No Man's Sky (PlayStation 4)
Eighteen quintillion planets, each brimming with dreams unfulfilled.
Announced a couple of years ago, and covered on PMI as a game you should totally watch out for (If only we took that as a warning), No Man's Sky was an ambitious idea that quickly grew to represent the problem of over hyping videogames that are secretly terrible. If you've been on the internet for any time during the last year, you know how well that controversy turned out.
Well, I'm not hear to talk about the controversial whirlwind surrounding No Man's Sky and it's developer, Hello Games. I am here to tell you just what kind of game you can expect if you are curious enough to give No Man's Sky a chance. To that end, let's start with what No Man Sky does right.
While Hello Games's vision of No Man's Sky is difficult to decipher, it feels like it wants to be a grand, space adventure RPG where you can do whatever you want within the game's universe. To that end, there are practically infinite star systems to explore, each with a few planets, space stations, and cargo ships to chart and pillage. You cannot fly through interstellar space, though. Instead, you must warp between each system. So what you have are loosely connected adventure fields similar to games like Deus Ex and Sonic Adventure. Where No Man's Sky strays from this style is that each adventure field is immense because you can literally traverse every inch of each planet that you visit.
|Everything that you can see on the planet below is accessible.|
Speaking of good design, holy shit this game is a real beauty. I'll save the metaphors for discussing the terrible parts of No Man's Sky and instead share some screenshots.
Upping the beauty is how interplanetary space is drenched in neo-noir color and music that gives you cool vibes of 80s sci-fi flicks. While it lacks any realism, it looks damn good on the PS4, frequently hitting and maintaining 60fps. The planets themselves, as you will soon see, range from stunning landscapes to neon vomit. Overall, this game kills it visually.
After landing on one of those planets, here'll be plenty to do. You can search for ancient ruins, mine materials to upgrade your ship, build bases that can then become an entire village, or you can simply chronicle the fauna and flora and fuck off to another planet. That's what I tend to do as I find the other options kind of dull, and planet hopping increases the chances of looking at dick creatures which is a plus in my book.
|One does not simply deny the plug-o-saurus rex.|
Mining for resources will be the number one reason to visit any planet, though. In typical RPG fashion, those resources can be used to craft and then upgrade everything, including your warp drive which will let you see more dong dinosaurs. Annoying, with many entire worlds to mine for resources, upgrading quickly becomes a meaningless cycle that goes on until you die IRL. As fun as that sounds, I'll explain more on why it's terrible later.
Anyway, overall, the ability to visit many planets is a pretty awesome feat that makes No Man's Sky universe feel believable. Other games like Mass Effect: Andromeda have tried something similar but its no where on the scale and detail of No Man's Sky.
At some point, the game will allow you to pursue three different career paths, so to speak. You can choose to journey to the center of the galaxy, follow the in-game story of discovering the origin of life, or you can choose to do whatever the hell you want (ie be a space pirate). My advice is to follow the in-game story because then you'll have actual objectives instead of bumbling around billions of alien relics on different planets not knowing their purpose. What's good is that at any point you can switch between the three career paths, refreshing for RPGs that tend to force you into a role that you cannot change.
In a galaxy this vast, why wouldn't you?
That said, after gawking at the design and upgrading your ship twenty times, you'll realize that No Man's Sky is lacking. There's the main story thread based on high school grade philosophy but once you "finished" it, that's it, gone are the truly satisfying objectives. You'll then just mine planets to accumulate wealth so you can mine more planets, which brings me to why this game is mostly a disappointing experience.
The Accessibility is Horrendous
Before you're provided with the option to select a career path and loooong before you slay your first cartoon dinosaur duck.
No Man's Sky is basically a resource management simulator. There's no good tutorials, no guides, nothing. You will be stranded on a planet with a wrecked ship as your life support drains. Controls are easy to figure out, but finding starting resources is unnecessarily brutal and you will die way too many times before the game gets somewhat interesting.
