Undoubtedly, No Man’s Sky has been the most hyped gaming release of the year. After an excruciatingly long development cycle, at least for an Indie title, gamers are finally able to suit up, head into space, and explore a virtually endless galaxy of procedurally generated planets.
Hello Games have positioned their latest game as an imaginative adventure that focuses on survival and exploration. Having already clocked more than a few hours exploring what the game has to offer, has it lived up to the hype, and is exploration enough to make this game worth the $60 AAA entry fee?
One Small Step for Man…
The game starts you off on your first undiscovered planet without as much as an introduction. Finding yourself with a nonfunctioning spaceship, you will start making repairs with the vague guidance of some on-screen tool tipped objectives. You’ll need to start finding resources, not only to repair your ship, but also to maintain the suit that is protecting you from the inhospitable atmosphere on the planet. Because of this, survival and exploration begins right away, but it’s not the awe-filled adventure that you might have been expecting.
The Flaws Begin to Appear
Almost immediately, there are some frustrating core mechanics that come into play. First, you will notice that your inventory slots are extremely limited (six on your suit), and even when you can transfer items to your ship, you will find that the inventory management is a chore. While this does add to the immediacy of your situation and forces you to make some difficult decisions, it can limit your experience somewhat.
Navigating the inventory and menu screens with your Xbox One or 360 controller will feel mostly fluid, but if you want to use a keyboard and mouse, you’ll quickly become disappointed with the clunky design. Development has clearly been prioritized for the PS4 version of the game, and there are even some bugs with key mapping where your custom controls might inexplicably be lost during a play through, or when coming back to the game after closing it. If you have a Microsoft controller for PC – make use of it! You’re only going to get frustrated using a keyboard and mouse.
The controls aren’t the only issues with optimization for PC. The visuals, while unique and sometimes striking and colorful, are accompanied by a disappointing amount of stutter and frame rate inconsistency. At high texture settings on 1080p there are some definite ugly patches, especially in places where the procedurally generated environments have some strange geometry that breaks up the flow of the landscape. The frame rate issues mostly come into play when first entering and flying over a planet, but can also occur when there are a lot of moving elements on-screen, such as large patches of grass. The problems even occur on high-end hardware, although you can reduce much of the stuttering by changing the FPS limit to the max setting, and running the game in a borderless window. Even doing so, the game doesn’t run or look as good as it should on PC hardware, lending more evidence to the developers focusing more on console optimization.
One thing that is worth mentioning, is that due to the procedural nature of the engine, experiences will all differ in some way. During the hours spent reviewing the game, not once was there a grass planet in sight, although other players have stumbled upon them relatively early. There are also planets that are completely covered in water, but again, you might never land on one. Creatures are hit or miss, and you may find that you end up with beautiful inhabitants on a planet that actually make you stop in awe. Or, you might not. Having no consistency makes it quite difficult to start praising the design and the looks, especially considering you could play through the entire game without seeing anything that would truly take your breath away.
An Expansive Universe with a Shallow Experience
Graphics aside, how does it play?
First impressions in a game aren’t always representative of the full experience. Take Stalker as an example. The combination role playing/first person shooter game has become something of a cult classic, but it’s an incredibly difficult game to get into. However, with a game like Stalker, perseverance brings rewarding discoveries and immersive gameplay. With No Man’s Sky, admittedly a completely different style of game, that long term reward never seems to come. The game has a basic formula – Land on a planet, collect resources, upgrade your ship and equipment, and fly onto another planet to do it all again. There are encounters with (lone) aliens and space stations and even space pirates, but the whole galaxy feels unsettlingly lifeless.
The rewards for gathering resources are simply not rewarding enough, and the game feels like a long grind on rinse and repeat. Perhaps it’s the hype that has become the game’s own worst enemy, or maybe it’s the fact that it offers an overwhelmingly expansive world that is lacking in any personality or content. A number of reviewers have likened this game to a body of water that is the size of the ocean, but that is only the depth of a puddle. This amusing analogy is, unfortunately, completely accurate.
Is There Enough to Keep Playing?
With more than twenty hours in the game, it would be an understatement to say that the repetition has already become tedious. Knowing that the resource gathering/upgrading/moving planets features are the entire scope of the gameplay, it’s hard to find the motivation to keep playing. Couple this with the fact that the procedurally generated worlds are more often than not, bland and haphazard in appearance, and it makes it hard to reconcile the $60 with the actual experience that is on offer.
No Man’s Sky is in no way a top tier title. The fact that it was marketed as a AAA experience is borderline deception, and the amount of negative user reviews (almost half of all reviews on steam) seem to reflect this. For gamers who want to stick with it, Hello Games has promised more content in the future, including base building and total customization of your spaceship. No doubt, there are players that will thoroughly enjoy this release, and it is definitely worth a play, just not at the launch price and the state that the game is in.
Start the game, mine some resources, repair your ship, and leave the planet. Trade and sell some things with a computer or buy new ships and items from some characterless avatars. This is, in essence, No Man’s Sky. Slight variations on this theme include going to new planets, shooting asteroids, discovering ruins, and upgrading your inventory and weapons. It’s a survival and resource gathering game with no RPG elements, a shallow story, and poor shooting mechanics. It gets repetitive quick and unless you like to grind, there’s little to no replay value.
This rating will probably be controversial. Where this game completely failed in gameplay, it did do an excellent job of creating a large, virtually endless universe. If the frame stutters didn’t exist, you could seamlessly travel through space. The scope of the game is innovative and ambitious, it’s just too bad the gameplay didn’t stack up.
There’s nothing to speak of. We were told the game would have elements of *cough* multiplayer. In reality, there aren’t any.
The visual design of the game is striking, and may appeal to a number of players. Bold colors are used, almost to the point of everything looking a little cartoony. Technically, while the procedural engine is impressive, the textures and geometry are lackluster. You will find yourself at times looking at some seriously ugly vistas, particularly on the more mundane planets. The fact that the frame rate dips, bobs, splutters, and chokes (even on good hardware) is particularly disappointing.
Sound wise, ships, lasers, your jetpack etc. all sound fine. Just fine, but nothing spectacular. No Man’s Sky does get points for excellent execution of dynamic music, which changes depending on what is happening in-game.
Value for Money 3/10
If you’ve been reading this review, then you’ll already know that the game isn’t worth the money in its current form. With more content, that could change, but considering the procedurally generated nature of the title it is unlikely that anything added will be a drastic improvement.
It has been a month since the game released and there’s not a lot of news on whether things will improve. Player numbers have dropped off in huge figures during the game’s short existence, and the Steam statistics show that there was a 90% player drop within the first two weeks. For a game that is supposed to be endless, this tells you a lot about how enjoyable it is, and how much value you are likely to get out of playing it.
No Man’s Sky is a victim of its own hype. The developers overpromised and under delivered. New content may well improve the game, but at least for this reviewer, the feeling of deflation after finally playing may be too much to recover from.
+A vast, procedurally generated world that is technically impressive, if a little repetitive.
+Good use of dynamic music.
+The first two hours are amazing.
-Everything after two hours(ish) is the same repetitive gameplay.
-Lack of any real multiplayer.
-Some planets are just too boring to mention.
-Poor keyboard & mouse controls.
-Console optimized menus.
-No real interaction with NPCs makes the world feel lifeless.
-Too expensive for what it is.
Related: Hello Games, No Man's Sky, Review, Sci-Fi