Review: No Man’s Sky (PS4)

A game with a ton of potential, but a bad marketing strategy

3016048-walkersWhen No Man’s Sky was first announced back in 2013, I, like a lot of gamers, was intrigued. I thought it looked massively ambitious, interestingly mysteriousĀ and beautifully colorful.

I was a huge fan of Hello Games’s Joe Danger series. Those games harkened back to a time when gaming was simple, yet so much fun. They were cute, quirky and the gameplay was extremely solid. In fact, the games were, at times, extremely difficult, but in a good way. They had the kind of challenge that kept you coming back for more until you mastered every track.

After years of promises, tragedy, pushbacks and hype, No Man’s Sky finally released recently and I was able to play a rental copy of the game on PlayStation 4. I want to disclose that I only spent a few hours with the game, but I was able to get enough of a feel for it to understand the ins and outs of the gameplay enough to write a review.

I’ve seen all the controversy surrounding the so-called “No Man’s Lie” and the issues brought on by confusing, and sometimes downright deceptive, interviews by Sean Murray, the game’s director, but I went into the game with an open mind as I really never followed much of the hype anyway.

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The first thing I’ll say is that the game is absolutely beautiful. When you consider the procedural generation and how the graphics work, it’s pretty amazing that it still looks so good. Sure, it lacks animated water, wind effects and other such graphical elements we’ve come to expect, but when you take into account the way the game is designed, looking past that and appreciating its beauty is pretty easy.

The soundtrack is also excellent. It plays very well into the game’s ambiance and really helps make it a relaxing experience. Not all gamers are going to like that the game is very relaxing (versus a lot of today’s over-the-top action games), but I thought it was a nice change of pace.

The meat and bones of the game is the exploration. My wife and I enjoyed discovering new animals and she had fun shouting out names for them. We named one of them “Kyle” and another “Spike,” the latter of which we tried to name “Spikeface” but we were rejected because of the profanity filter.

The gameplay is very solid and it’s pretty easy to figure out what to do. Even with no tutorial, the quests, control layout in the menu and the intuitive control scheme make it pretty simple to pick up and play without too much confusion or frustration.

What I liked most is that everything just works. I played the game on the newest patch, version 1.08, and only experienced one crash. Unfortunately, it was right after I got my ship running (one of the first quests you must perform before leaving your first planet) and was preparing for takeoff. I had to complete the first quest all over again upon booting the game back up, which almost was enough to make me stop playing right then and there.

Still, the game is quite enjoyable once you can look past its technical flaws, especially keeping in mind that the game is really the first of its kind. I love that it’s fairly easy to make money to buy new parts and upgrades and other such goodies. Finding elemental resources is pretty easy too.

To be honest, the biggest issue with the game is that there just isn’t much to actually do, which is perhaps why Hello Games had such a hard time, prior to launch, explaining what players would be doing in the game.

Even after only playing a few hours, after completing the bulk of the beginning quests and blasting off to a new galaxy using my shiny new hyperdrive, I started feeling like I was running out of activities.

It’s very similar to Minecraft in this sense (not to mention other similarities such as the crafting and mining). The difference with Minecraft though is that Minecraft has the building aspect to keep players busy. That, and an actual multiplayer mode.

Gameplay-wise, there were definitely a few irritating aspects. Having to constantly be in possession of certain elements to keep your energy up gets tedious after the first few minutes.

Getting too far from your ship can mean a real-life block of 10-20 minutes or more of walking, running and/or jetpacking to get back to your vessel. Travelling in space can also take quite a long time.

And trying to stay alive when hostile aliens or the police-like drones that sometimes get angry when you’re mining or killing animals is nearly impossible, especially if you’re health is already depleted.

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Still, No Man’s Sky is an impressive attempt at something new. I think it has a ton of potential and I’m definitely curious to see what the folks at Hello Games can do with it via patches and other such updates.

I’m still interested in continuing the game, but at this point I’m going to wait and see what it evolves into. If any game could have benefitted from an early access program, No Man’s Sky is it.

My final thoughts would be that I think if Hello Games, particularly Sean Murray, had employed a better marketing campaign, had priced the game much lower (like around $20) or even used the aforementioned early access approach, I think this game would have gotten a lot more praise.

The verdict:

The price tag, along with deceptive advertising, has led the game to be ignored, overlooked and even returned by many gamers, which is a shame because it really is a game with a lot of potential to be something great.

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