KERBAL SPACE PROGRAM
Developer/publisher Squad Format PC
Having benefitted enormously from years of open development, Kerbal Space Program arrived as one of the year’s deepest and most inventive games. Part creative toolset, part puzzle game, and part explosive sandbox, it allows players to encounter the reality of spaceflight to whatever degree of depth they choose. Younger players can have fun building basic rockets and planes, and flinging them through Kerbin’s lower atmosphere. Then, at the highest level, players can build refuelling stations in orbit and launch manned expeditions to far-off planets.
All of this is accessible enough to be enjoyable but accurate enough, as a simulation, to force the player to pick up some real rocket science along the way. As such, Kerbal Space Program feels laudable in a way that few games ultimately achieve. It imparts a real respect for space travel and astrophysics, but is lighthearted enough for laughter to be as legitimate a response to rocketry as awe. It’s this balancing act that makes KSP essential.