Review: No Man's Sky
ANOTHER GAME, ANOTHER PLANET
NOTE: I played No Man's Sky for roughly eight to ten hours on my PS4. I had initially planned to play the game for 30 hours, but after my experience with the game, I felt I had done enough to render a personal verdict.
No Man's Sky is an incredible feat. I don't mean to say that the game is fantastic by any means, but to see what the tiny team at Hello Games was able to accomplish is outstanding. In that same breath, No Man's Sky is also lackluster, lifeless, and repetitive. The game is ambitious as can be, but despite succeeding by technical standards, the game fails to capture the true spirit and thrill of pure adventure. After all, isn't that what No Man's Sky is all about?
The game starts off simple, you're dropped into a procedurally generated planet with your ship unable to properly function. Over the course of the game's first hour, you learn the basics of resource discovery, craftability, and planetary traversal. These features form what should be the foundation of a fantastic space exploration game, but unfortunately, this is almost all the game has to offer. Now to leave it at that would be selling the game a bit short, it really isn't that shallow. The extent to which you can interact with the environment, items, and other life form increases as your proceed, but I never felt like the game evolved enough for me to feel like I was doing something beyond the same monotonous tasks over and over again.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
After spending my first few hours with the game, and then reflecting back on what I had done, it became apparent to me why this game is so divisive. It is exactly what I expected it to be back when it was first shown in 2014. You discover a planet, you learn and see new things, gain resources, refuel your ship, repeat. It really is fun at first. In fact, I had a genuine smile on my face the fist time I discovered that I could use Pulse Drive to speed up my ship when in orbit. Watching my estimated time of arrival to my next destination diminish from a whopping 30 minutes to a simple 45 seconds was proof of just how vast this open procedurally generated world could be. It is so easy to get lost in this game, exploring further and further, as the discoverability seemingly never ends. Initially, it is both daunting and thrilling, but after a few hours, it gets old.
BIG, BEAUTIFUL, BARREN
My main gripe with No Man's Sky is the lack of scope. It is a mistake that has been made before, and unfortunately, it holds this game back from greatness. It is as if the goal of the game was to make it as big as it could possibly be, with no warrant as to why. Sure, discovering an endless amount of solar systems is new and exciting, but why do it if you'll never find something fulfilling there. Dysfunctional looking animals, Carbon, Thamium9, and caves can only excite me for so long before I have to say enough is enough. This is why I had to stop after my eight to ten hour trek.
Of course there is more that I haven't seen. I never made it to the center of the universe, and I didn't interact much with Atlas. After making my way to my first Atlas station, I ignored all options to to further figure out what could be done there. I played until the game stopped making sense. I played until the game stopped being fun, or maybe a little thereafter.
THE REAL PROBLEM
I believe that No Man's Sky has an audience. I think there is a group out there that this game will totally work for. The grind of resource mining and gear collecting can be addicting and fun, but without a purpose or lively world, it isn't for me. No Man's Sky suffers from a serious case of overhype that was brought on by an aggressive marketing campaign led by Sony, a lack of clarification by the developers, and an inability to think rationally on the consumer's end. Hello Games is the studio that brought us Joe Danger. This is a small team that had a very ambitious goal, and while I'm very impressed with what they have created, it never had a chance to be what we all made it out to be.
The real crime with No Man's Sky is that it was marketed as something that it never was. Had the game never been picked up by Sony, and just went on to be any other indie game to hit the market, perhaps the message would have been clearer and more sincere. The premise of the game was too great for people to take the message with a grain of salt, and for that, we ended up putting too many eggs into this basket.
No Man's Sky is big and wondrous, but not for long. For some, there is a ton to be explored and many hours of fun to be had, but for those looking for depth and purpose, you won't find it here. Developer Hello Games has traded quality for quantity with No Man's Sky, and while the endless worlds to explore might seem novel at first, it begins to feel dull after a short while. The game may be great for some, but I myself had to stop playing after a handful of hours to find a more fulfilling adventure. No Man's Sky is unique and there is something truly special here, it just isn't fully fleshed out.