Title: Kerbal Space Program
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Price: $26.99 (currently on sale for $18.08 on Steam)
A lot of games use space as a setting and more often than not, it's used as a means to implement alien races and dogfights and other sci-fi elements. Few games present space as a frontier to be explored; the only one I can think of is Outer Wilds. Like that game, Kerbal Space Program offers the player an open universe to explore, but while Outer Wilds was all about discovery, Kerbal takes the physics-heavy technical approach and turns space exploration into a thrilling scientific experience.
The core goal of Kerbal is simple. Build a space-worthy ship and venture out into space. Land on planets, orbit moons, use gravitational orbits to slingshot across the solar system. But accomplishing these goals, even the simplest task of reaching space, is where the challenge and fun begins. Unlike...say, the aforementioned Outer Wilds, controlling and maneuvering your ships is not as easy as turning and setting thrusting to full. Like in real life, you have to consider a host of variables, from atmospheric drag, planetary gravity, momentum and inertia, weight. Getting your ship off the group into space itself requires you to have enough fuel, have detachers at the optimal spots to detach heavy parts, and timing to detach them at the right time. Landing from orbit is an equally challenging in-depth task as you use counter momentum and gravity to reduce your speed and descend through the atmosphere. It's just as much fun building an able craft with stabilizer fins and careful timed deployment stages as it is building a lop-sided booster heavy ship that go pulls into a barrel roll when physics takes hold.
However, space flight and building your ship is only a portion of the gameplay that Kerbal Space Program offers. From landing and exploring on procedurally generated planet surfaces with rovers, collecting samples and researching new technology in the lab, building satellites and stations, manage your crew, and more, Kerbal offers a well rounded and deep space exploration experience.
Even with all these features and mechanics, Kerbal is still in beta with more content to come, including a fleshed Career Mode (technically in the game, but with more missions and features to be added), more parts, and even more aspects to consider like heat upon re-entry and turbulence. At this stage, Kerbal Space Program already impresses with its realistic take on space exploration and open-ended gameplay. You can purchase Kerbal Space Program from the developer's site
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