As a relaxing space simulator, No Man’s Sky is the most unique experience you’re ever likely to have with a video game and for that alone, it deserves to be recognised for its innovation.
After years of hype and a mixed reaction from the Playstation community, love it or hate it, there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky is a beautiful, ambitious open world game. The sheer scope of the universe is mind boggling and the ability to fly from one planet to the next and from one star system to another is incredibly awe-inspiring. Even after my 50+ hours playtime I found new things that surprised me, but there’s no denying that No Man’s Sky has some glaring issues. With key promised features missing from the game, including multiplayer, an in-depth trading system and an advanced eco-system, No Man’s Sky is the gaming equivalent of Two-Face.
The opening hours of the game are some of the most exciting and breathtakingly surreal I’ve ever experienced playing a video game. After a brief introduction, you’re dropped in the middle of a world with no instructions, no hand-holding tutorials and one mission – fix your ship, fly off and explore the surrounding planets. As you fumble around the procedurally-generated world, vast cave systems and large mountain ranges stretch off in the distance populated by trees, rocks and animals. The aim, of course, is to fix the ship, and you do this by using your omni-tool. Essentially a laser gun, holding down the trigger button launches a burst of orange light that, when pointed at trees, rocks, cliff ranges and plants, extracts key minerals needed to fix the ship and upgrade your gear.
The key gameplay loop essentially revolves around mining resources to upgrade your gear and key parts of your ship, but there are other things to do too. Nearby outposts could hold alien life or be abandoned, and the further away from the starting point you venture, the more places of interest pop up on your mini map. Once you’ve gained enough resources to fix the ship and fly away from your starting planet, you can fly to any surrounding planets or alternatively another star system in real time without loading screens, and then land on those and repeat the same process again – gather resources, upgrade your gear, explore the worlds, fly away. It’s a very simple process and one that will certainly not be for everyone. No Man’s Sky is not a fast-paced action thriller with explosions and set-pieces. This is a relaxing, slow space simulator where exploring planets and discovering creatures is the main appeal of this game. If you’re after something more action-orientated, No Man’s Sky is not that game, despite it featuring some lacklustre gun play and disappointing space battles.
There’s a loose main objective to get to the centre of the universe, but to be honest, I wouldn’t bother. The actual reveal at the centre of the universe is one of the biggest sucker punches in gaming history and really, anything other than what they decided to do would have been better than what’s shown. So with this in mind, the real fun of the game is exploring the worlds, which can be both vast and varied in their terrain and creatures they hold.
For all its positives, No Man’s Sky feels like an unfinished project, and its issues are more prominent when the initial awe at this massive game wears off. I can’t help but feel the game needed another year or so in development, but with so much hype it’s no wonder they caved and released it when they did. The game is full of ideas but none of them fully realized, and some of the more key components of the game are missing. The gun fights result in focusing a beam at an un-moving enemy until it explodes. There are dog fights in space but the controls are awkward and are nowhere near the scale promised. Having said that, though, during a warp to another star system I did encounter two massive freighters fighting in a bruised, purple sky surrounded by asteroids. There were around 20 or 30 little ships whizzing around blasting one another as these two freighters looked set to collide, but having appeared right in the heart of the fight and been immediately pummelled by bullets, I died soon after this and alas, was unable to get back to that system. It appears they are there, but it’s hidden deep in the game and incredibly rare. With the vast size of the universe, it’s highly unlikely many will experience these to the scale I did.
Speaking of size, No Man’s Sky is enormous. With 16 quintillion planets to explore, you could theoretically play for your entire life and still not see everything the game has to offer. I did mention earlier about the game being released too early, and it’s only when you start regularly jumping to different planets that you notice the patterns with the procedurally-generated worlds. The same plant or rock might crop up in every world, just painted a different colour. The same fish you encountered four planets back is identical here, just with a different name, and most of the space bases look exactly the same with little variety. This is where extra time in development would have ironed out these issues – with more time to create extra terrain objects, rocks, creature combinations and more, No Man’s Sky could be a great game with a little more refinement.
I could go on and on about No Man’s Sky and it will always be a polarising game. You’re either going to love it or hate it. With such a unique concept and its procedurally generated universe always throwing up a surprise, No Man’s Sky is something completely different to what’s on the market. It does have some glaring issues though, and there’s no shying away from the fact Hello Games have missed key features of the game initially promised before launch. With updates promised to address some of this in the future, I can’t help but feel the game should have been pushed back a year to give extra time to work on No Man’s Sky. In its current state it feels like a game stuck in a beta with an incredibly unique idea not given the time and polish to be fully realized. As a relaxing space simulator though, No Man’s Sky is the most unique experience you’re ever likely to have with a video game and for that alone, it deserves to be recognised for its innovation.