It’s Not Easy Being Green

by Daniel Tack on May 04, 2015 at 10:15 AM

A look of playful wonder is in your little Kerbal’s eyes as you count down to the launch of your new spaceship. Does this look of awe change as the struts on your scaffolding break under the weight of 20 perilously placed fuel tanks and your half-cocked creation falls on the launch pad? Does it change when you blow everything in a last-ditch attempt to save the mission from failure, sending the ship rocketing off at a dangerous angle? No, Kerbals are soldiers to the end, staying positive even as you send them crashing at high speed into nearby lakes. Don’t worry – in another few minutes you have a new crew and a better rocket with even more absurd part placement! That’s some of the fun of Kerbal Space Program – unparalleled experimentation with what amounts to a consequence-free box of spaceship Lego pieces.

When you sit down to play a game of Kerbal Space Program, you have two main choices: kicking around in a sandbox-style, anything-goes, rocket-creation program, or heading into the far more advanced career mode. Sandbox mode is thoroughly enjoyable for players of all skill levels; you have a wide selection of spaceship parts you can put together any way you like. Then you shoot your craft into orbit, or watch something go horribly wrong as your cute Kerbals explode or are sent spinning uncontrollably into the distant scenery.

Career mode is on the opposite end of the spectrum, where the truly hardcore have their work cut out for them. The content here is highly challenging, fare fit for an astrophysicist with some resource management skills. Players must juggle many facets of the program, including R&D, recruitment, orbital mechanics, exploring planets, and mining resources. Without the consequence-free experimentation of the sandbox, this complexity can be daunting, and makes advanced maneuvers inaccessible despite a long tutorial. The tutorial has the best intentions, but explaining some of the concepts involved in procedures such as achieving orbit are simply difficult to teach. The tough-to-navigate UI and unintuitive controls don’t make the process any easier.

Kerbal Space Program provides something for everyone: players who will never see a return voyage from “the Mun,” and those who delve into special resource gathering, landing, docking, and crew-out-of-ship activities. If you are a creative type who loves to fool around with physics, you’ll probably love Kerbal Space Program. If you’re just looking to create unbelievable, ridiculous rockets with an impractical number of fuel pods, you can still have plenty of fun. Whatever your level of engagement, you can enjoy shooting these little green Smurfs into space – or into the nearby scenery.