Hello Games’ expansive space sim No Man’s Sky has been a long time coming. Through hype, delays, controversies and expectations, we finally have the game in our hands. What I was greeted with when I began the game was something very different to what I went in expecting, but this has been more good than bad. I’ve never seen a universe quite so huge and uncaring in a game, and that in itself makes for an interesting experience.
No Man’s Sky is first and foremost a game about perspective. You’re a tiny, lone player in an impossibly huge universe. There’s no power trip here, no grand narrative or colonisation tale – rather it’s just your journey as one small part of the universe, trying to make sense of your place in it.To begin, you wake up on a remote planet. Every player wakes up on a different planet, one of the literally countless planets that populate the universe. With only a crashed ship in the middle of nowhere, a mysterious force called ‘Atlas’ and next to no information on what you’ve got to do, survival kicks in instantly. While explanation itself is near nonexistent, anyone who’s played a survival game in the last few years should quickly adjust to the cyclical harvest resources to craft upgrades and items to stay alive and improve routine.
These resources – different elements from the periodic table – are the core of your journey in No Man’s Sky. You’ll need them to maintain your exosuit life support and environmental protection, and more importantly to keep your multitool and ship fuelled for action. Technologies encountered on planets will allow you to upgrade your systems and run more efficiently, trading inventory space (a highly contested space in the early game) for more efficient shielding or better harvesting speed.
The core loop of the game reminded me a lot more of Minecraft than I expected it to. No matter what creatures you’re discovering, planets you visit or aliens you find, you’ll get into a rhythm of collecting plenty of red Thamuim 9 as you move about to ensure your ship can get off the ground and carry you to your next spot.Some players may find this loop to become a little too repetitive, and I’ll admit it didn’t make for the most engaging experience for lengthy collection sessions. I often found myself listening to music, podcasts or even old re-runs of television shows on my old monitor to keep myself occupied while scanning for stacks of blue isotopes in order to make more warp fuel. This isn’t unusual in many games that require grinding, and for what it’s worth it’s a lot of fun to play in this way. It’s a very relaxing game, from the colour tones to the music, and this is actually excellent when you just want to keep you hands busy and play something chill.
As you explore you’ll encounter outposts, abandoned settlements, ancient alien monuments and beacons that provide intel on the region. Outpost quickly become really important stops to keep crafting, offering you a place to sell excess resources and empty your inventory, buy new multitools. Easily the best part of the planet interest points, if perhaps also the most untapped potential, is the alien artefact and language system. Each large area of the universe has a native tongue that starts out as gibberish, but by finding these totems or monuments and interacting with traders you’re able to learn words of the language, making each interaction more comprehensible as you learn.I really enjoyed chasing up the pieces and learning the language, but as I hinted, it is almost wasted, which is sad to see. If I could learn more about the cultures and history of these alien races it’d be a much more impressive avenue to explore. On top of this, it quickly becomes clear that any interaction with aliens is actually just a few basic sentences, at first hidden in garbled language. The aliens are distinct and provide a nice touch of humanity and companionship after drifting around alone, but they definitely aren’t very deep.
Be it flying around space or exploring a planet, sooner or later you’re going to run into the hostile creatures of the game. Be it an angry space deer or a drone force that’s spotted you trying to break into an old facility, sometimes the only thing that works is blasting stuff with your multitool. It’s a small part of the game deliberately, the game isn’t about combat, but it’d be nice if it worked a bit better. Aiming and shooting is a rather sluggish affair, and the way the game chooses to show you’ve taken is misleading, offering what’s conventionally a near death colour when you take several hits.Thankfully, these combat issues are lessened when flying around space, with pirates easily targetable and multidirectional combat much more doable outside of the confines of a planet’s atmosphere. Flying itself is rather fun and freeing, but there’s not much to do out in space other than finding new spots to land.
At the end of the day, the true merit of No Man’s Sky comes in the world itself. Planets might not be wholly different from one another but there’s enough changes to keep each world you visit feel distinct. Add to this the eclectic mix of creatures that populate each world and you’re in for a real powerful sense of discovery. Walking over a hill to see a field full of T-Rex cross dodo beasts, or a sky filled with floating caterpillars is something quite memorable. Combined with the quite stellar score and easy visuals, just being on these planets and poking around is a joy in itself.One of the only disappointing aspects of the game is the online component, and how disconnected it can feel. I am still yet to come across anything discovered by other players, and being able to even cross paths with fellow players out exploring. It’s far from game breaking and I’m sure continued support from Hello Games will address this in the future, but the recent reveal of these facts has marred the launch a little.
No Man’s Sky is an incredible achievement on both a technical and aesthetic level. It’s a gorgeous game with near inexhaustible options for players to enjoy. But on another level, it’s a formulaic and chill game that won’t offer much in the way of new gameplay and action. Fans of exploration or survival should definitely take No Man’s Sky for a spin, taking the procedurally generated world to a whole new level.
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) and PC
A review copy was provided by the publisher.