It seems you can't release a game without some controversy these days, and No Man's Sky is no exception. What with trademark disputes over their use of the word "Sky", suggested "superformula" patent infringement, the late clarification of the PC delayed release, leaked copies, massive game-changing day 1 patch, no pre-load and then the constant discussion over what you actually do in the game. You'd have thought that the release would bring an end to the troubles for this ambitious Indie space-faring title but a number of technical issues have plagued the PC launch and a general misunderstanding/miscommunication about the multiplayer aspect of the game have kept the fires stoked.
So... is it any good?
No Man's Sky is, at its core, a game of exploration and discovery. Populated with over 18 quintillion, randomly generated and populated, planets, you start on the outer edge of the universe with a (damaged) basic spaceship, a multi-tool and very little direction. As the planets are randomly generated, even your starter planet can have some "interesting" traits; mine was, for example, highly toxic so staying outside of shelter for any length of time was hazardous. The first few hours are spent wandering the surface of the planet, mining resources with your multi-tool to repair and fuel your space ship as well as craft some additional abilities (such as an attachment to scan local wildlife). Scattered across the surface of my first planet I found quite a varied selection of shelters, outposts, alien monoliths and even a crashed spaceship. The shelters often contain new technology but, at the very least, they serve as a waypoint while you search the surrounding area. The outposts tend to be more interesting; occasionally occupied by an alien life-form who may have a question or problem you can try and resolve... the main issue being that you don't speak their language. This is where the monoliths and other alien structures come in. Activating them will normally result in you learning a little more of the local language, slowly building up your understanding; eventually you have enough words to be able to get an idea of what the aliens are asking of you and your assistance is always rewarded. Outposts will also tend to have some form of control panel or computer that, after completing a simple text-based puzzle, will unlock and provide you with a reward: some new technology, resources or the location of a point-of-interest. If you are really lucky, they will also have an interface to the galactic trade market or a landing platform where you can then buy and sell resources and crafting parts.
During the early game (and, to be fair, most of the rest of the game) you will find the storage space you have on both your suit and your ship to be quite restrictive given that both the resources you collect, the parts you craft and the technology you have installed share the limited space; increasing this space is a priority. Increasing the storage space in your suit involves finding "pods" that appear (randomly) and paying a fee using the in-game currency of "units" with each extra slot costing 10,000 units more than the previous one (although each pod can only give you one upgrade). You ship and multi-tool, however, require replacement. New ships can either be bought from the aliens that land to trade with you, or found (randomly) on the surface of the planets in need of major repairs. So far I've changed my ship about six times and each one has been crashed and abandoned. Your multi-tool can be replaced at some outposts where a new one will be available for sale, or occasionally offered as a reward on completion of a task.
Units, the currency in NMS can be earned in a number of ways, the easiest and most relaxing (but not really the best way) is cataloguing and uploading the details of system, planet, waypoints and wildlife you find during your journey. While this process is quite novel at first, allowing you to rename most of the discoveries, by the second or third planet you start to wish there was an auto-upload function and stop bothering to rename things. There is also a huge payout if you manage to catalogue all the species on a planet... something which has so far eluded me despite searching the whole of three separate planets; there is always one species I can never find (which I'm guessing is by design).
You will find that combat is actually relatively rare unless you make a habit of upsetting the robots that patrol the planets. Very few of the creatures I discovered were hostile, and even fewer posed any real issue. On top of that, combat just isn’t very enjoyable. Your movement is sluggish at best (which is why most people are using a trick with melee/jetpack for getting around) and your only weapon is the multi-tool which, while it can be upgraded in a number of ways, never really feels particularly effective (although the grenades come close).
Once you get off the ground in your spaceship, things actually get a bit worse. The ship is difficult to control as it appears to have rather aggressive auto-correction on it… if you try flying straight down, the game will actually send you in a different direction. It also feels really unresponsive so if you do end up in combat, trying to have a dogfight is a painful one-shot-and-turn experience (at least with mouse and keyboard… I’ve yet to try with a controller or joystick). On a couple of occasions I’ve actually picked on traders as they have taken off from an outpost (for research, obviously) in the hope that a greater sentinel force would appear and provide a more interesting fight… and although there were numerous alerts to say that they were on the way, nothing ever appeared.
Flying improved slightly once I’d left the atmosphere, but other issues then presented themselves. For example, there doesn’t appear to be any way to navigate to other planets in your current system unless you can see them so you end up spinning around trying to find them which is frustrating. There is a galactic map, but it seems to be restricted to plotting hyperspace jumps between systems, and even that really doesn't work well with the mouse and keyboard.
The real issue with the game, however, hit me after my fifth planet... it was all getting a bit too similar. True, one of my planets was mostly water and almost completely devoid of resources with zero wildlife and another was a scorched wasteland with, again, few resources and zero wildlife (this one had some plutonium to fuel part of my ship, at least) but this just highlighted the fact that without the constant sighting of a potential outpost or alien artifact on the radar, there was no reason to stick around on those planets. Suddenly I'm bored of collecting all this stuff and cataloguing very strange, but familiar creatures and I just want to finish the game and be done with it.
No Man's Sky is an incredible achievement for a small team like Hello Games, and, for a dozen hours or so (which is longer than any Call of Duty or Battlefield campaign) I was really enjoying the exploration but I was surprised at how quickly it felt so familiar with their randomly generated planets and wildlife. The lack of any real multiplayer (at best, others see things you've named), the shoddy ship controls and the price make it difficult to recommend... but if you've got £40 burning a hole in your pocket, fancy something a little different with no real focus on combat and are happy to just plod along, collecting and cataloguing, then maybe give it a go.
tags: hello games, no man's sky, pc, review
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