Review: No Man’s Sky (PS4)

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Title: No Man’s Sky
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (5.04 GB)
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Hello Games
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
No Man’s Sky is also available on PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
After years of hype shrouded in mystery, No Man’s Sky has finally been released and gamers all over the world can see if their expectations have been reached. For some players the hype they built up was never going to be satisfied and for others this might be exactly what they wanted.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Let me attempt to answer the question that has been plaguing this title since its first trailer. What is No Man’s Sky? From what I can tell, it’s a space exploration game with resource management and survival components.

Players will have to scour planets for materials to fuel their journey to the center of the galaxy. Along the way they will come across creatures and intelligent life forms that will either aid or impede them on their travels.

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The first hour of the game is critical it does an admirable job of showing its hand with the gameplay loop while giving players rewarding payoffs in quick succession in the early goings.

I started my journey on a random planet with my spaceship damaged and unable to fly. I needed to find some basic materials to repair it so I can launch into space. These essential materials were Plutonium and Thamium9. Luckily each planet has a plentiful supply, though some worlds require a bit more work to find the materials.

… it becomes your journey …
Players are equipped with a mining tool (Multitool) that is capable of both mining and shooting. The Multitool has a power supply to maintain and this is used to gather resources/defend against hostile lifeforms.

From this point the game does some light tutorials that introduce you to gathering resources which you can either use to repair your ship or build objects that can help on your journey. Then it’s time to fly to your first space station and this moment is awesome. The music, the visuals, everything comes together for a special moment and one I’ll remember for a long time. From there the game leaves you to your own devices and it becomes your journey.

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You’re given a choice of following the Atlas Path, a path to the center of the Universe or create your own path, basically playing in the sandbox that is the game. I choose the sandbox and immediately took my ship to the second planet in the local system and began to see what this game had to offer.

I actually spent a ton of time on my first planet, like way more than I probably should have. I am talking about hours on a single planet. I was mesmerized by this world and I wanted to find everything it contained. Almost every planet in the game will have buildings, creatures and aliens to find and I was determined to find them all on one of my earliest planets.

… The economy becomes important as you progress …
While exploring, I gathered resources and quickly ran into one of my first hurdles, the inventory management which is pretty restrictive, especially in the early going. I spent a lot of time in the inventory menus which are rather clunky and lack information on how to properly store things.

I was constantly running out of space, having to dismantle items or transfer stuff between my ship and exosuit. Luckily the game allows items to travel between the ship and exosuit with ease, but slots are still limited making it very easy to run out of space. Selling items is essential to earn money or units for upgrades or supplies.

Players can come across opportunities to purchase more slots through space stations and drop pods placed throughout the game. Though it becomes expensive with each slot costing ten thousand more units each time.

PRO TIP
Placement appears to matter, so before installing an upgrade be sure to place it next to whatever component you are upgrading for an added boost.

The economy becomes important as you progress. Resources and items found can be sold to aliens and the price fluctuates based on the demand for that resource in a particular star system. I lucked out when I found a star system that paid top dollar for Emeril and I had a ton of it. I then used this money to purchase the materials I needed to upgrade various components of my exosuit, multitool and ship.

PRO TIP
Point at and scan everything! You make money by uploading your discoveries. Therefore, as soon as you land on a planet, point and analyze everything, the plants, creatures, the rocks, everything! Then remember that you have to manually upload all the discoveries in the Options Menu for easy money.

Flying is easy with tight controls making turns and flips simple to pull off. Flight in the game is rather automated too. The ship will prevent players from crashing into the ground and will autocorrect when a ship flies too low. You can bump stuff while in space, but it takes a little bit of an effort since the ship is trying to prevent most collisions.

There is combat in No Man’s Sky which feels more serviceable than fun. A world could be filled with hostile creatures and the mining tool can be upgraded to be a powerful weapon, but the combat does not take a lot of skill.

… completely different languages for me to learn …
In the early going it might be better to run away than fight since you start with a weak gun. Later on when more hostile situations present themselves, the combat shows its lackluster nature and running will again be the best option. It feels like combat was added to the game to make certain audiences happy as it doesn’t feel like a true pillar of gameplay.