Even after successfully leaving your first shithole planet, you must find another one to mine 'n' grind for resources to craft a warp drive. The amount of grinding that No Man's Sky demands right out the gate is pure evil, burning you out on the mining that's as slow as continental drift. This happens quickly because mining requires you to monitor your constantly depleting health. You will most definitely die many times, which only servers to make the game feel even longer than it is. Apparently, length is how you can tell you're playing a good game.
So once you've spent a half hour between searching for health-replenishing resources, you may get to your ship to discover you're out of launch fuel. Great, now you must get out and search for that while your health, again, is constantly depleting. And man, it sucks when you die from the elements without finding launch fuel, because then you'll be stuck in a long ass cycle of frantically searching far and wide for launch fuel and health before inevitably dying again. Okay, great, you broke the cycle. Time to mine for more launch fuel annnnnnnd your mining gun is depleted. Fun.
No Man's Sky Just Isn't All that Fun
Let's say that you forge past the idiotic accessibility issues and you're enjoying the better parts of the game, warping between star systems, and discovering fauna and flora while pursing the story. At some point, you'll notice that each unique world is made up of only four types: Earth-like, desert, ocean, and green-n-pink with small visual variations. Yes, technically, each world and it's lifeforms are unique, but once you've seen one bouncing bag-o-dicks you've seen 'em all.
|Roll your eyes all you want, what else would you call these little shits?|
It's a Shame, Despite a Lot of Things to Do, Nothing are Fun
Interactions with alien species should be awesome, but your chats are repetitive, basic conversations. The aliens stand in place, speaking to you as if you're on an ten year old's reading level. Mining, as said earlier, just plain sucks and upgrading is meaningless because there is no sense of accomplishment from spending hours upon hours grinding to afford a giant ship you cannot show off to your friends. Goddamn, even the attention grabbing ka-zillion planets aren't as unique as they should be. The procedural code may see them as unique, but they all become of a blur of neon green and shades of pink. Did Hello Games develop No Man's Sky in a void where Minecraft doesn't exist? How can a procedurally based video game be so bad to play?!
That is why I suggested earlier to just follow the main story because you'll have an actual, tangible goal to play towards. Instead of mindlessly grinding until you die in real life, you're grinding for fuel to discover the origin of life in the in-game universe. At least following the story can be fun, because it sparks real curiosity, but...
That Mostly Sucks, Too
...because it lacks context context. One minute you're stranded on a planet and the next you're on a space station manned by a goofy alien named Glip Gorp with no explanation of where he's from or where he's headed. And of course you can't visit his presumably civilized home planet, that'd be too fun.
And at no point do you discover what species you are or what you even look like. Your in game character has no origin, no friends, no family, no motivations. There are no hints or clues in the story until the very end, at which point you've long stopped caring. I understand the point of a mysterious story is to intrigue your audience to guess at what happens next, but without the game explaining why some things are mysterious you just won't care to solve that mystery. Besides, it's not a very good mystery.
No Man's Sky expects you to find these creepy black balls in space that, once reached, will chart a path for you to reach another black ball, where the process repeats until you vomit. Eventually, you'll reach the meaning of life in the game's universe. "Guess what happens next!" the game asks.
|"I rather go fuck myself than grind to meet yet another creepy black ball?" you say.|
But you should give No Man's Sky a chance, anyway. With a price at around $20, it's pretty cheap. And despite it's poor gameplay, there is a smidgen of (sick) joy in witnessing how close No Man Sky gets to being the ultimate space exploration game. It's why I bought the game, and I'm not really a fan RPGs. Those long grinds to upgrade constantly just may be enjoyable for you if you're into that sorta thing. Try it and decide for yourself if its the best [sic] resource management simulator you have ever played or a complete disappointment.
See on Amazon.
Did You Know?
-There are many, many astronomical bodies missing in No Man's Sky Universe? They include but are not limited to: gas giant planets, giant stars, neutron stars, white dwarves, comets, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, black holes. There's plenty of potata' shaped asteroids though.
|Woah, next gen space.|
-If its not clear, No Man's Sky would've been much better without the heavy RPG elements. And if it had multiplayer. Like many, I really wanted to love this game. :(