No Man’s Sky
It was the game we were all waiting for. When announced a few years back, the developers of No Man’s Sky claimed that their upcoming title was going to deliver a game that would present a virtually infinite number of procedurally generated worlds, using complex algorithms that would leave all of the current game design trappings behind. In theory, it was the type of title gamers had been waiting for and theorizing on for a very long time. So long, in fact, that when all is said and done and No Man’s Sky boots up on your machine of choice, the enjoyment level of the player may rely solely upon your age.
For all that is right with the game’s technical presentation, just as much is wrong with its execution and gameplay features. It seems that No Man’s Sky doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Players are dropped into an infinite universe full of exploration and possibility, but any gameplay elements that would help a player achieve a poignant, enthralling game experience were forgotten. For a game that claims every planet on every player’s machine will be different from any other in the world (containing different terrain, atmosphere and indigenous life), the whole thing feels very repetitive and boxed. There is no story to really speak of, player tasks are limited to the same two dozen or so types of objectives throughout the entire game and, embarrassingly, it can be said that despite all the random creations you’re likely to come across, you will have seen everything No Man’s Sky has to offer after about the first few hours of play.
This is where the age of a typical player may directly reflect on who will enjoy No Man’s Sky and who will not. Gamers that are old enough to remember titles like Flashback, Wing Commander, Privateer, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter and a few others will also remember staring at their old Commodore 64s and longing for the one game that will change it all and create a universe to live and play in. These players may be more patient and forgiving with No Man’s Sky’s limited text-based interactions with other-worldly intelligence and the absolute dearth of anything resembling a satisfying plot point. Younger players weaned on titles produced in the last two or even three console generations are likely to find the title’s lack of features boring and grow dissatisfied with the game rather quickly.
The closest thing to a narrative thread the game offers can be started in the first few seconds of your game by accessing the Atlas path from a device near your broken down spacecraft. Players who ignore or miss this little gem are completely on their own within the universe. Finding Kubrick-like obelisks and other features of the Atlas path will also teach you singular words of various alien languages to that when you do manage to find another intelligent being at a space station, some of their thoughts or intentions will be more understandable.
Considering that the tech of No Man’s Sky is its strong point, there’s quite a bit to marvel at. The planets, terrain and wildlife are completely random in their design, which leads to some really interesting species to research. The non-existent load times and transitions between walking, traveling the planet via spacecraft and launching yourself into orbit and beyond are impressive tricks of programming and the sheer limitless nature of the whole thing staggers the imagination. The fact that players will spend an inordinate amount of time shooting rocks, however, brings you “back down to earth” with a very hard bump.
The inventory management and menu systems in No Man’s Sky are atrocious. From three to even four hours into the game, players will still be attempting to navigate the menus and icons the way their instincts tell them to (D-Pad style), only to be forced into whipping out a mouse-pointer and navigating it across the icons with a thumbstick. Those playing the game on the PC will naturally not feel this pain, but for the rest of us on the PS4, it is a design choice that you will have to make a mental note to overcome.
Years from now, No Man’s Sky will be on the books as the game that shifted the paradigm of console gaming as a whole, but only on a technical level. It is not too late for that to change, however, as Hello Games has a lot of opportunities to improve what they have created, should they choose to continue to develop it. The “missing layer” that one may refer to as the actual gameplay (or storyline), if laid atop the current state of this title, might just bring about that wonderful balance of graphical prowess, stimulating design and satisfying story arc all of us gamers only dreamed about years ago.
Reviewed By: Russell Garbutt
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of No Man’s Sky for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.