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No Man's Sky

The good, the bad and the ugly

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 | 17:27 GMT
12 min.

No Man's Sky

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 | 17:27 GMT

No Man's Sky can be considered one of the most hyped games of this year and now that the hype has worn off we're going to put the game through its paces to see if it is actually worth purchasing.

The thought of a space exploration game where players can freely explore the universe is an interesting one, especially when that universe is generated procedurally. Up until now only few developers have even dared to take on developing such a game and thus far not many have succeeded.

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In the summer of 2013 Hello Games started development on a game that would deliver on the idea of free space exploration, and it would feature procedurally generated star systems. Since the announcement of the game it has gradually built up hype that is comparable to the recent Pokémon Go craze.

As seen from the countless trailers and gameplay videos, the gameplay of No Man's Sky is built on four pillars: exploration, survival, combat, and trading, with exploration being the predominant pillar.

The game would allow players to move around freely within the entirety of a procedurally generated deterministic open universe, which includes over 18 quintillion planets, many with their own sets of flora and fauna.

By exploring, players gain information about the planets that they can submit to the Atlas, a database that can be accessed by other players of the game. Players get compensated in in-game currency every time new information is uploaded to The Atlas.

Players also gain resources and blueprints to upgrade their equipment and starships, allowing them to travel deeper into the center of the galaxy, survive on planets with hostile environments, interact in friendly or hostile manners with computer-controlled space-faring factions, or trade with other ships.

Some activities, such as killing too many lifeforms or draining too many resources from planets, will draw the attention of patrolling robotic Sentinels that will attempt to kill the player character.

The game would also features space combat that allows players to encounter enemy ships as they, for whatever reason, try to shoot your ship out of the sky.

On top of all that the game would be set in a shared universe. It would feature multiplayer, even though Hello Games founder Sean Murray stated that encountering other players is considered extremely rare.

It all seemed to be perfect and as more information was released by Hello Games the more it would fuel the hype.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

Now that the game is available on both PC and PlayStation 4 what really becomes apparent is that the game is actually quite different from the many gameplay trailers, interviews and preview articles from established media - It leaves one to wonder: where did it go wrong?

While exploration is definitely in the game, it certainly isn't without its limits. Yes, traveling between space and the surface of a planet is possible and it certainly is a gratifying experience, but other than that the exploration aspect of the game is lackluster.

Traveling between star systems is actually only possible by selecting a bright dot, a star if you will, on the game's galaxy map. Opening this map certainly breaks the immersion of freely traveling in an open universe as the camera moves away from the starship and the game fades to a dark fullscreen map.

This feeling gets even stronger when you select a system to wrap to. It is here that the game activates effects that cover the entire screen while it loads its assets - is this the game covering up the limits of what it can procedurally generate?

Once the warp effects disappear I find myself in a different star system. The system features different colors, a bunch of different planets and even two moons - in the distance a space station is also visible.

Traveling to one of these planets can sometimes take up to 60 seconds, even with the starship's hyperdrive. The hyperdrive is activated by pressing a button and here effects similar to the ones used while warping between star systems are also used.

Whilst using the hyperdrive the game pretty much disables the controls of your ship, making it virtually impossible to even slightly correct its movement as it slowly reaches its destination.

Nearing the planet's surface I activate my starship's scanning system to find points of interest. The system points me towards a Monolith, a large alien structure that players can interact with.

Traveling to the Monolith takes several minutes and once finally arrived I can interact with it. In this case my character has learned the word "explore" in Gek, one of the alien languages included in the game - again a lackluster experience.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

It is at this point that I start to question why players would even want to keep playing No Man's Sky. I decide to look for alien creatures in hopes of coming across something that blows me away.

All alien life on the planet, except for a few trading NPCs, is also procedurally generated. Having discovered over 100 different creatures I feel like these are very similar to the creatures that can be found in Spore, a 2008 simulation game developed by Maxis.

I decide to take off back into space to sell the resources that I had gathered on the planet. In space large space stations can be found that allow you to dock inside so that you can sell your gatherings for credit.

The problem here is that, while some space stations look different from the outside, they are mostly the same on the inside. Once you land you are able to get out of our ship, walk the stairs on the right side of the docking platform, interact with the NPC and click the resource you wish to sell.

Meanwhile more starships appear to dock inside the space station but oddly enough the only thing that these starships do is dock and take off again, there is no alien life that comes out to trade.

The trading user interface is just a simple list of resources that you have gathered. Selecting one of these resources allow you to sell them on the game's market. The problem with the game's market system is that, in essence, all you are doing is telling the game to convert the resource into credits, there is no actual supply and demand market.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

Then there is also the game's crafting system, which I can't imagine anyone was looking forward to compared to No Man's Sky's other gameplay elements. Crafting involves players collecting the required resources in order to create a specific item that is beneficial to either travel or survival - which is pretty much equal to the way you have to gather resources to stay alive and to fuel your starship.

