Where we’re going we don’t need roads.
First things first, there’s no way to offer a complete review of No Man’s Sky. There are so many ways to play and the mechanics behind it all are overwhelming. I’m not even sure No Man’s Sky can be called a game, at least in the usual sense. Sure there’s the normal elements of gameplay present, but none of that really seems to matter while playing. People have been categorising it as a survival sim, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice either as the survival element just isn’t that deep to be a true survival sim. Just what it is, is a question that has plagued No Man’s Sky in the lead up to its release. So what is No Man’s Sky?
In the simplest of terms No Man’s Sky is a game in which you mine different planets for elements to craft better suits, better ships and better mining tools in order to get to the middle of the universe. Along the way you can try to unravel the mystery of a forgotten race, trade with different alien races or involve yourself in a space battle or two with random NPCs. All the while you’re updating an online database (that other players are also updating from their own games) of planets, creatures or whatever you’ve scanned/discovered, to gain more units (the in-game currency) to help amass a fortune that you can then spend on upgrading your suit, ship or mining tools. It’s circular to be sure, as everything leads you straight back to the main point of the game – to get to the centre. Or not. The game doesn’t force you to do any of this. It’s completely up to you whether you make that journey or just spend your time exploring. Therein lies the genius and the problem with No Man’s Sky.
It’s a giant sandbox title, where instead of a city like GTA’s Liberty City or a nuclear wasteland like in Fallout, you have a universe to explore. That universe may not be filled with crazy characters or insane missions, but it’s more than vast and once things click it is rather addictive in spite of itself. There may come a time when flying down through the atmosphere of the nearest planet to mine some needed mineral like plutonium will get old, but I can’t see it happening anytime soon. Having said that, this is definitely not a game for everybody.
If internet chatter has the general feeling right, it seems that No Man’s Sky is indeed proving to be quite a divisive title. The main reason seems to be the same thing that makes it a great game, a growing sense of aimlessness as you wander the cosmos. If you’re after a white knuckled thrill ride or some linear storytelling this is not the game you want to be booting up. No Man’s Sky almost works as the antithesis to Blizzard’s latest release, the FPS Overwatch, itself a fast-paced and sometimes breathless shooter that lasts what feels like almost 5 minutes a round.
Much has been made of No Man’s Sky’s mind-bending algorithm that allows for the quintillion planets that are explorable in game, but after a while it becomes a little more than apparent that a lot of these planets are very similar and just have a new coat of paint. Those coats of paint are also an interesting choice of colour scheme in and of themselves. Looking straight out of the 80s may have been what the creators intended, particularly when paired with the actual designs of various space stations and ships, but the over reliance on specific shades of primary colours leads to some very ugly combinations at times. The same could be said for the creatures and plants that populate the many star systems. The less said about the sometimes bizarre creature combinations the better. Using horse legs for forearms on an upright pig is not what anyone would call a new creature.
It’s not just the designs and colour choices from the algorithm that take you straight out of the game, there’s almost a yearning that the game dug deeper into every level of its gameplay. The survival aspect is more of an afterthought to give you something to do other than update your ship. The space battles haven’t gotten anywhere near the level of an actual battle so far in my play through, even with random NPCs talking non-stop about war. And the one quest line available culminated with me just shrugging and thinking, ‘well that was something I did.’
But maybe all this isn’t the point of No Man’s Sky. Maybe you aren’t supposed to be looking for a regular game in all those star systems. Maybe you’re just meant to float along through space and take in the wonder of the universe and all that math that’s working behind the scenes to create it. After all, it is the kind of game where it’s quite possible to lose yourself to the horizon, gathering that last bit of Heridium or chasing a strange lizard-like thing through a cave system, and not realise you’ve lost a few hours of real world time. Just don’t look too hard or the cracks will not just become obvious, they may start multiplying into a quintillion reasons to not pick up the controller again.
Grade – B
- No Man’s Sky feels unfinished at the moment, but that may change in the future as Hello Games have said they’re looking to update the game with several add ons to widen the scope of what’s there. Hopefully this happens sooner rather than later, or they might find a bunch of players will have moved on to newer and shinier things. Especially with the amount of new games on the horizon.
- I didn’t talk much about how the game plays, that’s because it’s all rather straight forward. It plays exactly as you’d expect it to. Although the menus could use a little tweak to be a little more user friendly.