"No Man's Land": No Man's Sky Review
No Man's Sky is a game of apt comparisons. No Man's Sky is Minecraft, a game focused on the exploration of an unforgiving universe that wants nothing more than for you leave. Yet, No Man's Sky is also Elite, a chance to pilot a spaceship across the endless ocean of the stars.
Though most of all, No Man's Sky is Ralph Bighead's crowning artistic achievement, and as it seems, the feeble minds of the collective aren't able to comprehend Sean's genius.
The sad truth though regarding No Man's Sky is that even over 20 hours, I'm convinced that I've seen all that No Man's Sky has to offer. Though even more troubling is the convoluted and contradictory nature of No Man's Sky puts players at constant odds with the disk in their console.
Its seems at every turn, No Man's Sky keeps players an arms length away from a genuinely remarkable experience. With further examination of every facet of the game, I find myself realizing like most of the rest of the world; I was but another victim of the game's flashy and very effective marketing. This is a very dangerous revelation when it comes to the viability and faith people have when taking the plunge in a new intellectual property.
Unless you find you find yourself a member of an exclusive club called “nobody,” You're likely familiar with the core concept of No Man's Sky. Pilot a spacecraft towards the center of the universe, exploring a functionally infinite number of planets while you gather resources and meet alien life forms.
If you find yourself captivated by the opportunity to play finally Star Trek: The Game then let me be the first to welcome you to an even more exclusive club known as “Everybody.” Since it's reveal, No Man's Sky was the poster child for what can be accomplished by this generation of new hardware and the indie developer spirit.
Though as you play the game, it rather rapidly becomes apparent that No Man's Sky exists as a proof of concept rather than a full-fledged video game. This shocking twist begins on your starting planet, a unique world that allegedly nobody else in the world will experience on their first day, this beginning the spiral of problems plaguing the game.
It is worth noting, though, No Man's Sky's strongest point also takes place at the beginning of the game. The first view as you take your first steps across this foreign alien world is among some of the most remarkable and memorable moments I've experienced in a video game. The realization quickly sets in that you are occupying a space that is so unimaginably big that even the concept of exploration ushers in a feeling of hopelessness. You are truly on your own.
This rush emotion though is all in your head. No Man's Sky's real strength is masking logic and reason to captivate you in the early hours of the game. As you set off on your adventure the mask falls off and it lands with a deafening thud.
Your character walks with the pace of arthritic tortoise riding a hoverboard with a dying battery. This is by far the most troubling mechanic of No Man's Sky. When given the opportunity to explore a planet in what is, an infinite universe, movement of this pace turns the marquee game mechanic into a joyless chore.
A further nail in the coffin comes in the form of the bare bones material and crafting system. Resources are broken down into a few basic categories with individual resources acting as fuel for either your gun or your spacecraft. However, after exploring your seventh or eighth planet, a realization sets in that not only are most, if not all resources available on each planet but that each fuel provides the same amount of energy regardless of rarity.
These two truths are at complete odds with the spirit of the game. I quickly found myself going out of the way not to walk anywhere given the frustratingly slow movement speed. With the abundance of fuel on each planet, flying my spacecraft across the surface of the world became my preferred method of travel.
It is worth noting that there is a run button. However, it's mapped to the right stick, and it doesn't make you go that fast. You have a jet pack, but it doesn't work all that well. Mining is performed with a gun that has only two functions; vacuum cleaner and pulse rifle. Your ship has a similar suite of weapons rounding out at the vast number of two laser and pulse rifles. Remember, your fuel works independently of the rarity. Abundant Carbon refuels at the same rate as the rare (but not rare, it's everywhere) Plutonium.
Shooting and combat are also at odds with the survival nature of No Man's Sky. Shooting one of your two weapons rarely becomes a necessity as the randomly generated life you encounter have two modes, run and run into you. It's odd that in the universe, each life form operates in such generalized and basic functions.
Creatures do little damage and possess such embarrassingly stupid artificial intelligence, that combat becomes a nuisance more than a survival tactic. The same applies to the robotic Sentinels that occupy each and every planet. Kill enough of them, and they stop attacking. Break line of site by going into a building that you just broke into and they call off their assault.
Given the abundance of resources and the small level of actual threats in the universe and you realize that survival is not a mechanic of the game in the traditional sense. In my twenty hours of the game, I've died exactly once, and that was in space and was directly related to the poor spaceship controls.
With the maneuverability of a clawfoot bathtub, your spacecraft accomplishes what I thought was impossible; making a dogfight in space between you and pirates unfun. In the likely event that you find yourself dying during a dogfight, never fear. The very pirates that seek to claim your space cargo only leave it floating in space, allowing you to reclaim your ship's contents. This is fine.
Interiors of the massive space stations occupying each galaxy are exceptionally lazy regarding content. Each station is the same, containing a single entrance point leading to a landing bay. NPC ships come and go with some regularity, but the real star of the space station is the single alien occupant sitting in a chair next to an automated kiosk for you to conduct your trading.
The alien races exist as the personification of the barren nature of No Man's Sky. Each exists with no personality or function in the game, other than to will up your dictionary with random words from their language. For the ones that do have some semblance of a reason for occupying their space in the universe, their lives mostly boil down to occasionally another NPC to trade with.
Aliens give no missions nor do they send you on tasks. There is a hastily thrown together story, one in which Sean Murray assured us was added as part of the day one patch after leaks of the game alluded to its absence. Although it seems they wrote and added the story on the Monday before release given the disjointed and convoluted nature of the overarching plot. What's even more troubling is the fact that actions you take in the game have no bearing of your presence in the universe.
Become bored with the game and decided to slaughter the rather abundant life forms on each planet? Never fear as aliens treat you with the same generic indifference in future encounters. Destroy every sentinel you see on a planet? Keep in line on the next one and its business as usual. No Man's Sky seems to exist somewhere between a pre-alpha version of Minecraft and a free trial version of Garry's Mod.
No Man's Sky is a game without an identity, a program better suited as a free screensaver generator than a video game. The vistas and seemingly impossible visuals generated by the admittedly impressive mathematics involved in the game are truly a site to behold. However, the buck stops there.
No Man's Sky is the absolutely the worst type of video game, the likes of which haven't been seen since the days of Fable III or Spore. While not a bait and switch in the traditional sense, Sony, and Hello Games have certainly accomplished a marketing miracle. Whipping a generation of gamers into a frenzy over an untested intellectual property isn't easy.
No Man's Sky isn't just a failure as a video game; it's a failure as a notion of faith in the industry. Kulture Shocked did not receive a review copy of the game, meaning that I had to spend my hard earned cash on this product, something I would have done. Being burned and buying shoddy products always sucks, but this one is something much worse.
I wasn't just buying a physical product; I was buying into an idea that independent game development can produce an experience far greater than you can get without the restraints of AAA development. In the end, though, it didn't matter. Art and gameplay once again took a backseat to sales numbers and stock holdings.
No doubt in the coming weeks, excuses will be made, and updates to the core concept of the game will be promised. However, No Man's Sky is far too broken for any of it to matter. Save for a grant and complete retooling of the game and its mechanics; the game will remain as barren as each of the planets you find yourself on. In reality, though, No Man's Sky is evidence that the concept of flashy lights and clever marketing can turn a ton of silver into a lump of gold.