Preview - Kerbal Space Program

Have you ever thought about being in a space program? How about being an astronaut? Kerbal Space Program is a virtual realization for those who dreamed about getting strapped to a rocket and blasted off into the final frontier. Developed by Squad, the goal of the game is to help the Kerbals get off their planet and explore the vastness of space - a task easier said than done. The game has been in development for the last two years but thanks to a paid early access, players get an entertaining glimpse of what could very well be the best space simulation game on the market.

Because the game is still in development, the only functioning portion is the Sandbox Mode mode. There will be a “Mission” mode that offers numerous challenges with limited budgets for rocket builds but until then, you’re free to utilize your creativity without any financial burden. In order to get into space, you’re going to need a rocket. You’re given a large collection of components and objects in order to create a vessel capable of delivering space station modules, satellites, lunar landers and the Kerbals themselves. Creatively speaking, the game is essentially Little Big Planet meets The Right Stuff. However, there’s so much more to Kerbel Space Program than strapping rockets to everything Wile E. Coyote-style. Given the sandbox nature of the gameplay, the why of going into to space is entirely your choice. Sending satellites into orbit, construction functioning space stations, performing a space walk, and even landing on the surface of nearby planets is completely open to you from the start. After numerous failed launches and rocket malfunctions, I successfully got my Kerbal out of atmosphere and into cold blackness of space only to be confronted with the soul shattering question, “ what?” With no planned landing strategy, I doomed my brave astronaut to a terrible fate. He’s probably still out there now, wondering when he’s coming home.

Outside of the carefree nature of the Kerbals and the hilariously horrifying spectacle of poorly designed rockets exploding violently on the launchpad is a game that offers intelligent and mature space simulation. In Sandbox Mode, it is important to design a rocket with a specific mission in mind. Want to deploy a satellite into orbit around the Mun (Kerbin’s orbiting moon)? You’ll need to design it and create the rocket to carry it. How about a quick visit to Kerbal’s Mars analogue, Duna? You’re going to need enough fuel to get you there and back again along with a landing craft and maybe a little space go-kart for a ride along the surface. Whatever you choose to build, your spacecraft will be subject to physics and gravity and requires careful course corrections and expert flying. Wing Commander this ain’t. Piloting your ship is a relatively tricky task with some measure of precision lest you break trajectory or worse, miss the re-entry window.

There are a few tutorials that cover the low level basics of liftoff, flight and orbiting but at the moment they feel somewhat inadequate. Again, the game is still in development so I won’t fault Squad for that. They’ll most likely get better at launch. Instead, the player has the opportunity to explore the robust Kerbal Space Program fan community that offers advice on everything from construction to landing on planets. The Kerbal Space Program Reddit Community even offers weekly challenges for those looking for a little excitement. Both communities have developed a large number of game mods that are fully supported by Squad.

Kerbal Space Program is shaping up to be an incredibly fun game. While the game doesn’t appear to be launching any time soon, I’m perfectly happy with what Sandbox Mode has to offer. Paying for early access comes with free updates - which happens quite often. Combined with an active and friendly community, this is definitely a game to watch for.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.