Disclaimer: This review's based on my own copy of the game, not a code, or a promo sent by Sony/Hello Games.
Disclaimer to the Disclaimer: DON'T PANIC!
Space, the Vast Frontier
I love space games, I cut my teeth on the likes of Elite back in the day when it was on the BBC Micro and I waited around 5 years for David Braben to produce Elite: Frontier, and First Encounters later on. I adored Privateer, and spent countless hours roaming space in Freelancer. I was even a fan of Battlecruiser 3000AD - because: SPACE. I used to play Mercenary and I always wanted a game that echoed the ideas of Mercenary, only something a little friendlier.
Enter No Man's Sky.
This isn't a space shooter, it's not an action game, even though there's combat vs. Alien life and the Sentinel police robot force on the planets. Or pirates/traders/mercenaries in space.
It's not a shooter, and it's not a space combat game.
It's a game about space exploration.
Which turns out is right up my nearest hyperpace alley/lane.
Impressive, but flawed
No Man's Sky is an impressive achievement marred somewhat by some early bugs, including crashes on certain planets when interacting with some objects. A sudden launch from planet into space when getting into your ship and launching, so you're catapulted into orbit, and a rather irksome save-point/restore-point bug that means the game no longer saves at all. So you can lose hours of progress when you think it's been saving, and it hasn't. Now there's a way to determine if this is happening I've discovered, and normally when you save via a restore point (getting in/out of your ship for example) - the game will pop up 'restore point created' on the screen. This happens almost instantly and there's no pause.
You can check the options and see the time the save was created.
You can check the PS4's clock and match them up.
But if your game takes 3-4 seconds, locks up during this time, and then the message pops up. Go check the time of the last restore, and the current PS4 time. The chances are they'll not synch up and you'll have lost x-minutes progress. It's wise to use your ship as a mobile save point in this regard and check saving now and then.
How can you fix this? Well, it seems tied to restoring the game after you die, or after you make a wrong choice at an event. The best way then is to quit the game, and restart it from the PS4 rather than load a previous save. The game will auto-load your last save prior to the event and you'll be able to save properly again too. Plus, at the moment it seems that quitting the game and restarting it takes a shorter amount of time than reloading a save.
I'm getting flashbacks to Just Cause 3 and Dark Souls III.
Apart from that it's still an impressive game doing a lot of things. Everything in No Man's Sky is Procedural - randomly generated, and there are no limits beyond the ones that the developers have placed on the world to where you can go and explore. Once you have better equipment and so on, you'll be able to delve even deeper.
I'm not going to go into the whys/hows/what's, and so on about how the game does these things and manages to generate 18 quintillion planets, starships, alien pilots, and structures on the surface/stations in space. It's still impressive, if somewhat cut-and-paste in nature, because that's often the danger of procedural generation. You get some truly unique things now and then, but for the most part you get tiny variances, and when you apply that across 18 quintillion worlds, dead moons, and explorable places you're going to get overlap.
Random numbers are like that.
No Man's Hand-holding.
One thing that I need to stress is that No Man's Sky won't hold your hand. You'll start the game with no clue what you're supposed to be doing, usually on a dangerous planet that's rife with alien life, or has a hostile atmosphere which will begin to erode your hazard suit's protection. You'll be tasked with assimilating as much information about what's going on as you can handle, and then putting it into practise without any kind of real tutorial.
This suits the mystery of No Man's Sky, and for many people it's been the draw of the game. Waking up on an alien world and having to survive.
You can make a choice which will change your route in the game, since you're always trying to get to the centre of the universe. But you'll always be doing the same things over and over again, repeating the same tasks on planet after planet. For some that's repetition, and for others that just another chance to try and see wonders galore in this randomly generated sandbox. Then again, shooting bad guys with a gun in any shooter is repetition - just look at how DOOM is basically full of things to shoot, and it's lauded as the second coming.
I've yet to see anything truly mind-blowing, but I know there'll be stuff out there for a long time to come.
No Man's Hulk
As long as you bear in mind that No Man's Sky is an exploration game, you're always moving on, like a space Bill Bixby without the Gamma Radiation anger issues, from planet to planet, system to system, taking what you need and never looking back, you should be fine. Because it's not Space Minecraft, not yet, and it's likely not going to be Space Minecraft since that isn't the focus of the game.
Large freighter ownership, and base building are on the cards, and it remains to be seen what we're going to be able to do with them once we've got them.
