Kerbal Space Program, developed by Squad, is a game where you launch frogs at planets in very complicated and explosive ways. There are many ways to launch your space frogs, most of which involving rockets. You can build spaceships, rovers, planes, and, with ingenuity, even boats, submarines, and slingshots. With tons of planets to launch your space frogs at and tons of different things to do with them while launching, Kerbal Space Program keeps you as busy as you can be.
Outside of the game is no different, with omnipotent Scottish people and universe destroying cyborgs leading the community with interesting videos that make you want to go do things to space frogs that our own space program would never do. There are mods for automation, mods for blimps, mods for clouds, mods for bases, mods for bananas, mods for just about anything you can think of, and then some mods for things you can't think of. All in all, Kerbal Space Program has everything you could want and more. That said, let's look into some of the specifics and see if it really matches the hype of the first two paragraphs.
First is the graphics. Kerbal Space Program is made in Unity, so it's not going to be blowing any doors off. It's appealing, though, and is as good looking as it needs to be. The true work is put on the CPU rather than the GPU, as the game's physics simulation is quite taxing. Debris, collisions, aerodynamics, gravity, and all that other space stuff leads to a demanding game. For graphics settings you've got three categories: scenery, rendering, and video. Each category is fleshed out, and it all supports a wide variety of options. The effects ingame are nice, the terrain looks good, and overall it's a nice experience.
The audio is about what you would expect. Most of the time it's stock music and rocket noises. The audio options menu contains different sliders for spacecraft, ambience, UI, music, and voices, which is nice. There's also a built in normalizer for loud rockets which is pretty cool and not something you see often in games. Not much else to say here.
The controls work flawlessly. Keys can be rebound easily, there's support for tons of different input configurations, every button has its own options, and there's more configuration around every corner. It gives you everything you need to set it up just the way you want it. Everything is responsive and happens without any noticeable lag.
The gameplay is where the shine begins to really show. Kerbal Space Program gives you a bunch of different parts for rockets, planes, rovers, etc and lets you do with them as you please. Throw some airspikes on a rocket or a solid rocket booster on a plane if you want. Toss your plane in the ocean, put it on a rover, launch it to another planet, plant a flag, launch it to another planet, throw it in another ocean, it's all acceptable. The missions in career mode are really only guidelines. You can do whatever you want. Personally, I make it my mission to put a permanent base on every planet and a refueling station in every orbit. Kerbal Space Program's primary focus on gameplay eliminates a need for story, though there is writing of sorts. It's very much in the background and outside of random messages it's not something the average player will stumble upon.
One unfortunate fact is that there is currently no official multiplayer. Mods that add in the functionality exist but with significant bugs. Squad has stated that there will be multiplayer in the future, though the estimations for when aren't certain.
It really is a rare type of game that makes you not mind your failures. Even the most crushing defeats can be fun. Mostly because you get to watch the explosion, but also because you can quickly fix the problems and try again. The sense of satisfaction and achievement you get from successful missions is beyond anything I've experienced in a game. One of the ultimate challenges, getting to the surface of Eve and back, feels more rewarding than all the bubble wrap in the world. Even after playing for so long, the simplest Mun missions are fun. The challenge is constantly present with even the most advanced players taking every step seriously. It's a lot like actually controlling a space program only without the threat of death, or worse, budget cuts. The lives of Kerbals are expendable, though certainly cared for. Some players go through absurd levels of engineering and risk to get back a single kerbalnaut stuck in space. On the flip side, some players deliberately engage in Kerbal terrorism in an attempt to force Squad into action. Surely there's a presidential speech somewhere on that topic.
In the second paragraph, there was mention of the community. Kerbal Space Program is largely a community driven game, with a lot of content to be consumed and a lot of discussion to be had. A lot of information is gathered and discussed on the official forums and Reddit's /r/KerbalSpaceProgram, as well as a mountain of screencaps, fan art, renders, stories, strategies, and like any community, complaints. Complaints about mods, complaints about the forums, complaints about the game, etc. Of course there are many legitimate complaints, like the poor mod support, memory issues, engine limitations, and sporadic texture quality.
Despite the complaints, Kerbal Space Program is a fine game. It's challenging, rewarding, appealing, hilarious, and it actually teaches you a lot about physics and space stuff. For those with an interest in space, it's a go-to game, being so popular in the crowd that it's even played by a lot of NASA staff. The amount of people who come to the forums and subreddit saying how they now understand terms like geostationary orbit and Hohmann transfer are staggering. If that's what you're looking for then look no further.
To summarize, Kerbal Space Program is amazing. It has a long way to go despite it's 1.0 release, and the developers intend to take it there. Keep an eye on it in the future, and if you're on the fence about picking it up: Go for it. You won't regret it. You can pick it up (currently at 25% off) here on GOG.
What are your thoughts on Kerbal Space Program? Do you agree with what's said here? Let us know in the comments.
Disclosure: I have had contact with the Kerbal Space Program developers in the past when setting up an AMA on Teddit as part of an unofficial/unpaid position I once held. The last contact with the developers was August 11th, 2014 over email. Kerbal Space Program was purchased by me in November 2013.
Kerbal Space Program is exactly as fun as it seems, with challenge and entertainment to spare.