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No Man's Sky

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: Aug. 9, 2016 (US), Aug. 10, 2016 (EU)

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


PC Review - 'No Man's Sky'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Aug. 29, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

No Man's Sky is a sci-fi exploration game mixing space combat, exploration, and resource gathering set in a procedurally generated open world.

For the last few years, No Man's Sky was looking to be another great new release for space enthusiasts and those who love exploration. Its effectively limitless universe was a major selling point, and the game footage showed numerous examples of the things you could find in your travels. What was reasonably expected was a novel game with a massive universe and meaningful exploration elements. However, what was ultimately delivered may be one of the biggest disappointments that I've experienced this year.

The game starts off exceptionally well, with a simple but effective premise. You find yourself crashed on a strange alien planet and must gather the materials necessary to repair your ship. Depending on the planet you start on, you'll find all manners of flora and fauna, but generally speaking, you're simply in need of exploring the nearby area to find basic elements. The game doesn't exactly hold your hand here, despite it being a tutorial, and instead lets you attempt to make progress at your own direction and pace.

While on foot, your tools of survival are your multi-tool and your suit, both of which require elements to stay operational. Carbon can be found in abundance on any planet with flora and is used to replenish the energy for your suit's life support, which is always active and consuming power when you are on foot. Zinc is used to recharge your suit's protection, which consumes energy any time it has to contend with cold, heat, radiation or toxicity. Some planets have harsher environments than others, and if an ice storm kicks up on a planet that's already extremely cold, your suit's protection will drain energy incredibly rapidly.

Your multi-tool is one of the three things that you can customize, the others being your suit and your ship. Each multi-tool has a number of slots that can contain upgrades to add new functionality or improvements for existing upgrades. It would take one slot to add the bolt-caster, which effectively adds a machine gun mode to the multi-tool, and another slot makes that mode have a higher fire rate or ricocheting shots. The same can be said for the mining laser and its improvements, such as faster cooldown times or longer uses between the need for cooling at all. Other customizations include the ability to scan the nearby environment for resources or the option to toggle a zoom to see more clearly into the distance.

In the early game, you spend most of your time learning the lay of the land and gathering the resources needed to repair your ship. The area is mostly barren, but it fits the crash landing motif. Soon enough, you repair and refuel your ship, and you take flight for the first time. Taking off takes fuel, but you can fly around in space or in the atmosphere for as long as you want otherwise. The flight model is a very casual and safe one; you can't fly very close to the planet at all, and when you find something interesting, you press a button to engage the automatic landing sequence.

At this point, No Man's Sky really starts to open up, as you can get in your ship to scan for — or fly around and find — points of interest on the planet. Every planet is randomly generated, so there are no guides to be had other than your own wanderlust. As you explore, you'll occasionally find outposts with NPCs that can be interacted with, crashed ships that you can choose to repair and claim as your own, or monoliths that unveil more of the alien cultures in the game.

Interacting with NPCs is incredibly simple in its mechanics, given that you'll never find an intelligent one in anything other than a stationary, seated position. At the beginning of the game, you won't understand a single word they are saying. You'll learn such languages word by word by finding knowledge stones that are randomly scattered on planet surfaces and near monoliths. Over time, you'll learn enough about the language to pick apart what NPCs are saying. If one is pleading with you and says something about its multi-tool and a lack of energy, you'll know enough that choosing the option to give it some carbon will result in a positive outcome.

Now that you're able to explore the planet and the current system, you'll begin to customize your suit and ship. Doing so is effectively the same as the multi-tool; some upgrades add new functionality, and others modify existing ones. However, the more you upgrade, the less inventory space you have. While it's possible to upgrade the amount of inventory space, it never feels like you have quite enough. You won't get to change anything cosmetic about your ship, but you can replace it with a ship that is more to your liking should you happen upon a crashed one or offer to buy one from an NPC. Doing so is the only way to get a bigger ship inventory, so it's sometimes worthwhile to get into a new ship even if it has a really ugly paint job.

Soon after you've zipped around your first planet, you'll be instructed on the means of building the components and fuel needed to let you warp between systems, which is the final piece to allow exploration of the galaxy. In the beginning, every planet you discover feels like a novel experience, so warping to a new system with its own set of planets and moons feels like a treasure trove of the unexplored just waiting to be discovered. To facilitate this exploration, every time you reach a new system, you'll need to replenish basic resources, such as carbon and plutonium. For some resources, this is necessary each time you reach a new planet.

While every planet is procedurally generated and covered with unique flora and fauna, your interaction with them is identical. Every planet has outposts, which are built from the same cookie-cutter architecture, and contain the same things. Every NPC is interacted with in the same way, with predictable outcomes. Hostile fauna is something of a rarity and are never a threat thanks to AI that either says "wander aimlessly" or "walk directly at the player until one of us is dead." By the time you've reached your fourth planet, you've already experienced a majority of what any planet can offer. It quickly becomes a tiresome loop of land, gather resources, flit around to check out the same things you've seen numerous times before, and move on to the next planet/system.

The more recent trailers focused specifically on the four major pillars of gameplay: explore, fight, trade, and survive. The first wears out its novelty awfully quickly for a game with such potential, and the others don't fare much better. Space dogfights rarely occur unless you are randomly interdicted by pirates who want your cargo, or if a random event happens when you enter a system and a swarm of pirates are attacking stationary capital ships. There are no freighters to be had, despite what earlier trailers suggested, and the capital ships are effectively indestructible and more than capable of blasting you to bits. Trading has no real system other than an occasional NPC putting greater value on certain items/resources, so it's more of a method of getting rid of unwanted items from your precious inventory space than it is a real source of gameplay.

It touches on a problem that No Man's Sky has as a whole: It lacks much in the way of meaningful gameplay. Unless it interests you to catalog all of the seemingly random plants and animals you find along your travels, the rest of the game is largely spent doing the same things over and over again. The core gameplay loop has far too much monotony, to the point that things that should inspire excitement fall flat because you know it won't be any different of an experience.

A lot of this could be because the game seems to simply be unfinished, if not outright misrepresented, when compared to all of the information that led up to its release. Trailers and interviews teased a lush universe brimming with life just waiting to be explored. What was released was a game that neither looks nor plays like anything that was previously talked about. It's as if this game was originally slated for late 2017 and was released in an unfinished and unpolished state.

No Mans Sky would've made an excellent tech demo of something greater yet to come, or as a $20 independent game from a studio trying to find its footing. It certainly doesn't live up to what was once a marquee title during one of Sony's E3 press conferences, and it doesn't come close to justifying its $60 asking price. No Man's Sky had so much potential in delivering a game that compelled and rewarded unbridled exploration. That it fails to do so only makes its shortcomings more striking, and it's disappointing when compared to how the game was described leading up to its release.

Score: 4.7/10

Reviewed on: Intel i7 4970k, 16 GB RAM, NVidia GTX 970

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