No Man's Sky
Game review on PC, PS4
Christopher Jarvis / Tue 30th Aug 2016
463 views / 7 bites
OVERVIEW Everywhere you look, people are fighting over No Man's Sky. With over 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets but arguably not much to do, No Man's Sky has turned heads and been a subject of much controversy since it was announced in 2013 by its' tiny development team. So let's tackle this monstrosity of a game and determine which it lived up to: the hype, or the scorn.
The plot of No Man's Sky is a point of contention. While its poetic story-telling is compelling and curious, it ultimately amounts to very little with an unrewarding ending. Spoilers lie ahead, but I recommend continuing to read even if you haven't played through the game, in order to avoid disappointment and confusion later on.
The first part of the story involves following the Atlas path, which is laid out for you by a mysterious entity, and assists you in the larger goal of reaching the center of the universe. However, this quickly becomes tedious as the player must continually find resources to power up the hyperdrive, which allows the player to move between solar systems. After completing this quest and finding 10 Atlas Stones, all black holes (which allow players to more rapidly move towards the center) will be added to your map. Additionally, a "new star is created". This has no impact on the player's game, rather it adds to the complex psychological sci-fi concepts behind the game's so-called story.
If the player, being close enough, chooses to warp to the center of the universe, the game will zoom right out to show all the solar systems in the galaxy, and then zoom back in on a new galaxy on a new planet, where the player's upgrades are broken and they must essentially start again. The reasoning behind this is that the player is in a simulation, where their main purpose is to explore the galaxy, but this doesn't really justify such a disappointing and unrewarding "ending" to the game.
Poetic language and high concept sci-fi is a nice touch to this already artistic game, but the pathetic excuse for an ending cannot be overlooked.
The question on everyone's lips before release was, "what can we do?", and this sentiment still rings true for many players today. The player starts on a random planet where they must collect the resources necessary to power up their equipment and spaceship. Over the course of the first hour, they'll learn other languages one word at a time, find upgrades for their tools, explore new worlds, sell everything after running out of room, and meet alien creatures on supposedly undiscovered planets. Then the player will spend the next several hours asking, "is this it?" as they continue to endlessly collect resources, and repeatedly do the same things they did in the first hour.
While there's something special about being the first person to discover, scan, and name a new species of plant or animal, it becomes much less special as you continue to discover very similar-looking things on subsequent planets. And while the greatest joy in the game is finding a tremendously beautiful planet with adorable wildlife, abundant flora, and flowing rivers, these moments are overshadowed by those spent on awful red and green radioactive wastelands with very few resources left, trying to find a cave to escape the storm of acid rain and the hostile sentinels.
The inescapable space combat is a rude awakening in a generally peaceful game, and a burden to participate in. Trading is this game's slightly fancy term for "there are shops where you can buy and sell", and is only worthwhile because of extremely limited inventory space. And to add insult to injury, you need to make your way through at least part of the story to acquire a recipe for an Atlas Pass V1, which will let you into slightly more boxes and doors than not having one.
It's also worth mentioning that while the controls are initially difficult to learn on PS4, they are downright awful on PC.
If, like Sean Murray and myself, you are seeking a game which lets you fly from the surface of one planet, through space, and be the first to land on another planet, make sure you grab this game during a sale. It does these essentials absolutely brilliantly, and sometimes it's just fun to try and discover 100% of what a planet has to offer. But if you're looking for anything more, and you're not absolutely obsessed with survival games, the first couple of hours of fun are not worth the repetition in every aspect of No Man's Sky. If this game was sold at an indie price as nothing but a survival-exploration game, it would do much better.
The low poly art style of the game isn't for everyone, but it would be a disservice to judge this game's graphics by this alone. The random nature of No Man's Sky means there's a lot of fluctuation in quality, but beauty can be found on almost any planet.
A colour theory system programmed into the game means that every new planet is like stepping into a painting - but the painter isn't always very good. The developers extensively used complementary colours to make worlds seem more alien, but their success in this experiment does not always make for visually appealing planets. Solar systems where space is entirely bright pink not only make flying around painful, they also permanently tint the sky of every planet within that system. And while finding dry red desert planets with purple skies is pretty cool at first, it makes for a terrible starting planet where it could take an hour to be able to leave.
Similarly, fauna and flora are procedurally generated to mixed results. Most animals are fairly unique, and at the very least look decent. Many of them are extremely cute, and behave adorably as well. But the same few types of plants seem to appear on every second planet with minimal changes, and entirely new plants are rare. However, they have succeeded in making both fauna and flora fit well with their planet's visual style, giving each planet a lot of character.
The ambient music fits nicely with each planet, although one can't help humming Minecraft music in reference to the two games' many similarities. In my own experience, there was no music on most of the desolate planets, which was fitting and truly added to the experience.
While the animal noises were essentially the same call with different effects overlayed onto it, it was still believable enough and varied enough to bring each planet to life. Smaller animals make shorter and higher pitched calls, which is truly adorable. It may not be quite as good as I expected, but I was still surprised at the effectiveness of the calls they had.
My experience on the planet Terribleplanet is a great summary of everything that's wrong with No Man's Sky: the planet was radioactive, the sentinels were crazed, the minerals were sparse, and the land was a dull grey. To make matters worse, I had to sit out an entire storm in my ship because there was no shelter around for ages in that desolate dirt desert.
But for every Terribleplanet, there's a procedurally generated masterpiece that begs you to stay forever and swim through it's underwater caves with peaceful alien fish. The game also brings a lot of new ideas to the survival genre, which could pay off with a more rewarding storyline and a decent excuse to play for longer than a few hours. No Man's Sky does exactly what it says on the tin, but not a whole lot more.