No Man’s Sky sounded, right from the start, ambitious beyond all hope of success. Procedurally generated planets and aliens? Quintillions of worlds? How was any of this even going to work? And, yet, it does, quite beautifully. Although what it gains in breadth may not make up for its lack of depth for some.
No Man’s Sky (PS4, Available August 12th on PC)
This game’s not going to blow out your processor, but it does look good. Everything, from your starting ship to the score you hear, is generated procedurally, so the game essentially takes a set of parts and constantly reassembles them into a new look. It’s not cutting edge and the game has a few technical issues here and there, like the landscape regenerating on the fly. Still, it’s got bigger things on its mind, and that’s mostly when you’re flying around in your ship.
With audio, you’ve got a serene, unobtrusive soundtrack from 65daysofstatic that tends to shift subtly wherever you go. The game is, overall, oddly relaxing to play, and you might find yourself losing track of time as you poke around.
The real innovation here is the procedural generation. Most of the games’ mechanics, from first-person shooting and dogfighting to resource hunting and crafting, you’ll have played before. None of them are particularly deep; for example, with your weapon, you don’t have any iron sights at first, although those could be out there. But they’re all well-executed, and easy to play, which is perhaps the most important.
Do you like poking around and finding stuff? Then Hello Games has made the ultimate game for you. No Man’s Sky is a mishmash of a lot of games; you mine resources and craft using a system similar to Minecraft; dying leaves behind some resources you can collect like in Dark Souls; the dogfighting is straight out of old-school Lucasarts games like Rogue Squadron; the lifeform cataloguing system feels quite a bit like Pokémon Snap; the survival mechanics are fairly common, and so on.
What makes it more than the sum of its parts is that it’s built to encourage exploration. Almost anywhere you go in this game, there’s something you can find that makes exploring a little easier, be it an upgrade, a bundle of credits, some spare resources, you name it. Photograph some new wildlife, upload the photos, and you rack up credits. You can walk up to nearby ships and buy them off their owners. You can find wrecked ships and strip mine them for technology blueprints. You find ruins that will teach you words in new languages. Or you can feed animals and collect their valuable poop. No, really. Try it, it’s hilarious!
It’s not without structure, mind you, which is the most important part. Unlike Minecraft, which can feel a bit unfocused, there is a plot here and objectives to meet, and even an endgame to get to. Whenever you get bored of poking around, or run out of credits to buy upgrades, you can easily hop back onto the main plot, which isn’t too demanding.
The one arguable downside is that the game’s focus on a huge galaxy to poke around in is that nothing is terribly deep. There are no skill trees and you can’t just decide to colonize a world by building your own outposts, for example. Also, the inventory system needs some work, as your inventory is ridiculously limited for no particularly good reason, and you need piles of minerals and to assemble new tools and upgrades all the time.
Considering I sunk three hours into the planet I started on, it’s safe to say that if you like exploring, you’ll spend hours probing this game for its secrets. If you want a straight ahead game that tells you what to do, well, you can run for the center of the universe, but that can take you up to thirty hours.
The game, to be fair, does have some minor technical issues that we’ve run into. And not every promised feature is in the game right now, as Hello Games is frantically patching in new stuff all the time. That said, though, there’s no paid DLC.
Who among us can say they’ve never looked at the stars and wanted to see what circles them, discover what specks are hidden in the grand black velvet pulled over our sky every night? Exploring the final frontier has defined science fiction ever since we’ve breached the atmosphere to the vacuum beyond, and there’s a pure joy in the idea of picking a direction away from Earth and just going to see what’s truly out there. No Man’s Sky distills that joy down onto one video game. If you want to explore, your ship is waiting.