I'm sure I'll enjoy finding out.
But for now you'll be exploring worlds, cataloguing life, plants, and various elements on your journey. Finding unexplored star systems, and naming them (plus the planets, waypoints, and life) various names. So if you find a system called Asgard out there you might just be looking at the planets of Thor, Loki, Hel, and Freya...
You might also find a system, like I did, that's named after various Alien references.
Nostromo, Ripley. To this system I added Bishop, and a few others.
You'll be finding new alien language fragments, solving various puzzle encounters, discovering wonders - and doing it over and over again. But it's OK if you like that kind of thing like me. I can grind for hours in procedurally generated dungeons in Diablo 3 because I love it, I love the loot/level/stuff progression. So far I've not seen the same event repeated either when I interact with aliens, and I've seen some amusing stuff.
No Man's Sky just lets me do all this in space. It's the space game I've wanted for a long time.
It's seamless. You get into the ship, you fly into space, you cruise around space, land on a space-station - all seamless. There's no single loading screen. Same deal, fly to planet, go into atmosphere, land on planet, all seamless. That's a pretty badass achievement right there - even though there's some pop-in as you fly over the planet with your funky ship.
Upgrade, Upgrade, Upgrade!
You start off underpowered. You'll have a weak exosuit, a slew of tech, and a very basic starship. You'll also have a basic multi-tool, your mining device, come weapon. After you gather the right elements and things to make upgrades, finding the blueprints from various places/encounters you'll start to round out your ship, suit, and tool.
24 slots for the tool, 48 for the ship and suit. I'm on a 24 slot tool, a 28 slot ship, and a 48 slot exosuit.
I'm sure you'll be able to find a tutorial online that tells you how to do it too.
With expanded slots you'll be able to install better tech into all your devices, and ships will allow you to travel further if you improve their hyperdrives. It makes sense.
Your quest to get to the Centre of the Universe gets easier at this point.
Sean actually never said there'd be traditional multiplayer, but he did say you can see each other if you meet in the game. This isn't happening at the moment, whether it was omitted due to network issues, or time constraints, or if it's a bug - we just don't know. I've seen things named by other people and that's it - this suits me down to the ground though, since I don't want to be shot in the back by someone when I'm just exploring and minding my own business.
Some will tell you it was never in the game in the first place, it's not up to me to judge either way - that's not what this review is about.
If you're buying No Man's Sky for the multiplayer, then forget it, there's a-synchronous stuff and that's it.
To Boldly Go
No Man's Sky isn't a powerhouse graphically, but it can create some amazing alien vistas teeming with the oddest collection of flora and fauna that I've personally seen since Spore. There's a really nice day/night cycle, various weather systems, and some pretty fantastic planets to explore out there in the universe.
You'll never see it all...
No one will...
So remember that.
The Sound of Space
Music to No Man's Sky is pretty impressive, ethereal, and driving at times. It matches the mood and what's going on in the game fairly well. It's provided by 65daysofstatic, a UK based band.
The Big Picture
At the moment No Man's Sky is a good game, it's not a great game, and it's plagued by some early issues I've outlined above. For those of you who just scrolled down here looking for some kind of score or summary - you're in luck, because here's the current issues I've found to date.
- Random game crashes when accessing certain objects on planets/stations.
- Save restore issues when reloading from a previous save, the game no longer creates save points.* Ship Launch Catapult glitch - get in ship, launch, end up in orbit without needing to breach atmosphere.
- Lots of pop-in due to the way the game generates stuff.
For a game with 18 Quintillion planets, countless strange things, and random generation across the board - that's actually not too bad.
The bottom line is that No Man's Sky isn't the game that many of you hyped it up to be. It's a case of expectation vs. Delivery, and honestly, I'm fine with it since I know it'll grow once Sean and his small team get to grips with the bugs/issues. I've a lot of respect for anyone who isn't rocking out David Braben, Chris Roberts levels of teams for their space game, who has the gumption to build a game like this in the current climate of entitlement.
I'm proud of Hello Games for trying something new and interesting.
I'm enjoying No Man's Sky.
If like me you're interested in the journey and you're not needing your shootyman's twitch-reflex CoD-tested 24/7 then the chances are you'll find something to like in No Man's Sky. Even if you dive into the space battles with a serious upgraded ship.
There's something for most people here.
It's just not the game that you hyped it up to be.
I'll leave you with this: "Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space." ~ Douglas Nigel Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)