[Update: As promised, here’s a ‘Part 2’ review of No Man’s Sky after the day-one update.]
Yes, I know there’s a day-one patch on the way. What I care about is reviewing what people will have straight out of the box on the day they get their copy, the game that was handed over the counter to them when they parted with their cash in good faith. If the update drastically changes the experience of the game, so much so that’s it’s unrecognisable from what’s originally on the disc, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way games are being made; I wouldn’t pay for Chocolate Rice Crispies, receive plain Rice Crispies and then be told to wait while Kelloggs gets the chocolate flavouring together. Silly analogy, but it’s the same principle.
For the record, we did reach out to Sony/Hello Games, but neither replied to our emails. So when we found a copy available a few days early (it was just sitting on a shelf, who would pass that up?) we decided to go in early. Here’s our review.
No Man’s Sky made me feel like a very, very small person. Billions of planets waiting to be explored, yet I knew from the moment I booted up the game I wouldn’t even touch 1% of them. It’s a little sad, really, but I suppose that’s the point of the game. It’s a team effort. Humanity coming together to take on the big bad universe, one planet at a time.
You start the game on a random planet with a busted star ship. A great start to any adventure. Instead of just letting you loose among the stars, the game slowly guides you to fixing up your ship by collecting the required ingredients from the planet you start off on. You could be lucky and have everything just a few paces in front of you, or like me, you may have to wander around for half an hour before you find what you’re looking for.
This introduction serves to teach you fundamentals of the game’s crafting, mining, and to some degree, combat mechanics. You’ll learn to use your laser mining gun to break down natural objects into minerals such as Plutonium, Iron, Thanium, Copper, etc, as well as learning that you can use your mining tool as a weapon against the intergalactic space cops – Sentinels. They’re these annoying little buggers that fly around and make sure you’re not up to no good. They don’t seem to take too kindly to you taking the natural resources from any planet, and they’ll start attacking you if they catch you in the act.
So, once you’ve gone through the motions and have your star ship fixed up, fuelled and ready to go, you’re free to blast off from whatever weirdly named planet you’ve spawned on and make your own journey through time and space. There’s a moment of pure giddy excitement as the ship begins lift off and you find yourself in full control of the vehicle. (Note: You can change the pilot controls in the menu so that they’re inverted. Makes it much better.)
Off you go into space, leaving behind the colourful (or not, as each person’s experience is unique) planet and its strange inhabitants behind. Once I’d got out of the world’s atmosphere and into space, I realised I’m such a small and insignificant part of this universe. Yes, that applies to the one we all reside in right now, too… Existential crisis incoming.
Thankfully the game holds your hand for a little while to get you used to flying around from planet to planet. My visor told me I should go here and there, and it even told me of the space station that was nearby. Well, I say nearby, but it was really a 10-minute flight. (This would have been a lot shorter had I paid attention to the instructions telling me to press and hold ‘L1’ and ‘R1’ together…)
Space stations typically house an alien creature of sorts and they’ll have a little chat with you, kind of. Conversations are presented from your character’s point of view. So if the creature seems a little hostile, text on the screen will show up saying something along the lines of “The creature seemed a bit annoyed and he snarled his words at me” and what not. It’s a bit like the old pulp-fiction books where you’d pick a page number to continue the story. Nice touch, I thought.
The main point of space stations is to buy and sell goods that you’ve collected and parts that you need. Prices tend to change depending where you are in the universe, so you may pay a bit more in one system than you would in another, but it also works out in your favour when it comes to selling. However – and yes, I know this may be something that’ll change in the patch – I never really needed to rely on getting funds via trading. Sure, I definitely needed to buy supplies (crucial to making your way through the universe) but I rarely needed to sell anything, and what I did sell was purely to make room in my inventory. Making money is as easy as visiting a planet, having a look around at the wildlife, then uploading your discoveries in return for ‘Units’, the game’s currency. Not a game-breaking thing by any stretch of the imagination.
Space stations aren’t the only way to get some good stuff, as most planets I landed on had a depot or an outpost of sorts. It’s here that you’ll be able to further trade with a local alien, upgrade your bits and bobs, and generally learn a thing or two. I’m not going to spoil the surprises by telling you exactly what’s what, but just know that planets aren’t totally devoid of things to do. There are stories to discover and things to learn. That’s it. I’ve said too much already. Go away.
