Sometimes size is everything. There are few things to get buyer more enticed than a creator promising vast worlds, a whole universe to explore, or a map so massive they will never finish it. Such statements can inspire people, gamers in particular, creating images of an alien setting pushing the boundaries to truly rival those of the real world. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case here. While No Man’s Sky feels truly vast, it doesn’t accomplish nearly as much as fans might have hoped it would.
The story here is one of the player’s own making. Left with little more than a short range ship and the spacesuit on your back, you’re tasked with exploring a distant planet, rebuilding your supplies and eventually rejoining the universe. You must uncover the best place to harvest fuel, comprehend which creatures are passive, and discover a way to thrive on a distant land. It’s the vanilla Minecraft approach to things, but what separates it is how truly different each world is. While you might find certain animal designs recycled or elements of ecosystems repeating themselves light years apart, the worlds themselves could not be more different.
From verdant paradises with floating islands to irradiated hellholes wracked by titanic firestorms, you would be hard pressed to find two which mirror one another. There is always some small hint to the environment, some small shift, to make it appear unique from orbit and stand out. It’s this first sight, backed by No Man’s Sky’s stunning soundtrack which really hits home, giving a sense of real wonder about the universe. However, the sad thing is that this simply does not last. Once you truly reach orbit for the first time or start to explore the environments, you’ll quickly start asking “Wait, is this it?”
Before long you’ll find yourself going through the same sort of crafting/inventory management systems we have seen a thousand times before. You mine some things, kill a few others, put items into items over and over again, hoping to get something worthwhile out of your hard earned effort. While certainly competently made, the problem is that it does absolutely nothing to stand out from the crowd, and fans of everything from Terraria to Subnautica will have seen this sort of thing a thousand times before, but unlike those games there’s little of real value beyond that. Sure, you can build a bigger starship and try to explore the galaxy; but before long you’ll begin to realise that the ocean you thought you were diving into has the depth of a puddle.
There is little to no sign of a real galactic economy here, no bustling habitable worlds or vast space-lanes. The ships you bump into tend to be meandering aimlessly between stars, and the handful of spaceports you might bump into are all but empty. Save for the odd static NPC, nothing moves, advances or strolls around, and half the time the traders you communicate with won’t get out of their vessels. Even the options surrounding these aliens is limited at best, as each species is limited to a few stereotypical tropes and little else; and even going on a violent killing spree lacks consequences. Even if you can stomach the constant pitiful PEW-PEW noises of your starship guns and the awful combat, raiding freighters is remarkably unrewarding even at the best of times. You’ll be lucky if anyone even notices you trying to pull it off. Hell, even trying the opposite and playing bounty hunter seems to barely affect how others view you. Even the hints of a bigger story are sparse at best, and quite often the game can seem directionless.
Let this be absolutely clear – No Man’s Sky is not a bad game, but it never rises beyond an average experience. It’s competent at what it does, but at its core it’s the same exploration and crafting game we have seen a hundred times over by this point. Once you strip away the beautiful landscapes and fantastic musical score, what you’re left with is almost a run-of-the-mill experience with nothing to help it truly stand out. Playing this was no more rewarding than experiencing Starbound early into its development, but at least that game was going somewhere. This end result just proves to be Spore all over again, promising the galaxy but failing to offer anything of substance. Unless you’ve yet to play the hundreds of crafting releases of the past decade, save this one for the sales.NO MAN’S SKY / DEVELOPER: HELLO GAMES / PUBLISHER: SONY INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT, IAM8BIT / PLATFORM: PC, XBOX ONE, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (PS4. XBOX ONE), AUGUST 12TH (PC)