Kerbal Space Program’s update .25, which went live earlier this month, adds a lot of back-end structure, including new modes and detailed difficulty options. The design and flight of ships in KSP remains as challenging as ever, but granular controls now give you the option of enforcing harsh penalties on yourself like the masochist you are. Whether Kerbals respawn, how bad a mission failure is for your public image, and how much money you start with can all be toggled and adjusted for a game in career mode.
Science mode is new to update .25, but it’s actually old—it’s what career mode looked like months ago before funding, reputation, and contracts were added. In Science mode, your only objectives are making new discoveries and going to new places. Sandbox mode remains the same: it’s just you against physics, and the solar system is your playground.
Much to my delight, KSP’s new Hard mode is classic PC gaming all the way: minimal funding, brutal penalties for failure, and Ironman-mode restrictions on quicksaves or rewinding flights to launch. If your ship blows up on the launchpad, guess what, commander: you get to pay for a second one. As I get deeper into my Ironman career save, I may end up with a body count rivaling my misadventures in XCOM.
A new building has been added to the Space Center grounds: the administration building. Inside, members of the KSP administration involved in purchasing, public relations, research, and accounting argue at board meetings. The administration building allows players to fine-tune their agency’s strategy based on current needs. If you’ve had some lucrative contracts but a high-profile explosion has flushed your reputation out the space toilet, sacrificing cash for a reputation boost with a public appreciation campaign might be worthwhile. If you’ve got a lot of science points sitting around and need some quick cash, a patent licensing program will help you get sorted out.
Because so much of update .25 is in the background, it may appear to be a stale, unsexy patch. That’s where you’d be wrong. Sexy update number one:
Space Center buildings are now destructible, so I spent some time crashing into them to test the mechanic. You know: for science. Each building crumbles and explodes in chunky gouts of flame, made even flashier by KSP’s new explosion animations. When the ashes cool, destroyed buildings are useless until you pay to rebuild them. This can either be inconvenient or catastrophic, depending on the building; there’s a very real possibility that crashing into the Vehicle Assembly Building on hard mode will mean the permanent end of that space agency.
Update .25’s other new hotness: space planes have undergone a full makeover. Partnering with community mod SpacePlanes+, KSP has overhauled fixed-wing designs and mechanics. Two new cargo bays (previously only supported through mods) have been added, along with new cockpits and structural options. Since a reliable space shuttle program is the cheapest way to bring supplies to low orbit, these new space planes will form the supply-line backbone for assembling deep-space missions at a space station.
Oh, and they look great, too.
Squad has already been on the horn about its plans for the next update, which will land the game in beta for the first time. Unless you’ve been running self-imposed Iron Man rules on yourself or struggling with single-stage-to-orbit plane fleets, this update might not be the most groundbreaking. The supporting options are necessary groundwork for the fully fleshed-out release and, eventually, the addition of multiplayer game modes.