- Format: PC (version reviewed), PS4
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Hello Games, Sony (PS4)
- Developer: Hello Games
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.no-mans-sky.com/
- Game bought by reviewer
With No Man’s Sky there isn’t really an appropriate place to say “review time!” and start bashing keys until it’s all typed up. Yes, there is an objective of sorts with a story, that whole “find your way to the centre of the galaxy” but for us it’s not quite so simple. It’s a very polarising game and it’s much like Minecraft in the way that most of our enjoyment is of our own devising. You can explore until you turn blue in the face and never find anything captivating; but when the stars align (figuratively) there’s nothing quite like it.
We’ve spent time on all sorts of planets scanning the indigenous flora and fauna, filling out the most varied and boring Pokédexes bit by bit. Most of them were utterly drab, barren wastelands with what seems like the same mashup of plants and misshapen animals, with only the slightest variations to differentiate them. But these are planets (and moons) that aren’t really worth your time. Like trying to squeeze enjoyment out of a multiplayer game where everything is going wrong, so too is wandering endlessly on these less-than-interesting planets. When you find a planet worth staying on, you won’t want to leave because you’ll miss it.
We found one of those planets and, while writing this, it’s the place we still are. We aren’t content with leaving this place until we at least find the last of its animals. This planet is the third we’ve checked in a rather large solar system, located about three or four warp jumps down the line from our starting system. The first two planets here – and one moon – were bereft of anything largely interesting save for the one completely barren planet we’ll get to later. This was the first planet that we could actually describe as luscious and almost tropical, complete with occasional torrential downpours that didn’t seem to faze the wildlife at all.
This one world in an ocean of quintillions of others was the one that captured our hearts. We had seen some planets we liked, but this one we loved. It was something we noticed almost straight away. Landing on the planet and disembarking from the ship didn’t leave us lovestruck; and the big issue with this is also how we were going about playing the game. The HUD for the game is awful at letting you get captivated and turning it off is a hassle, but a hassle that lets you see some damn beautiful sights. It’s a strangely beautiful experience watching a shoal of four-limbed cephalopods swimming in the moonlight, but it’s less beautiful when you have the HUD being busy with markers and a frankly boorish objective reminder plastered over your view.
It’s an incredible game if you can find the right way to play it. By “right way” we mean what you find most enjoyable. Going around blasting Sentinels and wildlife indiscriminately wasn’t for us and while pure exploration gave us a rush a few times, it isn’t the reason that we’ll keep playing. We loved that documentation of the lands without the HUD. Diving into the shoal of aquatic creatures in the moonlight was like living in a Disney film for a few short moments as we steadied the camera, swimming around them. It was marred slightly by us not having the proper equipment to stay a little longer in one go, so we had the constraint of oxygen reserves running out in the back of our minds (as well as the less than subtle audio and visual feedback to indicate drowning was approaching) but it was still a stunning moment.
We took a few videos across this same world, all without the HUD, and all the better without it. It distracts from something that can be quite beautiful. While the wildlife don’t seem to graze it’s still a sight to behold as they wade around grasslands in the pouring rain or any other number of equally picturesque scenes. Yes, it did require something from outside the game to help us enjoy it more, but that’s not a bad thing (unless you’re playing on PS4).
Lush, verdant worlds do not a good game make – but it helps. Of all the Barren worlds only one stood up as interesting and it may not even have had anything at all but the implication of something else existing for us to find. By day it’s a planet which sometimes gets a little hot. By night, echoes of something akin to whale song rolled over the hills. We spent far too long straying from our original goals, delving into tunnels that stretched for god knows how far before we decided to move on. We don’t even know if there is something else there, but the thought alone was enough to make us wonder, and make us wander far, far out into the barren landscape.
It may have some superb highs but most of the game is repetitive lows. Mine this, mine that, mine that other thing that isn’t anywhere nearby so we fly around the planet endlessly to find it. Exploration is a double edged sword and looking for deposits of one element or another gets tedious very quickly. The only thing worse than the abundance of mining, is the combat, which is very poor on the planet’s surface and excruciatingly poor in space.
No Man’s Sky is definitely not what it was marketed as, but exploration of more unique worlds than our minds can adequately comprehend is something it has in spades. We weren’t sure we’d like it but if you’ll forgive the often clumsy bits then exploration might just be what you’re looking for. It somehow manages to channel the atmosphere of Proteus and The Witness while keeping some of what makes Minecraft mean so much to so many. It’s a delight to play, but might not be if the centre of the universe is your only goal.