Sunday, 21 August 2016

No Man's Sky Review

No Man’s Sky presents a truly vast universe of procedurally generated planets with seamless surface to surface travel. You can explore irradiated waste lands, lush forests, maze like cave networks, floating islands, outposts - variety is No Man’s Sky strong suit and exploring and discovering is constantly rewarding. Experiencing the sights, the wildlife, the plant varieties. It truly is amazing.

It’s just a shame that this isn’t backed up by an enjoyable game.

You see whilst you hop from planet to planet, moon to moon, the reason for doing so is to mine materials - by bashing or lasering things - in order to upgrade your ship, your suit and your multi-tool. All of this is done to aid you on your journey to the center of the universe. That's it though. There is no real story, you do encounter other races and it is nifty that, through bargaining with them and locating things you have to learn their language, but you only interact with them in a way that allows for more resources to be gained. They are essentially trading posts dressed up as lifeforms.

And don’t think the wildlife or the sentinels (the guardians scattered throughout the planets of the universe) make for much better company. When not scanning and discovering wildlife you fight them. This consists of running around firing your multi-tool at them. It is clunky and repetitive and dull. There is some variety in that you can add new things to your gun but it really makes little difference. Oh and if you run out of ammo and need more you have to open your inventory, rendering you motionless without pausing the game and allowing you to be slaughtered. The sentinels aren’t much better, uninspired floating objects, easily provoked, who fire lasers at you. You can fight or just run away for about thirty seconds and they should give up. Thrilling.

Resource gathering isn’t much better, though games like Minecraft and Terraria are filled with resource gathering the rewards they provide are immense due to the freedom and creativity given to the player. Here you just get an upgrade and, honestly, aside from the warp ability most upgrades feel painfully incremental. This is made worse by one of the clunkiest UIs I have ever experienced. You use the sticks to control a mouse-like cursor to select items to upgrade. What's worse is they stick with this UI for everything, even conversation choices with aliens.
A good deal of features shown in previews aren't included. Faction based alliances and battles? Nope. Attacking space stations? Nope. Fleet battles? Nope. Freighters that move and fight? Nope. Also there are seemingly no desert planets.

Many people I know would be willing to brush this all aside. They would be happy just to explore the universe, meet other players out in the stars, trade with them, explore with them. Good luck with that. In numerous tests even when players found each other they couldn’t see each other. Multiplayer essentially boils down to the incredibly small chance you might stumble across a planet named Pooptopia and wonder who named it. It’s a real shame.

Then there’s the graphics. Whilst the variety is amazing the performance is not. The frame rate stutters all too often, dropping below thirty frames per second in a very noticeable way. The pop in is atrocious, especially when flying over a planet's surface, which is often necessary due to their size. Whilst this can be forgiven somewhat due to the lack of loading times and the thrill of seamless exploration, it is still not acceptable in this day and age.

Ultimately No Man’s Sky feels hollow. The procedural generation and exploration side of things feels great, fleshed out and highly enjoyable. The rest of it feels half baked. Maybe with another year or two of development a truly great game could have been released - something to truly usher in the current generation, to show the way forward for AAA gaming. Sadly what we have is a truly underwhelming game, a woeful disappointment. Even if you ignored the hype and hyperbole, this game promised to be truly unique, truly special and to really outshine all the other so-called ‘next gen’ games. It doesn’t even come close.

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