No Man’s Sky Review – Falling Skies

Goodbye, Moonmen…

01

Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Sony
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed)
Released: August 9, 2016
Copy provided by publisher

No Man’s Sky effectively portrays the loneliness of space by providing so little for the player to do that it’s tempting to flush one’s self out of an airlock just to break the tedium.

Not that you can do that. That would be too interesting.

After all the hype, all the promises, all the boasting of procedurally generated wonder and dynamic encounters, Hello Games’ “ambitious” spacefaring game is little more than just another crafting and survival experience, more about performing mundane, repetitive tasks than providing unique and exciting encounters.

If you’re not sick of the hundreds of survival games out there already then No Man’s Sky, with its endless resource collection and irritating inventory management, might be for you.

For anybody else, the allure of hopping from planet to planet just isn’t all that intriguing – once you’ve completed a long and dull journey from one world to another, you’re going to touch down and basically do what you did everywhere else.

02

The game’s biggest feature – that no one planet is the same – means very little when your interactions on each one are practically identical.

Yes, there are dry planets, watery planets, cold planets, stormy planets – but they all adhere to the same simple rules. The major difference between a poison planet and a nuclear planet is the fact you’ll get a different logo next to the timer that tells you how long you can stay outside.

The animals, mixed and matched quite obviously from a pool of recycled body parts, can be fed to uncover rare materials, but you can’t do much beyond that. Aside from the few that are hostile and prone to attack, the animals are just there to look weird.

Upon encountering a large, dinosaur-like creature, I proceeded to use my shitty jetpack (and boy is it shitty) to ride on its back. I thought that would be fun. Instead, I just fell through its back because it had no solidity, leaving me to sigh and return to yet more mind-numbing resource collection.

My disappointing experience with the dinosaur has come to exemplify No Man’s Sky‘s biggest problem – everything is so obviously faked, so unabashedly illusory. The universe is devoid of credible, tangible life. For as much as the game promises dynamic adventures, everything is scripted, static, held in place like cardboard cutouts in a fairground ride.

Sentient aliens met along the way are never found just wandering the land. They remain stood or sat in place like static quest givers in an MMO – without the quests. Every now and then, other starships land nearby, but nothing ever gets out of them. To interact with their pilots, you must interact with the ship, at which point a character model pops up and you can have a text-based conversation with a pop-up character model.

The world of an average Elder Scrolls game may be far smaller than No Man’s Sky‘s galactic sprawl, but it’s inherently more meaningful, vivid, and lively, because it actually has stuff to do and people to meet.

03

No Man’s Sky is indicative of a big problem the games industry has – conflating the size of a game’s world with the quality of its character. It’s yet another game that pushes scale above everything else, but when it comes down to actually playing the thing, sheer landmass doesn’t account for much.

I simply do not care that I can explore a universe when that universe contains animals a mere window dressing, lifeforms that stand affixed to one spot, abridged visual novel confrontations, and an endless need to shoot rocks and trees to continue micromanaging every banal detail of my character.

The endless collection of resources needed to refill multiple fuel sources is a total drag, but it’s really the best bit of substance the game has to offer. An incessant journey from planet to planet, zapping carbon and iron out of plants and stones so you can journey to more planets in order to zap more plants and stones.

This constant feeling of chasing one’s own tail for the sheer sake of it is found in many survival games, and it’s just as prevalent here. Everything is a chore, everything needs some special sort of fuel source, and there’s not enough room to carry it all. You start out slow, unable to sprint for long, with a terrible jetpack for a modicum of enhanced travel.

One’s abilities can have upgrades crafted for them, but upgrades share the same restricted inventory space as everything else, meaning you need to choose between being able to sprint for an acceptable amount of time or being able to carry more things. This becomes less of a problem when you buy bigger starships to carry more loot, but it remains an annoyance and it makes the early game an uphill battle against crushing ennui.

04

Breaking up the “enjoyment” of filling your tiny (if slowly expandable) inventory with materials are frequent attacks from Sentinels – robotic annoyances that seem to be everywhere and further drive home the uniformity of this allegedly varied universe.

Combat with sentinels consists of firing one’s mining microtool (or switching to weapon mode if you have one attached) and trying to keep focused on them as they buzz around like flies, peppering you with bullets.

When a sentinel shows up, you’ll be expected to drop everything and deal with them, lest they call for support. Planets with a heavy sentinel presence might as well be called Worlds o’ Harassment, since you won’t be able to stay out of your starship for half a minute before one of the little shits shows up.

