Platforms PC (reviewed), PS4
Developer Hello Games
Publisher Hello Games
Release Date August 12, 2016

So. No Man’s Sky. You know what it is, you’ve all heard about this game, one of the most highly anticipated productions in the history of the medium. Whether it be through the ludicrous amount of pre-release hype or the post-release disappointment due to said hype. Here’s one gamer who didn’t get involved in the hype train, as anyone who knows me will confirm. I spent an extraordinary amount of effort avoiding any and all NMS hype, previews, the lot – I wanted to go into the game with a completely unbiased mind. Obviously, I knew what the initial advertised premise was and that is all I took with me on my journey…

…My extremely fucking short journey. To be completely honest, No Man’s Sky strikes me as a display of what the current generation can achieve as opposed to a fantastic game. The sheer range of visuals on offer are unprecedented but the problem is you don’t get to do a great deal with them. No Man’s Sky begins with you waking up and discovering you’re on some unknown planet with a destroyed starship and your goal is to fix your vessel and blaze a trail into the stars. That’s about as explicit a goal you’ll ever get. Quite rapidly, you’re introduced to the soon-to-be uniform explore, catalogue and move on gameplay. for this reason in conjunction with the procedural nature of the game, I’ll talk specifically about what I did in the game. We all know the mechanics work, we all know the random nature of the game – but just how interesting is it to play?

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Also you get to name your discoveries, as evidenced here

Formulaic it may be, but no game I’ve previously played has provided quite the same sense of wonder as I discover new species, new worlds, genuinely new experiences per planet as No Man’s Sky. It’s shocking, especially considering these noteworthy experiences are so few and far between. I’m sure most people reading this will have seen other people note the repetitive nature of the game, however I’d advise anyone to play it just to see what you find when you land on the next planet. I felt so closed off from the game to begin with, and only managed to struggle through the first few hours because I was playing in parallel with our fearless leader , however there was this particular moment. I landed on a planet, covered in utterly luscious greenery. I did the usual scout for anything noteworthy when all of a sudden I was beset by a murdercrab.

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Murdercrab

This little critter did just not let go. I ended up killing a swarm of them before the robocops began to take an interest, at which point I valiantly legged it to my ship and retreated to another possibly noteworthy continent on the planet. It was at this point at which I accidentally jumped to an island in search of ancient alien technology, found myself on top of a monolith in the middle of the sea surrounded by eight-foot long shark-like tails with teeth. Surrounded on my little pre-historic archive, I spent a good while discovering new sea-faring lifeforms, taking potshots until they got the idea, extracted the archaic knowledge and jet-packing my way the hell out of there. I made an absolute tonne of spacecash on that sojourn. The issue is that that was the seventh planet I’d visited in a few hours and literally the only one that was worth noting.

Due to the much publicised procedural generation element, you will often end up on a planet that reminds you of the previous one. There are only so many times you can fixate on various similar trees or plants before they become almost as seamless as the well implemented surface-to-solar system mechanic. Yes, it feels great to burst from surface to atmosphere to outer space without so much as a static gesture, but when you land on another flora-rich, fauna-light planet time and time again it gets old fast. Now and again, the game will kind of open up to you – you’ll land somewhere with interesting, engaging sentience. You’ll learn more of an alien language. You’ll find a trading outpost, make some money, buy a new item, learn new technology – all with greater frequency than you’ve previously discovered, but ultimately you will end up spending another glum hour on a similar planet to the ones you skipped previously.

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Goddamn if this game ain’t pretty, though

Aside from the planetary exploration, you have the other main mechanic of No Man’s Sky – survival. Severely limited in terms of what you can carry with you, you’re forced to basically suck it and see. One gripe of mine is that none of the immediately useable loot to be gathered from the myriad of sources is that there is zero indication of which resources are useful. Sure, you can bounce between a planet and a be-marketed space station, looting and selling as you go, but there’s just no point. Not only is there an absolute abundance of every resource you need to keep yourself alive, there’s also no reason to keep storing anything of value. There’s a quite well implemented crafting system, but when you can just immediately purchase a better piece of equipment from a randomly encountered  alien stronghold (on a planet you supposedly discovered), then why bother spending the time gathering the materials to craft it yourself?

The lack of guidance is both a help and a hindrance. While it’s great to see a game that doesn’t hold your hand, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game with such potential squander it by barely giving you any sort of option of a path to travel. Of course, there’s the thin plotline of reaching the centre of the galaxy, but you are given absolutely zero reason to do so. When I tried to follow that plotline, I immediately found an element of the game that wasn’t randomly generated – a fleet of enemy craft hell-bent on sucking my possessions directly through the hull of my rudimentary ship. Here’s another way this game really lets you down – the flight mechanics and combat are awful. Seriously awful. Regardless of your monitored fuel resources, there’s no way to tell how you’re really flying, where your opponents are, how to manoeuvre in a way synonymous with 99% of other flight-based games.

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Nor is trying to fly below sea level a good idea to begin with

I’m almost tired of ragging this game for all that it’s worth, but in actuality, the real problem is there’s no motivation to play it. This game is an utterly unbelievable tech demo. Seriously. It’s so relaxing to cruise around for a while, bouncing on and off planets, discovering the life. It really isn’t all bad. It’s beautiful looking, and contrary to the reports of the many, I’ve had very few post-launch technical issues. There’s been times playing this game that I can’t compare to any other experience. Aside from the hype train (as so succinctly elucidated by my counterpart ), if you go into this game blind you’ll most likely enjoy it for a while if you’re the kind of gamer that can take an experience for what it is. If you’re someone who craves deep plot, look elsewhere. if you’re someone who’s after a variety of activities to undertake in a vast world, play Skyrim. If you want a fantastic space-sim with all the trimmings, play Elite: Dangerous or hedge your bets on Star Citizen. If you fancy chilling out for a while and just seeing what pops up without any real risk/reward factor, just coasting around and enjoying the sights then I’d fully recommend No Man’s Sky. Hell, it’s almost worth it for the 65 Days of Static soundtrack.

The most apt phrase I’ve seen used to describe NMS is “a mile wide but an inch deep”. This is extremely accurate – YMMV. This game has a huge amount of potential but currently no substance to reinforce the genuinely impressive experience on offer. Unfortunately I’ve had to try to enjoy No Man’s Sky, a game I’ve managed to be able to look forward to without jumping on the hype train, and while parts are simultaneously and thoroughly relaxing there’s just zero motivation, zero reason, zero cause to keep on delving. I’d like to, but I can’t. That being said, I’ve genuinely never played a game like No Man’s Sky, and the doors that Hello Games have opened could lead to a new era of gameplay of the like we’ve yet to see. If you’re after a great space-sim as the hype train made out, though? Just go play Elite: Dangerous and thank me later.

Summary

This may have come across as a particularly negative review, but I feel the need to point out that it’s difficult to describe No Man’s Sky when you’re in “the zone”. For its flaws, it’s an extremely relaxing game that looks great, plays okay but is also incredibly immersive once you find a section of the universe interesting enough to be so. NMS is a fantastic game in potentia – before long, Hello Games could have one of the definitive experiences of this generation on their hands if they spend the time to grow the game properly, but a truly great game doesn’t force you to argue with yourself to continue playing. Definitely worth a few hours of your time if your a chill-seeker; thrill-seekers need not apply.

6


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