The cosmos is a beautiful thing to behold. Ever since mankind could gaze up to the heavens, there has always remained an innate desire to explore the worlds beyond, traverse unknown cosmic entities and unlock the mysteries of the universe.
For humans, such desires have remained restricted to the world of science fiction, video games and movies. Indeed, we have successfully sent machines on exploration tours (for instance, the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission and Juno Mission by NASA), but a manned mission doesn’t seem like a distant possibility.
Video games have been one impressive medium to expand our vivid imagination of the universe and it is with this aim, No Man’s Sky- the hotly anticipated game from indie gaming studio Hello Games- was launched. It was originally scheduled for a June 2016 release, but was postponed for an August launch.
Incredible Technical Achievement, But Lacks on Basics
Few games have been as eagerly awaited as No Man’s Sky. The game promised to gratify your visceral and aural senses by pulling you into a limitless procedurally generated deterministic open universe boasting of a quintillion planets (more than 18 quintillion (1.8×1019) planets, according to the studio), with each alien world having its own unique ecosystem. So does it live up to the hype?
Before anything else, let me state this. For a tiny developer studio like Hello Games, it is just mind-boggling to think how they even managed to pull this off. No Man’s Sky is a technical marvel, the likes of which have not been seen before. Creating an entire universe on such a gargantuan scale, discovery and exploration is no mean feat.
Alas, though. Like Icarus flew too close to the sun, Hello Games stumbles on the basics while reaching out for the stars. What begins as a series of awe-inspiring adventures- breaking through the clouds to reach for new planets, tagging wondrous creatures, mining huge deposits of gold, learning new languages, discovering which resources are beneficial- quickly devolves into a set of repetitive tasks. Your suspension of disbelief vanishes as you become more aware of emerging patterns- different planets look all alike up close, with similar blurry land shapes, dull rock formations still patches of water. Also, this has been marketed as a survival game, but there are multiple hospitable planets for every unwelcoming one… so it seems more like an exploration adventure (not a bad thing).
The Premise- Wonderment Gives Way to Boredom
You begin your adventure stranded on an alien planet, and the only way to escape a lone and dreary end is to repair your starship. How do you do this? You will have to collect resources. LOTS OF THEM. In fact, most of your time is taken up gathering resources, in order to craft stuff such as a scanner, a propulsion system, improving your exosuit’s abilities. For that, you need to do a lot of mining and reaping and it becomes an arduous task soon.
Your quest, apart from finding out about the mysterious god-entity called Atlas, revolves largely around finding more minerals to devise new stuff. For example, if you want to bridge the distance between star systems, you will need to explore another planet to find rare ingredients to craft warp cells. Here, you find out that space pirates are bent on destroying your ship and looting your cargo, so now you need to better weapons to fend off their attacks. Thus starts another mission, to look for ingredients to build your weapons.
There is a lot of stuff to carry, but to your horror, you find that the available inventory is ridiculously tiny. This can be resolved by increasing the number of inventory slots in your exosuit, but this requires yet another set of mission. Soon, you become more furious than awe-struck at the endless cycle of harvesting and exploration that you get stuck into.
No Man’s Sky certainly requires a lot of patience, as you realize that you are basically repeating the same task for the last few hours. On top of that, the game crashes a lot, which is really a shame, because it has only a specific save points. Frequent crashes make you repeat the entire mission and it becomes frustrating to deal with eventually.
According to Hello Games, new update patches have been released for No Man’s Sky, but the details are available only for the PC version, not PS4.
Moreover, the combat mechanics of this game are a huge letdown, with the gameplay being so excruciatingly repetitive that you wonder at times whether this is a game you are playing or a punishment that you have been subjected to. Combine that with the crash frequency, and the entire process becomes a Sisyphean task.
Verdict- Visually splendid, but deeply flawed overall
Unless you are among the rare species for whom exploring different planets gets your cathartic juices flowing, No Man’s Sky will be a disappointment. The fundamental gameplay is not engrossing enough to hook you for hours and the repetitive nature just makes you feel jaded out after a few hours. The combat is way too simplistic and even the diverse visuals lack detail, making you lose interest pretty quickly. Technically, in terms of scale, the game achieves success in cosmic proportions. That, however, is not enough to make a compelling case for the average video game player to pick it up for a run.