, but the others provide a wealth of fun. The second scenario challenges you to avoid crashing into the Mun and return safely home. Another is a vanilla mission that asks you to land the provided craft on the Mun, then take off and return home. The final scenario gives you a couple space stations and a space-plane, but doesn’t provide any specific objective to complete, opting instead to let you explore on your own.
There’s also the promise of a career mode if you want/need more direction in your playtime. I call it a “promise” because the feature is shown when you start a new game, but you can’t actually select it. Which brings us to the key thing to keep in mind about Kerbal Space Program: it’s a work in progress. There’s a lot of gameplay available as is, but there’s also a lot missing. Your home planet of Kerbal, for instance, is barren except for the spaceport where you operate. Some tutorials appear to be missing; the one that teaches you how to go to the moon is listed as “part 1” with no other parts available. There are a few pre-made craft available in the hangar, but there needs to be more, especially ones that mimic real-world vessels. Finally, of course, more scenarios would be nice.
I’m not saying this to criticize the game. What’s there is plenty great, but don’t go in expecting it to be a perfect experience just yet. Squad is actively adding new content and modes, so consider your purchase an investment into a product that will grow over time.
Conclusion—Is It Worth The Money?
It’s quite a significant investment as well. Kerbal Space Program costs $23, which is more than three times the price from a year ago and fairly high for an independently-produced game. However, it’s a niche product that will only appeal to a very small, specific audience. That makes the price more than reasonable to me, and if you’re into the subject matter then it’s definitely worth the money.