Every now and then, “elite” versions might appear, but they’re actually less irritating to fight since they stand still sometimes – the game’s sub-par FPS mechanics really aren’t suited for fast-moving fodder. Guns feel weak and aiming on the PS4 is sluggish even with the sensitivity turned up to maximum.

Both on land and in space, combat is the absolute lowest point of the game, seemingly included just to make things more “gamey.”

At least they move, though. At least they have some sort of direct interactive element. Despite being serial tormentors that infuriate with their presence, the robotic murderous Sentinels are about the only form of believable life in No Man’s Sky‘s universe… and that’s really sad.

05

Planet surfaces are riddles with waypoints to find, and that comes to represent the only major objective on most worlds – scanning the surroundings for landmarks and heading to “discover” them. Anything discovered can be named and uploaded in exchange for units (NMS‘ currency), which means you can have star systems called Chungus, full of planets called Chungus, with every landmark on every planet also being called Chungus.

Naming things is fun at first, but soon it just becomes easier to upload the gibberish default names and get the cash. I can only spend so long seeing how far I can break the word filter (tip: Cumdrencher is an accepted name for any animal you might find).

Cash can be used at trading posts on space stations and various planets, but are most useful in purchasing inventory upgrades or better starships. Take my advice and work on obtaining a superior ship fast – you’ll be grateful for the added cargo space.

There’s an argument to be made for the meditative experience of cruising around space or the skies of a world, scanning for locations or simple taking in the scenery – and scenery can be beautiful in its own bizarre, garish way. Landscapes of eye-searing purple and green may not be to everyone’s taste, but I find some pleasure in just how dazzlingly colorful things can become.

Free of the crafting and the terrible combat, one could see how No Man’s Sky might have made for an interesting airborne “walking simulator” of sorts. With its other gameplay elements feeling like half-measures, the game truly is at its best when one is simply floating around the empyrean void, observing from a distance.

This is when I’ve found myself actively enjoying the game – when I’m practically doing nothing. Once there’s a location to get to, an objective to reach, travel becomes excruciating. Once I need fuel and supplies, the hunting and gathering becomes meddlesome. Once I attempt to continue with the dreary text-based story on offer, the whole thing becomes ironically robbed of any meaningful point.

06

Oh, and as weirdly pretty as the game can be, things are marred by aggressively grainy pop-in, as textures and environmental details bubble into existence, pixel by pixel. It’s overwhelmingly ugly and happens on every single world almost every time one is flying through it.

There are also hovering buildings, floating off the ground like bad Unity projects, some of which end up “built” into mountains and hills with no way to enter their half-buried doors. This is not deliberate, mind you – the buildings quite clearly lack some collision detection when they’re haphazardly plonked into the surroundings.

I’ve seen so many planets, met so many aliens, and mined so much goddamn carbon and not once have I been surprised. Not once has the game thrown me a curveball. Every new location is just a different colored home for the same old routine, and the procedural generation means that things feel far less diverse than they could be – when randomized pools replace handcrafted designs, the lego bricks piecing everything together are far too obvious.

Like Spore before it, No Man’s Sky is a game that promised far more than it could ever deliver, but I can’t even blame my tepid reaction on hype. I did not for a second believe Hello Games’ vaguely described spacefarer could be anywhere near as varied and expansive as promised.

Even with my expectations guarded, however, I did not expect just another survival/crafting game that used randomization as a crutch to the point of losing all potential personality.

And I at least expected more to fucking do.

07

I’ve seen things you people would easily believe. I’ve not seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched no C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. There are no moments to lose in time like tears in procedurally generated rain.

Time to Sky.

5/10
Mediocre

GreckAuger
Guest
Bro, I hate arguing with your judgements, I really do. But, the 5 you gave was rather unfair, on the grounds that you had not considered the fact that the game had two major updates since this review. I’d like for you to go back to this game and even if you find the recent updates still lacking, there needs to be some redeeming quality other than it’s graphics. What the vanilla package lacks in variety, the modding capabilities on the PC port, greatly help with the replayability factor. There is this one mod that gives celestial bodies in the… Read more »
Jon Bisiach
Guest

Why on earth would a reviewer be obliged to review a supposedly finished game more than once? If Hello Games thought NMS was worth $60 at release then you get bet that’s what will be judged. If they wanted people to judge a different experience, then release THAT experience or make NMS a $20 early access title.

You can’t have it both ways.

CaitSeith
Guest

Too many new games, too little time for post-patch re-reviews.

