He’s dead, Jim.
Alright, look. This isn’t going to be an easy one for me, and I want to be up front about why. Sometimes, when games are ported, things happen to them. Sometimes those are good things, and sometimes they are not. Sometimes you see a game ascend to a whole new tier of playability by adaptation to a new platform. Other times, you see a game rendered borderline unplayable by those same means.
Three guesses which camp Kerbal Space Program on Playstation 4 falls into.
Kerbal Space Program only saw PC release as a fully-finished game last year, but that came after several years of early access building it a strengthening following. The game is a big ol’ stuff-builder; namely, players build increasingly complex rocket ships, taking into account a lot of the same kinds of gravitational and technological factors one might have to think about if one were to make a space-faring vessel in real life. The end goal? To build a craft capable of achieving a steady orbit outside of the Kerbal home planet of Kerbin. There are tons of parts, tech trees, and methods at the player’s disposal. The game creates a beautiful toolbox to work with, and a complex one at that. It’s just too bad that all of this is so impossible to manipulate behind…well, behind the porting job that was done.
The very first thing I noticed when I booted up Kerbal Space Program on my Playstation 4 was a hidden warning, and one that I did not know to heed. The game boots up with a loading bar, backed by the de facto (slightly low-res) cover art. The loading bar displays the file names of everything being loaded, along with a whole bunch of other jargon that my more console-minded brain isn’t familiar with. This is something you usually don’t see outside of PC games, and was a sign of what I had to expect. You’ll understand why in a moment.
This is my TV. It’s a 40-inch LCD with 1080p display. Every console game I have ever reviewed for this website has been played on this very TV. With Kerbal Space Program, I ran into a type of problem that I never have since before I knew I needed glasses, and had to stand close to my family’s old TV to read DVD menus.
At a closer look, here is what happens to text in Kerbal Space Program, on that very same screen. I have to stand about a foot and a half from my TV in order to clearly read what’s going on, and have heard of similar complaints from players with even bigger units. How this scaling was greenlit is beyond me, but it makes learning the ropes of Kerbal unreasonably annoying from the get-go, as every bit of tutorial is based in tiny text made (at a guess) for no screen smaller than 60 inches.
On top of that, the HUD isn’t good either. What seems to have happened was a sloppy job at adapting a mouse cursor to work with the left stick, with the X and O (or A and B) buttons becoming the left and right click. This would be (and is) bad enough, but added is the factor of just how sensitive the cursor is. When building a ship, for example, a single flick of the stick will move the cursor two or three parts on the inventory list, making the mere selection of icons a huge chore. Naturally, it’s not always easy to adapt a game as icon-heavy as Kerbal Space Program from a keyboard and mouse to a controller, but there are certainly better ways than this. And before you say it, no, that sensitivity cannot be changed. At least, I don’t think it can; whenever I try to sloppily click and drag to scroll down the settings menu, the scroll bar freaks out and won’t let me. There could be spoilers for the new Star Wars movie down there, or Hillary Clinton’s lost emails, and I would never know.
Even more frustrating is the fact that building in a three-dimensional space is very hard to nail down with a controller, and here, too, the port misses the mark. Linking pieces together accurately feels like when you go to the supermarket and wind up with one of those shopping carts that has one wheel that keeps pulling it to the left. There is absolutely nothing fun about building spaceships. What a sad sentence to have to write. The game also somehow performs choppier than any game with visuals that mediocre has any right to, slowing down or skipping frames at random when launching a ship, and sometimes even during construction. I even had the game fail to launch on multiple instances, which tells that the optimization was done about as well as any player’s first attempt at space flight.
What’s most frustrating about the dollar store-quality structure that is Kerbal Space Program on consoles is that the game at its core is actually really cool. It’s definitely not for everyone, with a level of technical detail only truly fit for the kinds of gamers who excel at other things within the genre of engineering-based games. If you play a lot of Super Mario Maker, you’ll probably have a thrilling time. It really does show that the game has been in early access for years, giving ample time to take in player feedback and make the game the best possible thing it can be. There’s a lot of learning to be had at the outset, but the patient will be rewarded. That’s what Kerbal does at its best, really; it rewards.
What I’m really saying here is that you should just play it on PC. The console versions of Kerbal Space Program are one of the laziest port jobs I have seen in gaming memory, and sully the entire experience as a result. It takes good systems and makes them halfway-impossible to maneuver. It’s not that the game is unplayable, but that playing it takes twice as long as it normally would do to finicky controls, bad layouts, and nigh-unreadable text.
Final verdict: 1 / 5
Available on: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC (not afflicted by the grievances mentioned above); Publisher: Squad, Flying Tiger ; Developer: Squad; Players: 1 ; Released: July 12, 2016 ; ESRB: n/a ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Kerbal Space Program given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.