No Man's Sky...03 Sep 2016
No Man’s Sky does a lot of things right.
It’s an amazing, jaw-dropping - in places - universe to look at, with an art style that shakes up AAA. It will no doubt be responsible for many, many games remembering that they’re, well, computer games. That we have access to ALL the colours, not just browns, greys & cube mapped metal. Purples! Oranges! Misty yellows! Sega Blue Skies on fire off the shoulder of Orion…
It goes an incredibly long way to making its universe accessible. There’re no complex flight mechanics to fail at, no wikipedia page of intricate crafting tricks to memorise. Space Station enforced auto-pilot sucks you into glowing orifices and spits you back out through a Battlestar Galactica infused blotter. For that it should be applauded. Young or old, you’re safe to explore, to name things, and to scoop up the carbon rich turds of the - every so slightly broken
- aliens you decide to feed. Despite the odd scuffle, this is largely a Safe Space.
The writing, what there is of it, is also to the side of what I’ve grown to expect from a big budget game. Sure, it’s a little aloof in its attempt to convey whatever mystery lurks behind all that psychedelia, but what’s there is better than the usual fare. I actually read some of it. The audio is also fantastic. From the sentinels - with their Pink Floyd (Welcome to the Machine) powered engines - to the jibber-jabber of the quite obviously bored aliens that you meet, it’s a soundscape that matches the visuals in every sense.
If I worked on this I’d be immensely proud of it. And look at the people who actually did:
Some of those beards aren’t fashion items. They’re the untended combat beard of a veteran who’s been away from home for months, missing loved ones, eating unidentifiable brown goop from polystyrene cartons a bored delivery person passed them at 9pm at night. Fucking right they’re smiling. They coerced one of the largest corporations in the world to back them, leveraged the muscle of mega-marketing and got their trippy little universe squeezed into blue boxes and shipped all over the world. Hello Games, I stand and salute you all. Well done. Well done. Well done!
No Man’s Sky does a lot of things wrong. On the PC, at least.
I’m not going to do these chaps the disservice of listing all the little UI/UX oddities that the PC displays. It’s a port of a console game, PS4 was the lead platform. I get that. I’m fine with the casual nature of the crafting, and the flying, and, er, everything. But those limitations… That ever so frustrating lack of slots, the fact that all that crafting leads to, basically, nothing.
I’m also in that ever-so-tiny minority that spawned on a shit planet. What I can only describe as hell. Aggressive sentinels, radiation. That Heridium I needed just far enough over the horizon that I couldn’t make it there and back without dying. Although I found out later that I probably could have scavenged some carbon to charge my life support, if only I knew that I could charge my life support…
40 minutes of swearing and frustration as an on-boarding experience, only to find out there’s no “New Game” button. (Off I go to delete my saves and force Steam to have a cloud-save conflict in order to progress…) But I stuck with it. For about 10 hours. And now I’m done.
If I’d not put a thousand hours into Minecraft (and several hundred more into Elite Dangerous) I’d still be bumbling around No Man’s Sky, fat Magic Marker in hand, making it G. N.’s Sky. Space trucking through Roger Dean’s head with an advanced DSLR should have no end of appeal to me. But I’m not. I’m pining for the detail and intricacy of Notch’s crafting system, and the glorious, slow-motion, Kubrick-scale exploration that the experts of delivery at Frontier are producing.
No Man’s Sky isn’t a game made of lies. It’s an expansive game, catapulted forward by the elastic of hype, that delivered much of what it set out to achieve. It was crafted with-love at the hands of a small, and probably exhausted team. It’s just a bit unfortunate that it landed at a time when computer game player’s imaginations are want to run wild and their fingers are free to vent unrestrained frustration all over the internet. I spent my money, I didn’t gel with the game, but I feel bad for Hello Games in all this. I know how it feels, having spent much of my own career delivering Marmite to players (cough Crackdown 2 cough Lumo) and I can promise you, it’s fucking horrible to see this sort of reaction. Even a negative Steam review can burn. This thing will live on in the mind of the developer far far longer than the angry virgin making NeoGaf posts.
No Man’s Sky wasn’t the game I had in my head, but then, no game ever has been. It’s not a game I’ve had hundreds of hours of play out of, but my Steam library is full of those. But if, as I hope, Hello Games keep working on it - if it really is a platform for them to deliver more content on - then I’ll be more than happy to go back to it.
No Man’s Sky is a wonderful piece of art. Just one that I prefer to look at, rather than play.