TOO MUCH SKY
A NO MAN’S SKY REVIEW
These days, when it comes to opinions, there’s generally no middle-ground. Everything has to be polarised. Especially when the internet is involved.
Films, TV episodes, games, albums… It’s not often you’ll see something described as being simply ‘good’, or ‘okay’, or ‘a bit disappointing’. It seems now (if social media is to be believed), that a particular piece of entertainment is either the best thing ever, or it’s killed the franchise dead.
I might write a paper on it one day. It’ll either be called ‘The Dawn of Justice Effect’ or ‘Steven Moffat’s Law’.
That said, to every rule there are exceptions, and I find No Man’s Sky to be just such just such an oddity.
I’ve been playing the game on PS4 for about a month now, having eagerly downloaded it the day it came out. I’m a huge Doctor Who and Star Trek fan, so the idea of a game based around exploring new and distant worlds, discovering new alien creatures and ancient civilisations was just too tempting to resist. Eighteen quintillion planets? Sign me up. Alons-y! Engage! Geronimo! Make it so!
I recently read that it had been calculated that it’d take 584 billion years to explore every planet and moon. That’s more that forty times the age of our own actual universe.
So how come, over the past month of planetary exploration, every time I get asked by friends if they should buy it, if it’s any good, if I love it, my answer is usually something along the lines of “I’m not sure…”?
And it’s true. I honestly don’t know if I like it or not. Last night, I played the game for five minutes, got bored, and turned it off. Today, as I’m writing this sentence (literally, as I’m typing this right now) all I want to do is hop back in my spaceship and play it.
I can’t explain it. When I was playing the Arkham games, or even more recently, Fallout 4, I couldn’t put them down. I would spend hour upon hour, compelled to play them in order to find every secret, every item, every hidden location, and I was unashamedly vocal about how they were the best thing ever.
Is that my problem with No Man’s Sky? Is it that I know that no matter how long I strive for, I will never see everything? Or should that be the point? Should I be gratified and awed by the fact that whatever I discover within its universe is probably never going to be seen by another human being?
Or perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start at the beginning.
The first several hours of the game are tremendous. You wake up on an alien world, next to the wreckage of your ship, with on-screen prompts telling you the steps, in turn, you need to take to repair your ship and leave the planet. Other than that, you’re pretty much on your own.
That’s the first thing that happens. The second thing is, you die.
Naturally, you will wander over to the funny little flying Sentinel which is zipping around the crash site. It will get angry when it sees you and call in its friends. Then they shoot you to death before you’ve even worked out how to fire back.
Lessons are learned.
Then the game reloads (and in my case, crashes a couple of times while attempting to do so – but then I was only twelve hours and one huge software fix into the release) and you find yourself back at the crash site. This time, you learn to stay away from the Sentinels, or to quickly shoot them, or to hop back into your crashed ship and hide.
Then the building and collecting work begins. I forget exactly what parts and elements are needed for the repairs, but I do remember spending a couple of days wandering around a scorching, barren planet looking for Thamium9 to fuel my boosters and get me out of the atmosphere.
Back then, it was like charting a new frontier. I was new, innovative, exciting and mysterious – especially after the discovery of the strange alien artefact from something called ‘Atlas’ telling you to find your way to the centre of the galaxy.
Fast forward a few weeks, however, and I’m starting to feel a bit lethargic. Visiting new worlds is still fun. Naming them is even better. The planet “Tony Williams Sucks Monkey Balls” is out there, forever, for anyone to find – and it mysteriously made it past the in-game profanity filter even though the word ‘spiked’ (or ‘spikey’, I forget which) is banned. But the problem is, despite there being fourteen quintillion different worlds, they all look pretty much the same. The ground is a different colour, the animals and plants are slightly different (but all still a variation on a rather repetitive theme), but really, it’s hard to tell one world apart from another on anything other than a vague aesthetic level. The weather systems are planet-wide, too. So there are no polar regions, no equatorial forests, no desert regions. It’s either a hot, barren planet, or a lush green world, or an ice world, with no environmental variation across the globe. You can drop into the planet’s atmosphere, land your ship and look out at the horizon and you pretty much know what every inch of the planet will look like. Yes, there are some odd rock formations here and there, or the occasional mountain range, but there’s no real variation.
And that’s another problem for me. The planets are all littered with ancient ruins, abandoned encampments, research facilities, etc., but they are all pretty much the same. At worst, you can pick up a few upgrade ‘recipes’ for your equipment (although at this point in playing, I seem to already have every one that I find), or at best you get a very simple number puzzle to solve which will give you the translation for a particular alien word, or the location of yet another facility which will give you more of the above. I’ve gone from flying across the landscape and stopping at every location I see, to just pretty much ignoring it all. Fourteen quintillion planets and I already feel like I’ve seen everything.
I suppose this is all compounded by the general feeling of a lack of any sort of threat within the game. Yes, the second thing you do is die, but after that first time, nothing has come close to threatening my well-being. The game feels too easy. It would be great to have more physical threats on a planet, such as lava-spewing volcanos, or ice floes which could break and send you to a freezing death. There are space pirates, yes, but they’re pretty easy to dispatch, even with my very basic ship and weapons. There are animals which attack you, although very few and, of course, the ever-present Sentinels which are very easy to avoid.
I’m desperately trying not to let this turn into a long list of gripes, so please, just allow me to make the following three points. On a technical level, the scope of the game is amazing, but the visuals are somewhat disappointing for a PS4 game. When you’re flying across the planetary landscape, it is very distracting having to see the grainy, sluggish refresh rate of the textures, like the game is slowly rendering them as you go. I don’t know whether this is a platform-wide issue, but it really shouldn’t be something you see on a latest-generation console. It really detracts from the experience.
My second point (and really my third) is based around physical realism. It’s very off-putting when you’re exploring a solar system which simply doesn’t conform to the laws of physics. I often find that I’ll be exploring a heat-blasted cinder of a world one minute, then discover that the closer to the sun I travel, the colder the worlds get, rather than the opposite.
Finally, it would be nice to see a few gas giants dotted around. Okay, in game terms, it’s useless to have planets that you can’t actually land on, but it would be great to see them, just to add to the sense of realism.
I don’t know. I’m well aware that I’m raising a huge list of negative points, but that isn’t to say the game is not compelling in some sense. Which brings me back to the start. I’m still firmly on the fence. I don’t dislike the game, I honestly don’t. Do I love it? No.
I suppose to sum up, I’d have to say that it’s like going on a coach tour of a magnificent country, but all you can do is look at the scenery. There really doesn’t yet seem to be any sort of meaningful interaction with any of the game’s elements. It needs to grow. It has the scope – hell, it has a greater scope than any other game in existence – but now it needs to add more variation to what you can find, do and interact with.
Is it the best game ever? Or is it the worst?
Neither. It’s simply okay. But give it a few more years of development, add-ons, upgrades and sequels, and hopefully, it could grow to be superb.