ManuOtaku
Guest
Picked the game past weekend and i´am having a great time, it is very relaxing and jumping from planet to planet never gets old. It is fascinating to see for the first time the size of the planet you were stranded at the beginning of the game to see the size of the near planet you are heading. Although playing the vanilla version, due my lack of internet at home, i found some issues like mined materials from affar look that they werent mined at all and when you get close you see that you already mined those. Also the… Read more »
Chris Emerson
Guest

Well said, sir. Perfectly sums up my thoughts as well. I love many different types of games and I am very capable of enjoying getting lost in a procedurally-generated game worlds (Minecraft survival) … but this game is just a glorified tech demo and can’t hold my attention (or my 10 yr old son’s attention) after the 1st 30-60 minutes of “new game factor” wears off.

disqus_EXBahhKBwl
Guest

Sean Murray eh

Dent
Guest

You should look at Space Engineers Jim.

Psithief
Guest

…why review a game with no hype that isn’t out of early-access yet?

Dent
Guest

He does this all the time, usually for greenlight though.

CaitSeith
Guest

But he could do a Jimpressions video in the meantime (as he has done with several other non-hyped early-access games).

Dent
Guest

Stanley destroyed the block of carbon on the left, Stanley destroyed the block of gold on the right, Stanley destroyed the block of Copper on the right, Stanley, Stanley, Stanley, Stanley. Are you having fun yet Stanley? Do you feel free?

CaitSeith
Guest

Just hope Stanley doesn’t want to mine clay…

Zachary Bower
Guest
Yeah, I feel like it just utterly misses the point of anything I might want out of a space adventure. The ecosystems don’t make sense, the animals don’t really do anything, there’s no cosmic phenomena, overall you don’t actually “discover” anything about the things you find, because they don’t do anything. The rock formations don’t even obey gravity. So what does the game think I would want to do, when given the boundless universe as a playground? Why, obsessively manage a virtual inventory, of course. So even if I did decide I would like to just go around looking at… Read more »
JustinTimeNYC
Guest

I think even people who enjoy the meditative aspect of this type of non-gaming can admit it’s overpriced for the relative lack of gameplay

Denty One
Guest

Personally, I’m completely loving this game. About 120 hours in and still being consistently surprised by its beauty. REALLY looking forward to the bases and space stations updates. My only complaint is that the damn icons get in the way of the gorgeous screenshots.

JustinTimeNYC
Guest

Dude 120 hours in 7 days is over 17 hours a day. Go outside!

CaitSeith
Guest

Weren’t there jokes about staying home all month to play Fallout 4? There is always a hint of truth behind them…

HaloEliteLegend
Guest

This. OP, what are you thinking?!

Sangie Nativus
Guest

Or maybe he’s lying? lol

JustinTimeNYC
Guest

Let’s hope so. Although between sleeping 6 1/2 hours a day and spending the rest playing NMS he’s probably never gonna see this. Man think of all the rocks he’s vaccumed by now!

Vinnie Vincent's Dead Dog
Guest
Vinnie Vincent's Dead Dog

I happily sold my copy to some poor unsuspecting fool the other day. Basically this game is going to be like The Ring. Cursing everyone who comes in contact with it until they pass it onto another poor sucker.

Joshua
Guest

It is a terrible feeling, to regret buying a game…. yet that is what NMS will be as I look through my library in the future. I had doubts, I talked myself out of it; why I listened to friends who said otherwise (with no proof to boot) and the confounded hype is beyond me. I do not believe I have ever regretted a game purchase more than this……. Do not buy this game.

Lloyd
Guest
Sorry to hear that but I know where you are coming from. It was my birthday and I had a bunch of PSN credit burning a hole in my virtual wallet with NMS tempting me to preorder. But I had my doubts about going through with it, $60 is a fair sum to toss at a largely unknown quantity. In the end my gut feelings won over, erring on the side of caution waiting a bit to see how things shook out. All I might miss for not buying right away was some PS4 desktop wallpaper(s)…whoop-dee-doo. And it turned out… Read more »
WiseSageBum
Guest

I feel that NMS would’ve been a much better game if it were more like Abzû, where you just go around discovering whatever there is to discover with some minor combat elements with hostile creatures and natural disasters—which is what I thought it would be based on the first and second trailer. However, you’d have to really expand your Proc-Gen system so that there’d be something worth discovering.

Wellsy487
Guest

Nearly at 2000 comments. We can get it there. No Man’s Sky is wank…I’ve not played it I just wanna see more people crying.