You do get into some flight combat in space and that’s a little more fun because flying is great and the space pirates that attack you are ruthless. I have yet to win a space battle and I hope to one day do so when I upgrade to a more powerful ship.

PRO TIP
I have died three times due to ruthless space thugs. Each time they stole my ship’s cargo, and that sucks. What I did learn was that they do not really touch your exosuit inventory so I would suggest keeping your most valuable items in your suit’s inventory for safe keeping.

When I was not collecting and crafting items or dodging space pirates I was communicating with the alien lifeforms that inhabit planets. Communicating with them is done by learning their language through discovering monoliths scattered across a star system. Each monolith will give you one word which means the chances of understanding an alien will increase.

I grew obsessed with learning as much of the Korvax language as possible and spent hours in one star system learning around fifty words. I made my own goal and had fun achieving it though that language did not help me when I moved a couple star systems away. I was suddenly faced with different alien lifeforms that spoke completely different languages for me to learn.

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I spent hours searching for a world filled with life similar to what we saw in trailers, but I was unable to find anything like that. I would find creatures, but nothing majestic. Instead I found animals like the creations of Doctor Moreau that looked like they were in pain as they moved awkwardly around. I was rarely impressed with the procedurally generated creatures and the human crafted objects all looked the same. Over a long period of time the uniqueness of each planet looked less and less unique as the formulas for how things are put together become more apparent.

I enjoy playing the game, making my own path and messing with what it has to offer on my own terms. I often find myself wanting more since the gameplay feels repetitive after a certain amount of time. I found myself questioning why I should keep going. Flying to the center of the Universe never intrigued me enough because the vague narrative that is present never pulled me in. Instead, I set off on my own journey which thankfully is a viable option.

… a standard outline with similar looking mountain ranges …
Visuals:
No Man’s Sky has some of the most beautiful vistas I have ever seen in a video game. The myriad of colors that come together on on just a single planet can make for some absolutely gorgeous visuals.

Each star system I traveled to glowed with a different color that filled my screen with impressive scenes of outer space. Each planet though appeared to follow a standard outline with similar looking mountain ranges, though the different array of colors helped differentiate them.

Almost everything is procedurally generated and that helps keep things relatively interesting in both good and bad ways. Sometimes the game can produce some amazing things and sometimes things can be a little funny and somewhat broken.

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There is some pop-in, which is understandable given the size and scope of this game and I actually thought the digitized look of the pop-in was cool.

The alien lifeforms, specifically the Korvax, which I believe are not procedurally generated, look cool. They all look like concept art was taken from Daft Punk and I really enjoyed their visual design and animations. Those aliens stood out the most to me along with a handful of cool spaceships I came across, but could not afford.

… the inherent loneliness that is space exploration …
Audio:
The music is simply phenomenal. It strikes a perfect balance between the loneliness of space and the intensity of being gunned down by space pirates – oh how I loathe space pirates. I almost expected the soundtrack to be composed of only strings and pianos but I was pleasantly surprised when I heard a guitar riff the first time I entered a space station. Just thinking of the music is giving me goosebumps.

The moments the game decides to go all in are wisely chosen with an epic score every time. The music is used to convey when something important has been achieved in the early stages and fades to the background as necessary to maintain the inherent loneliness that is space exploration.

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Online/Multiplayer:
I smiled a little when I began to write this section because it was unclear days into release if there was even a real multiplayer aspect to this game. For now, it appears there is not. For all intents and purposes this is a single player experience.

Players will not be able to meet with their buddies and become space pirates that wreck havoc on the galaxy. The early indication from Hello Games was that the galaxy was too big for players to cross paths with anyone and when players said they were in the same place, they could not see each other.

… resource management and survival …
There is however an online component with players being able to catalogue and upload their discoveries for others to find. You can name all your discoveries, from systems to planets to creatures. They can be named the silliest things that your heart and a profanity filter desires.

In my travels I did not come across anything that was previously discovered, but from what I understand, seeing others discoveries is just a matter of being lucky enough to come across them.