Your main goal is to reach the center of the universe to see what secrets it holds. I can tell you that I’ve been there. I’ve seen things, man. But no, I won’t be spoiling a single thing here. All I can say is that it took me roughly 20-24 hours to complete my journey (accounting for breaks etc.) Does that mean it’ll take you the same amount of time? No, not at all! I’m a direct player, so when I know there’s a goal and that’s my target, I just go for it. I’m the kind of guy who powers through the main story missions in GTA V, Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry 4 etc. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good look around and do some exploring.
I explored the hell out of quite a few planets, some more than others. If a planet was bright and colourful I’d be more inclined to have a look around, search out the creatures and really see what’s on offer. If a planet was a bit dull (and yes, some of them are) then I’d get what I needed (resources) and be on my way.
Speaking of planets, I was actually really impressed with the variety. I’m not one to fall for marketing bull or PR crap, so when the press was all like “procedurally everything!” I was like, yeah, whatever. But it turns out it’s actually true. I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m about 99% sure that I didn’t see the same planet replicated twice. Sure, there are a few common things throughout the universe when it comes to the resources you need to mine, but other than that it’s all unique. Flying dinosaurs, weird critters that bolt past you, horrible beasts that hunt other animals as well as yourself if you don’t take care.
Graphically, don’t expect this to look like anything you’ve seen on PS4 before. It’s not an ugly game – in fact, it’s far from it – but there is an air of simplicity to the game’s presentation. Worlds differ in their appearance and one may be chock full of colour with grass swishing too-and-fro as far as the eye can see, but other may be just hills, rocks, and a few scraps lying around. It’s all a part of the fun, and though the graphics aren’t mind-blowing, they’re perfectly suited to the retro-space-adventure vibe that No Man’s Sky gives off.
There are a couple of minor complaints I do have about the presentation though. Firstly, the field-of-view is quite constrictive if you’ve come from playing all the latest first-person shooters, though after a while I just got used to it, and I don’t doubt you will, too. The second complaint is the pop-in. Pop-in is where the game’s world populates the details as you move along. So when you’re playing GTA and you suddenly see a sign post or a car appear that wasn’t there a moment ago, it has popped in. This is pretty prevalent in No Man’s Sky, though only from the air. If you’re skimming the surface of the planet in your star ship, you’ll undoubtedly see vegetation, mountains, hills, and animals pop-in, but once you disembark and start wandering around on foot, it’s a lot less noticeable. Bear in mind, this is something that may or may not be tweaked with the day-one patch that’s supposedly releasing on Monday.
Audio. Wow. This game has a soundtrack like no other. Piercing synths drumming around you as you speed through asteroids, space fleets and dog fights. Mellow strings as you wander a strange and unexplored planet. It’s just perfection. I can’t say a single thing wrong in relation to the game’s score, it just fits. I did have a couple of moments where the audio spazzed for a few seconds, but in over 20 hours of gameplay the sound issues occurred just a couple of times, so I can’t really say it’s buggered beyond belief.
No Man’s Sky is fun and functional, day-one patch or not. Sure it was a little over-hyped (read: massively) but it delivers on its promise: a spectacular universe where anything and everything could appear. Exploration is the name of the game and if you’ve got the time on your hands to wander around the countless planets then you’re going to have a stupid grin on your face for the duration.
It does get slow, yes, and eventually you’ll figure out that you’re only really able to visit a handful of planets at a time before you are forced to forage for what you need to move into the next system. You’ll soon figure out that warping from one system to another is a sneaky trick by the developers to mask some loading, and you’ll soon figure out that while there’s practically an unlimited amount of planets to explore, there’s a limited amount of ways to do it. That all said, I’m happy enough to recommend this to anyone with more than a passing interest in exploration and a thirst for something that’s truly breaking from the mould of open-world games. No Man’s Sky isn’t an open-world game, it’s an open-universe.
Or as my other half put it: “So it’s basically Minecraft, but in space?”
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a PS4 copy of the game bought at retail. Yes, we got it early and we’re reviewing it without the day one patch. The way we see it is that everyone deserves to know what’s in the box; not everyone has their console hooked to the internet. If the day-one patch radically changes the game for the better, then wonderful, but it won’t change our score. We’ll do a write up of the changes, but we won’t be changing anything in the review.
We’ve worked with many a publisher/developer with reviews in the past, and when we’re asked to stick to an embargo, we do so to the minute. However, if we can’t even get a reply from a company, we don’t see why we should adhere to an embargo we did not agree on. We have the game, we’ve played the game, we’ve written a review, why should we wait to publish? Basically, what we’re saying is, we work for you (gamers), not game companies. We’re not their PR.
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