SharkyKrunk
Guest

Also maybe worth a mention: the ‘milestones’ sequence (letterboxing, nonsense about walking 10000u) will lock you out of the menu, meaning if you’re in a dangerous situation and one pops, you WILL die. The feeling of this happening towards the end of a drawn-out space battle is “I want a refund” worthy.
I’m kind of stunned that nobody else has been talking about this, I seriously think it’s one of the worst design mistakes in a video game.

Balthor
Guest

That quote at the end… 10/10 thank god for Jim Fucking Sterling

Maurice de la Rie
Guest

Thank God for Jim! I loved the Blade Runner-reference!

JimbobJones
Guest
Thank goodness I’m not the only one bored by these types of games now. I got caught up with Minecraft for a while because Minecraft was unique at the time, but eventually I tired of it (why did I just spend all that time building this thing for no real reason?) Ever since then, I haven’t “directly purchased” any of these games. I’ve bought some as part of bundles, but every single one of them has one fatal flaw: they all feel like you’re doing a lot of nothing. No matter what interesting setting or interesting mechanics are wrapped around… Read more »
Mori
Guest
Easy there Jim. These types of games as you put it is a genre that appeals to a lot of people. Usually they offer you the features like craft, build, survive, explore. You play those games for those reasons. In minecraft building things is one of the reasons. When you were a kid didn’t you spend hours with your legos building stuff and having adventures? Or did you at the end of your 3h play session turn to your parents and say “why did I waste 3h building this silly lego spaceship? what was the point?” 🙂 Now, the point… Read more »
Brock Alphabit Odle
Guest
All fair points. I suppose I really enjoy the meditative state that some games can evoke. This one in particular gives off the same feeling as mining for hours in minecraft, making intricate cave dwellings for me, which is why I’ve sunk so much time into it already, and even on the PC build. I’ve only had one major framerate dip, which felt like a memory leak of some kind because it happened suddenly and without any real indicator why it happened, but it stayed consistent other than that, a steady 40-60 fps throughout on a 970. Oh, and Jim,… Read more »
Kaosz
Guest

same reason I like subnautica; but subnautica still has more content and has hardly any grinding.

Joe “Draegore” McD
Guest
Joe “Draegore” McD

Eloquently literate as always, good chap. I’m glad you do what you do, my money and time are finite and I will not be using them on this… beta? Indeed, if the developers had half a brain they would have pulled a Notch and let people buy-to-play the game as it was being developed.

Joe Cimmarrusti
Guest
What really confuses me in the magnitude of collecting to craft games and how much work they really are. One can spend hours/days/weeks depending on what you are focused on making. I understand titles such as Crackdown where one collects orbs to increase attributes of your character, but the endless collecting of resources to finally crafting something is so time consuming and actually…work. I suppose I am getting old, but why would I spend days collecting items to make a virtual base that other players can simply destroy in minutes, when in reality I have walls to paint, a garage… Read more »
Confused
Guest
Yep gotta agree with Jim, the game is lacking. If you just love to explore and find stuff, or have a need to treat your wanderlust this is your kinda game. If not, then avoid it. Once the atlas story ends out you feel empty and done. The only goal left is the core but it feels so pointless as you have no sense of belonging to anything in the universe. When all else was done there was left nothing, an emptiness that could not be overcome. A longing for home, a place to belong out among the stars, but… Read more »
This Guy
Guest

I expected as much. Not that the game is a bomb, but the demographic that it would appeal to is MUCH smaller than the number of sales it has received so far. I anticipate a lot of returns and tradeins on this one.

Hades no1Minion
Guest

Very enjoyable read, thanks Jim.

I knew this is what the game was going to be like. All the the time, the hype, and I still had absolutely no idea what it actually was we were being excited about. I simply couldn’t fathom why people were so excited for this game, genuinely. Even as the game was coming closer and closer to release, we still didn’t know what you actually do in the game, other than just flying around.

Joe Cimmarrusti
Guest

If they like flying around there is Star Glider II on the Commodore Amiga where one can fly from planet to planet. It’s not remotely as large as this game, but there’s no sense of work involved in this title at least.

cameron
Guest

Luv the last paragraph Jim, keep up the good work.

Max Sand
Guest

With all the hate I see for Star Citizen, and the hype for it as well, I still feel like the alpha version out RIGHT NOW is more interesting than the finished version of NMS. Can this herald the death of Procedural Generation in everything? I mean, I think it has uses in games like Isaac and whatnot, but can we get more handcrafted experiences too? Please?

dweezler
Guest

So glad I didn’t waste $60 on this and instead spent my hard earned money (by hard earned money I mean masturbating on chatterbate) on a great game “Death Road to Canada” for $15. Ta Ta for now! ::tips fedora::

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