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Conclusion:
No Man’s Sky is both a remarkable achievement in gaming and a rather ordinary survival game. Its size and scope is unheard of, yet its gameplay mechanics run repetitive and feel shallow. For these reasons scoring this title is a difficult task. Years of hype did Hello Games no favors. Trailers showcased a game that captured the imaginations of gamers from all walks of life which put the small studio under a large microscope.

Gamers built a lot of hype up and this will lead to people putting what they imagined against what Hello Games was able to create. They promised a large galaxy and they delivered. They promised procedurally generated creatures and planets and that’s what we got. What didn’t help was the secretive nature that surrounded the actual gameplay mechanics and that’s where this game sometimes stumbles. The mechanics involve resource management and survival, two very niche genres which will not appeal to everyone.

My time with the game has had many highs with quiet, uneventful, and sometimes boring lows. Now maybe that is an accurate representation of a galaxy. Look at ours for example, not every planet has something going on just like this game.

The crazy thing is Hello Games created something so huge that I might have just had a bad run of planets and your experience could be completely different than mine, but I can only score my experience. The survival elements feel shallow, the inventory system is too restrictive, and the vague narrative is not compelling enough to keep me enthralled with it.

I will always remember the first time I launched into space with my rickety beat up rocket ship. I will always remember the first time I went into hyperdrive and flew into another star system. I will also remember the moment when exploration began to feel empty and planets started to all feel the same.

The game filled me with mixed emotions. I felt genuine awe in the early stages which then turned into questions of why should I continue, only for the game to generate some surprises in my journey that kept me going a little further.

No Man’s Sky might not have reached the expectations people had for it, but it’s still a special game and a worthwhile experience.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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  • Joshua Simpkins

    Fair and unbiased review. I can get behind that review score as well. Nice work, Michael.

    • MJC

      Thanks

    • greg

      I agree! Let me 2nd that

  • Manny Wilson

    I concur MF’nJC.

    • MJC

      Thanks for reading.

  • J.D. Dabbs

    I’m still playing often. It’s kind of addicting. I found that if you can increase your suit’s inventory by finding the pods or having an Atlas Pass and visiting the door to the left in space stations, that part isn’t quite as restrictive until you get complex blueprints.
    It is absolutely true that the story line may be a little too obscure. I have yet to figure out what the “Atlas” really is and it’s getting really tiresome scouring planets for the Titan Pass keys. The alien languages take FOREVER to learn (especially the Atlas language). Having to stop your long exploration into lore to farm resources hurts a lot.
    Varying ecosystems on each planet would help as well as aquatic life. There are airborne life forms…why no water??
    I think with future patches this game could be incredible!

    • MJC

      I agree after a bit of a grind your suit can get rather spacious, but that early going can so restrictive. I had to learn not to carry too much except for the essentials.

      I was so determined to learn the languages, but after a bit of travel that work seemed pointless as running across species that spoke the language became harder and harder to come by.

      I do look forward to see what Hello Games add to the game like the already announced bases. I have a feeling a year from now this game will look completely different. I for one hope they add some customization options like paint jobs or some sort of logo feature. Imagine being able to burn a calling card into a mountain or planting a flag on a planet.

      • J.D. Dabbs

        A chair on the moon, perhaps? ?
        Yeah, they have so much potential in this. I do hope they run with it. And I hope it does look different. I want this team and this game to succeed.
        But your review is pretty spot-on. It inspired me to actually post in the PSNation forums again (which I rarely do!)

  • himdeel

    Nice write up! Fair review!

  • ChazzH69

    Before reading this, or any other reviews on No Man’s Sky I had a score in mind. Now I have had some entertaining stories of my own making while playing this game. Falling into caverns, swapping my craft for a better one and then realising I didn’t have the right components to take off from the toxic planet and nasty storms.

    I have seen some amazing animals but most are abominations and a few stunning planets, one of which came close to what we saw in the vertical slice all that time ago. I have just upgraded my gun to fire homing shots and had a blast collecting Gravitino Balls as the Sentinels went crazy.

    My score is eight, but I can honestly see this creeping up to a nine with updates and patches.

    • himdeel

      Im in the 7.5 to 8 range as well. Im enjoying the game a great deal. Very relaxing and just right for me.

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