Monday 22 August 2016

No Man's Sky

Developed by Hello Games and out now for PS4 and PC, No Man’s Sky is surely the most ambitious videogame ever made. It gives you an entire procedurally generated universe to explore, and the promise of essentially an infinite number of flora and fauna to discover. Heck, you can even name anything you discover and have these names appear in other people’s games if/when they come across these things after you. It was an almost inconceivable goal, but they’ve pulled it off… to an extent.

You’ve seen the trailers and the gameplay footage, right? Surely one of the most iconic sequences is exploring a planet, jumping in your ship, leaving the planet’s atmosphere, then finding and landing on another planet; all without loading screens. Yes, you can totally do that. And you will, many times. But what will you be doing on all these planets and in space? The bottom line is that No Man’s Sky isn’t about a start, a middle, and an end. Yes there’s a story going on in the background, and there’s also (in theory) an ultimate destination for you to reach. But really, it’s all about exploring.

Everything about the art design – the colour palette, the aliens, the HUD, and the shading gives the impression of a 50s sci-fi book cover brought to life. This serves only to enhance the sense of wonder you feel as you explore oddly-coloured caves, get caught in a storm out in the open, or perhaps look up at a warm yellow sky to see spaceships and strange flying creatures circle overhead. Now and again you’ll come across one of the aforementioned aliens, usually for trade (you can even buy a new ship off many if you have enough credits). There are two races, each with their own initially indecipherable language. You can learn the lingo one word at a time though, through a combination of alien encounters and interaction with ancient alien monoliths scattered amongst the planets. Translation comes in handy in specific instances, where understanding how to react to a question or proposition correctly can reap tangible rewards.

I played No Man’s Sky intensely for about a week, to the point where if all my other games had spontaneously combusted, I wouldn’t have been too bothered. Once the honeymoon period was over though, the flaws in the experience became more and more apparent. Even ignoring the notorious disaster of a PC version, the game’s far from flawless on PS4. I suffered a couple of crashes that threw me back to the dashboard. There’s also a frustrating recurring bug where, while flying within a planet’s atmosphere, some waypoints will actually move away from you as you approach them, meaning it takes you a ridiculous amount of time to arrive, or you do the sensible thing and give up completely. There also comes a point where you start to notice that every galaxy has depressingly similar flora and fauna (despite the Mr-Potato-Head-style random body part generation), with the greatest difference being colours.

The survival element I don’t have a problem with, as mining elements to power your support systems is pretty painless. The mining and crafting aspect in general, though, is a double-edged sword. It can be great to get your hands on a couple of rare blueprints that (for example) majorly beef up your ship’s shield and weapons, then finally craft the upgrades themselves. On the other hand, on the rare occasions that one of your most basic (and therefore important) pieces of equipment becomes damaged, you may well find that at least one of the elements required to fix it is frustratingly difficult to get your hands on. Combine varying rarities of materials with very limited inventory space, and you can probably see all the potential frustrations.

Space combat is disappointing, the concept of intelligent alien races is underused, I’ve yet to find anything somebody else has named, and it can at times feel like little more than a grind for materials. Nonetheless I’m far from finished with No Man’s Sky, and I won’t be surprised if I’m still playing it at the end of the year. Just nowhere near as often as I did that first week.

They reached for the stars, and nearly got there. 4/5

Luke Kemp

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