Kerbal Space Program: Enhanced Edition is a game like no other on PlayStation 4, not only in terms of its space program-running gameplay, but also in terms of what’s going on under its deceptively cartoonish hood. A very impressive physics engine is stored in there, with every orbit calculated and every atmosphere rendered. There’s plenty of meat for science nerds to dig into, not just in exploring distant planets, but also in all the little calculations you’ll need to make to keep your ship, er, shipshape. There’s centre of mass and gravity to worry about when building your spacecraft, as well as the apoapsis and periapsis to check while you’re in orbit, not to mention relative velocity.
This jargon is pretty offputting upon booting up KSP, but the comprehensive tutorials are excellent in helping you not only understand how to build a spaceship or spaceplane and get it into space, but also the technical details you’ll need to know in order to do more complex things. You’ll learn how to increase the eccentricity of your orbit (how to make it more circular) and how to get your spacecraft’s trajectory into a body’s sphere of influence (how to get into another planet’s orbit). Not only are these tutorials interesting and quite easy to follow, but they’re also a great educational tool that explain physics succinctly.
Though there are scenarios to play through once you’ve earned your space legs, the real game starts in career mode, in which you undertake the running of an entire spaceport. Ship-building is the main focus: you’ll start off with only a handful of parts, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Constructing a craft is as easy as dragging and dropping a few parts together, while symmetry and angle snap tools help you keep things tidy and optional overlays show the scientific stuff.
Progressing through career mode earns you more and more parts, allowing you to try out different combinations and constructions: creating a multi-staged rocket that can power through the atmosphere before shedding an engine and manoeuvring into orbit, for example. The game’s NavBall (which helps you get your bearings) as well as its map mode (which allows you to plan manoeuvres in advance) make jetting around in space a precise but accessible task, and performing a well-executed manoeuvre to slingshot yourself into another planet’s orbit feels rewarding.
As deep as ship-building is, that’s only one face of career mode. In order to get money to hire better astronauts and get better parts, you’ll need to take on contracts. These range from collecting a scientific sample on Kerbin – KSP’s equivalent of Earth – to reaching one of the outermost planets in the game’s solar system to mining resources on different planets using rovers. The tempting rewards that contracts offer – funds and reputation – are a great way to encourage players to keep trying out new playstyles and experience the crazy amount of depth that developer Squad has created.
There are also scientific experiments to be performed while in orbit or on another planet, netting you science points which allow you to upgrade your technology, while you can also upgrade your spaceport and set out business strategies in order to rake in more funds. It certainly can be challenging and a bit overwhelming at times, but career mode offers both longevity and creativity.
Of course, there are options for an easier experience. Sandbox mode unlocks all parts and gives you unlimited funds while eschewing contracts and scientific experiments, instead focusing on mucking about with your creations. Science mode, on the other hand, is a medium between the other two; while not containing contracts or limiting you with funds, it focuses entirely on advancement through experiments and science points.
Yet for all of its depth and impressive technology, it’s a shame to say that Kerbal Space Program is a near-shambolic port. Especially outside the tutorials, bugs are rife; our first attempt at starting a career led us to a completely black hub screen. While ship-building still worked, when we moved to the launchpad the screen turned black again, there was no floor, and our craft had turned into a semi-broken silhouette. Attempting to restart the game froze our PS4 for so long that we had to pull the power cord out, potentially damaging it.
The framerate is also wildly inconsistent, especially when performing manoeuvres in space – even in the zoomed-out map screen the framerate slows down noticeably upon turning on the throttle, and with particularly complex ships the game struggles even on the launchpad. Sure, the physics engine must use up a lot of the PS4’s power, but these constant slowdowns are surprising considering that its graphics are very basic: the surface of most planets look very low-res even from far away, and the admittedly-cute Kerbals are in need of some anti-aliasing with all of their jagged edges.
The UI also hasn’t been adapted to console well at all: it looks cluttered at times, it’s stretched-out and jagged on big screens, and the text is tiny, which is especially a problem in tutorials, where you’ll often be reading a wall of text in order to learn fundamental mechanics. It’s also prone to its fair share of glitches, too – we had to restart tutorials multiple times in order to progress because the text window got stuck and froze.
While the controls in general aren’t too bad, there are some glaring issues when in orbit. Planning a manoeuvre requires you to use L1 and R1 in order to switch between modes and adjust your trajectory, but these buttons also control the time warp tool that allows you to fast-forward time. This means that, while you plan a manoeuvre, you’ll also be speeding up time simultaneously, giving you less time to plan and often making you miss your opportunity. It’s things like this that can make a great game like Kerbal Space Program ultimately frustrating.
It's such a shame that Kerbal Space Program: Enhanced Edition is so shoddily ported, because underneath its buggy, messy experience lies a fantastically detailed game with plenty for science nerds. The career mode offers replayability and near-endless depth, while the tutorials are hugely helpful in bringing new people into the complex clutches of physics, but its plethora of bugs and some huge design oversights make it very hard to recommend. The gameplay itself shoots for the stars, but its technical problems bring it crashing back down.