Kerbal Space Program mixes physics based gameplay with a variety of game modes, from pure Sandbox to a couple of permutations on career mode, to give players the opportunity to research, design, build, crew and launch their own space ships. Starting off with the most basic of rockets – an exploding trash can with a pilot strapped to the top – you progress through to flying research probes and spaceplanes, landing on and roving about other planetary bodies and generally mucking about with the possibilities of space travel. Minus the billions of dollars and terrible PR when your experiments on how many engines you can tie together end in fatal disaster. Structured missions – or contracts – task you with achieving certain goals. There are also multiple scenarios to play out including simulations of historical space programs, such as Apollo. The game has had a successful life on the PC, starting off as many indie games do in early access, before making it to a final release over a year ago. NASA has even worked with the developers in crafting scenarios for players to try out. There is a solid game hiding underneath the rudimentary presentation, one which has the framework to appeal to those in search of a more mentally taxing style of game or those who like to nerd out on orbital mechanics and Delta V. Five years after making its first appearance Kerbal Space Program has been ported to console, with the Xbox One version getting reviewed here.
Kerbal Space Program is a notable example of how you can take a fine PC game and make a mockery of all the plus points in the console gaming environment. None of the problems are fatal, but they are sufficient in number and scope to make KSP a poor choice of game to play on a console. Why would I want to hitch myself up to about three feet away from my 50” screen so I can read the reams and reams of tiny and unadjustable text? Why should I have to struggle with a control system which has one option; the sticks to move a cursor to select from the numerous miniature and poorly designed icons? Why can I not adjust the size of the text or opt for a friendlier control scheme, (there’s a reason mouse-driven games have never ported well to consoles)? Why do I have to move the text box to the left so I can read the words obscured by that box spilling over the edge of my screen? Why does shrinking the UI scale not take care of this and how come when I do move the display area does it revert back to its original position when I move on to the next page? Why, oh why, is there no speech, which would address the text problems while also taking advantage of the opportunity to breathe life into the Kerbals themselves? Granted, the text problems are most acute during the tutorial phases. Yet this is a physics game and without taking the time to go through the tutorials you aren’t going to get very far. So right from the beginning the game leaves you struggling to make sense of it. Things do improve once you know what you are doing but those fiddly controls remain, adding in some unwieldy methods of addressing the small number of inputs on a controller compared to a keyboard.
This is, frankly, a very lazy port. Some of the issues, such as the text display snapping back off the screen, should have been picked up in testing and fixed. Others, such as the absence of speech or the dispiriting lack of effort in taking the opportunity to freshen up the graphics and interface, would have required some actual effort. For such a basic looking game it also takes a bewildering amount of time to load. The initial load is longer than any other Xbox One game in my collection and having to wait 15 seconds or so between locations makes me certain no attempt was made to optimize the code. Many of these problems could be addressed in patches, although without a complete UI redesign I can’t see how it will not remain cumbersome and unfriendly.
If KSP sounds like the kind of game that might interest you, get it. My review hasn’t focused on the gameplay – it’s enjoyable and educational, if physics-based gameplay is your cup of tea - rather the particularities of this console port. Which is just flat out abysmal. Get the game on the PC, where you have access to mods in addition to being able to focus on overcoming the challenges the game itself presents you, rather than the those of the interface and controls. Personally, I think this game shouldn’t have been released on console 'til the money and time was available to redesign the game from the ground up as a console title.