The last notable feature, or lack thereof, is multiplayer. Prior to the release of No Man's Sky Hello Games stated that players would be able to see other players if they got close to eachother. Even though encountering other players was considered extremely rare, people were able to travel to the same planet to try and meet up within the first day of the game being available.

Surprisingly the players were unable to see each other as they travel through the universe, indicating that, even though the game was advertised as featuring a multiplayer experience, the game actually does not include multiplayer gameplay at all - it seems to have been cut from the retail version.

Whether multiplayer will be added at a later date via one of the game's patches remains a mystery as Hello Games has yet to comment on why the game doesn't include the announced multiplayer capabilities.

Once the PlayStation 4 version of the game released sharp-eyed gamers even found that a sticker was applied on their retail box that covers the icon that indicates that the game includes multiplayer.

Other missing or removed features include the ability to land on asteroids in space, flying at low altitude on a planets surface, planetary physics which would govern many different systems, space factions and large, joinable, space battles.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

Aside from the gameplay and content of No Man's Sky the launch of the game can be considered a disaster. The PC version of the game featured many problems that could have easily been fixed before the release of the game.

It seems that Hello Games, for the most part, has focused on the console version of the game. The PC version has odd controls, odd user interfaces and performance issues, that, all combined, made the game unplayable at launch. This is why the game received thousands of negative reviews on Steam.

The biggest issue has been the game's performance, with the game not even hitting 30 frames per second on high-end machines. If anything, this can be fully blamed on poor, or maybe even lack of, quality assurance testing prior to the release of the game.

To make matters worse, players can only interact with user interfaces by hold the left mouse button several seconds to confirm actions. This design pattern can be found in all aspects of the game, including the pause menu, the inventory menu, the trading menu and even the galaxy map.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

Those issues combined with the game's control scheme make the game very unjoyable to play on the PC.

With the first PC patch Hello Games has managed to somewhat mitigate the performance issues by reworking the game's shader caching system, but the game is still barely able to stay above 60 frames per second on a machine that rocks an NVIDIA GeForce 970 GTX graphics card and an i7 2600K processor running at 4,0 GHz .

I'll be honest - reviewing a game that has been at the center of the hype for so long is tough, but looking at the game objectively I can't help but think that in its current form No Man's Sky is nothing more than a glorified tech demo.

Yes, the planets and star systems have bright, pretty colors and traveling from space to the surface of a planet is awe-inspiring to say the least, but aside from that the game is actually quite boring. The game, for the most part, has players collect resources to stay alive and to refuel their starship.

While procedurally generated the surface of almost every planet is nothing more than a bunch of random shapes, sometimes decorated with some grass, trees and alien creatures that mindlessly walk around the same piece of land.

Review: No Man's Sky
Review: No Man's Sky

After having visited over 50 different planets the hype of having procedurally generated content in the game fades away and I find myself mindlessly gathering resources in order to travel to the next variation of planets that are only slightly different than the one I had just visited, wondering where the amazing planets were that Hello Games showed in one of the game's E3 trailers - was it all staged or do these really exist?

The answer is seems to be yes and no. To show off the game Hello Games most likely used an algorithm that had less restrictions put in place. This allowed the developers to quickly access more unique planets and thus created interesting gameplay videos.

In the retail version of the game this algorithm seems to be working within certain restrictions that make discovering an amazing planet less likely to happen. I suppose having 18 quintillion different planets is impossible without having those restrictions in place.

The idea of a procedurally generated universe is certainly an interesting one but Hello Games' implementation of that idea in No Man's Sky is not what many expected to find.

Exploring in No Man's Sky can be a fun endeavour the first few hours, but it becomes dull 20 hours in. Space combat is pretty much non-existent and the trading system leaves much to be desired.

Combined with the poor PC performance, the horrible user interface design choices and the removal of content and several gameplay mechanics we're left with remnants of what could have been one of the best space exploration games ever. No Man's Sky is definitely not worth the €59.99 price tag.

No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky
PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
The good
Decent attempt at capturing the vastness of the universe
Pushing the boundaries of procedurally generated gaming
Good soundtrack
Visually stunning
The bad
No multiplayer
PC version is very poorly optimized
Crafting system lacks depth
Exploration is boring and traveling to planets isn't seamless
Doesn't feature the content that was advertised
Out of 10
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Related video games news

No Man's Sky
Hello Games
PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release date
PlayStation 4
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Learn more

About the author

Editor and journalist at ZeroLives. He covers the latest video games news from indie to virtual reality and has been actively involved in the video games industry since the early 2000s.

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