Arts & CultureVideo Games

Review: ‘No Man’s Sky’ offers a beautiful, but bare-bones space odyssey.

It’s been humankind’s longest dream to look out into the sky, and wonder just what else may be awaiting us in the heavens. As our knowledge of space and the great cosmic darkness has expanded, we’ve caught glimpses of other worlds. Countless artists have crafted their take on what the infinite expanse could hold and No Man’s Sky offers the first to touch the scale of an infinite beyond.

A new release for the Playstation 4 and PC, No Man’s Sky takes place in a universe of 18-quintillion unique planets, each rich with life and resources. That number isn’t a typo or an estimation. Developer Hello Games has used procedural generation (meaning an algorithm that outputs new content from a single random seed) to build the biggest game world in history. You can visit any one of these sprawling planets from the comfort of your living room, and awe upon their randomized flora, fauna and wildlife. In game tracking allows you to label and stake your claim on anything, to be seen and respected by other players who may run across it.

The sights in No Man’s Sky can be astounding: canyons larger than the eye can see, with neon caves rich in minerals; globe-covering oceans filled with colorful fish; floating pillars of gold dot planets too hot to inhabit. All of this is displayed with a minimalist user interface, and a wide color palate. This is the core competency of No Man’s Sky, the sense of wonder it can draw out of a player. Every sight you seen is just a blip in a massive system of stars and lights.

You play the role of a lost traveler plopped into a random spot of this universe. A simple gun allows you to mine for minerals, which are vital to rebuilding your downed spaceship. Once your cruiser is brought back up to working order, the infinite world is open to explore. A vague narrative pushes you to find the center of this dense galaxy, where you may cross paths with the discoveries of other players. Alien species offer a trading economy to upgrade your gear or incite combat. No Man’s Sky hints at a vast world of possibility, but executes on very little of it.

Combat in the game is extremely simple, offering a scant handful of weapon varieties that are mostly deployed against hostile wildlife or robotic drones that scan every planet. Space combat also leaves much to be desired, with most encounters failing to satisfy. On the ground, gameplay is closest to a survival simulator. Minerals must be mined to keep up your suit’s damage resistance or power your star cruiser. However, the inventory management system is tedious and makes the entire act of management a chore. Too often, you’ll find yourself losing out on valuable commodities because the suit simply lacks the ability to juggle everything at once.

It’s also relevant to note that the game’s release week has been plagued with controversy. Despite creator Sean Murray hinting at multiplayer features in the game during various media appearances, nothing of the sort is present in any corner of the game’s massive world. The PC version of the game has also been hit by numerous major bugs, and frame-rate drops on even high-end systems. If you’ve been following No Man’s Sky since it was first revealed, the truth will likely fall short of expectations.

No Man’s Sky is a beautiful game that’s capable of extreme awe and true inspiration. But as a space simulation, it feels mechanically light. Hardcore space enthusiasts will be better served by more complex titles like Elite Dangerous or the upcoming Star Citizen. As for those who just gaze at the stars at night, and wish to explore our own little chunk of the universe, No Man’s Sky is worth the journey.

Follow Chris Berg on Twitter @ChrisBerg25

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Chris Berg

Chris Berg