By Jarrod Jones. This is LOAD FILE, where the Earth is but a very small stage compared to the vast cosmic arena. This week, Jarrod reviews Hello Games’ incredibly dense and wildly overwhelming ‘No Man’s Sky’, available on the PlayStation 4 and PC.
The reputation of No Man’s Sky is damn-near legendary, if not for the sheer chutzpah of its concept, then for the time it took for the game to reach completion, time that left many gamers to conjure expectations of the game beyond the capability of reason. One week has passed since the game’s release, and the reviews have been mixed: some note that Hello Games’ expansive universe, and all the systems, ecosystems, and experiences contained within it, is limited through the game’s procedural generation (which uses deterministic algorithms and complex random number generators). In short, there are already people out there complaining that a game that ceaselessly generates an entire universe open for exploration is repetitive and monotonous. Will wonders never cease.
And while I could write an entire article about the nature of expectations versus reality (or entitlement, for that matter), I’d rather dwell on my own experiences with No Man’s Sky, a minimalist indie game wrapped inside something far more monumental. (And that’s how I’ll be reviewing this game; with more invested in my personal experiences than that of my objective reasoning.) For all the feelings of wooziness I felt when faced with its daunting scope, and yes, for all the tediousness that came with its involving inventory management, I never slowed my engagement with the game. My curiosity, and my persistence, continues to reap genuinely wonderful rewards.
THE AGGREGATE OF OUR JOY AND SUFFERING
We’ve all enjoyed wide-open sandbox games, but there has to be more than a few of us who just can’t help but obsess about the mountains, or buildings, or stars that lie just beyond the playable map. (Whenever I play GTA V, for instance, I can’t help but think about flying to Liberty City whenever I want, even though that’s not a feature of the game. These things do occur to me.) There was a moment at the beginning of No Man’s Sky where I stood in awe at a giant pink planet hovering above my head, and I thought to myself, “Hey. I could fly there.” So I did.
And when I landed on that shimmering, fluorescent planet, it was raining. The atmosphere was heavy with radiation, but my exosuit was up to the challenge. I scanned an abandoned manufacturing facility, put there by an ancient race of Geks who decided that a few armed sentinels and a locked door would be enough to keep me out. Fortunately, I had upgraded my multi-tool to wield the boltcaster, and I cut through that steel door — not to mention the angry sentinels tasked with keeping me out — with a minimum of fuss. I had found something I had desperately needed for the sake of hyperspace travel: the formula to make my own antimatter. I took it, exited the facility, and paused. It had stopped raining.
That’s just one experience I’ve had with No Man’s Sky, one of hundreds I’ve already thoroughly enjoyed. As of this writing, I’ve gone through seventeen hours of gameplay, and not once have I ever found myself bored. Frustrated? Sure. Anxious? Maybe. But that’s how most of us feel in life, isn’t it? There will always be new tech to master, after all; new elements to harvest, jerkface brigands to blast out of the sky, and an ancient, stirring behemoth called The Atlas, always beckoning. This is one of those instances where optimism is the key to your survival, where the journey is vastly more intriguing than the destination. (Though the destination is often very captivating in its own right.)
BECOME THE MOMENTARY MASTER OF A FRACTION OF A DOT
Not all of my experiences have been pleasant, mind you. There are moments where my technological shortcomings — be they from my exosuit, spaceship, or mini-tool — left me at the mercy of certain weirdo animals who wanted to take a bite out of my carbon-based tuchus, or persistently awful space pirates who wanted nothing more than to see me ‘sploded all over Creation. Then there were the elements, which oftentimes can be the most lethal of them all.
I found myself stranded on a rather hostile moon called Rugiyevozyb-Ritto VI, where the air was toxic, the animals were muy aggressive, and joy of joys — having spent all of my Launch Thruster fuel searching for Monoliths on this red-hot mudball — I was stranded on the one planet where Plutonium was in short supply. (Plutonium being an essential element in creating fuel for let’s get the freaking heck out of here.) I ended up spending three hours of gameplay scouring the surface (and getting lost in a couple of caves) looking for the precious crystals that could get me out of this unfriendly environment, and I was blighted by things that could kill me every step of the way. I kept my ship close — sometimes, it’s the only defense — but travelling further and further away from it to find resources on this sparse moon soon became an impossibility.
(I made it off the moon, finally, thanks to a randomly generated outpost stocked with Plutonium and Thamium9 growing around its exteriors. The odds of me stumbling across such a thing in my ship were great, but on foot? I got lucky. You’ll get lucky a lot in this game.)
Instinct, your actual instinct, dictates your interactions with planetary sentinels, local fauna, and especially fellow travelers — I avoided a disappointing transaction by treating a Vy’keen Corporal with the same hostility it gave me, a sign of respect for his particular race. (“The warrior’s movements indicate that its ancestors are not currently insulted,” was my Traveller’s rather adorable assessment.) I give skittish animals a wide berth, I freeze when sentinels pop by to tsk-tsk me for mining too greedily, and I always say “yes” to the monolithic Atlas. Your instincts, provided you’re not a born contrarian, will take you much further than most games would generally allow.
Your Atlas Stone is definitely going to be your best friend in the long run — it’s that red ball that keeps whispering to you — but upgrading it is a real challenge. The first trade terminal I came across asked for precisely 2, 718,871 units, which, do I look like I’m made out of units? Before long, discovery and sheer pluck won me my first upgrade, at which point I arrived at a space station, ready to go bombing around its interiors, only to be locked out by another upgrade I could scarcely afford. *sigh* Back to the grind.
Once you’ve mastered interstellar travel, you’ll have access to the Galactic Map, which, if you didn’t feel small and insignificant enough already, will really give you a sense of knee-wobbling perspective. You can mark whichever planet you wish to explore by setting your course — provided your hyperspace drive is up to the challenge — and then merely press X to engage. Enjoy the lightshow. Feel the endless void of eternity swallow you whole.
THE DELUSION OF A PRIVILEGED POSITION IN THE UNIVERSE, CHALLENGED
You’ll never have to worry about being too green for No Man’s Sky — there’s something embedded in this universe that protects you from severe harm, cradling you with care, and at times, an eerie sense of love and encouragement. (Your interactions with the Atlas will give you existential pause, guaranteed.) Your ship always seems to right itself when it gets too close to the surface, it knows when to jump out of boost before crashing against the side of a decagonal prism, and landing is and will always be a dream. There are dangers out there still, but if you take the time and care to plan accordingly, each successive challenge will be met and exceeded by you, the brave explorer.
And now I leave you with a quote from Mr. Carl Sagan. I have more No Man’s Sky to play.
“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Developed and published by Hello Games
Distributed by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the PS4; iam8bit for PC.
Directed by Sean Murray and David Ream.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows.
9 out of 10