This was supposed to be a review. Now it’s more of a post mortem. Not much left to do but cut open the torso, measure up the viscera and record the lacerations inflicted along with cause of death. Oh and before we begin, this “review” shall be spoiler heavy. So in case you are thinking of giving this game a buy, don’t. That is, don’t buy the game you fool.
As a person who takes gaming seriously (yes, I know how déclassé that sounds), yours’ truly tends to keep an ear to the ground to sniff out promising indie IPs. No Man’s Sky was one of these IPs, especially before Sony picked it up. Hello Games was a three-man team and the first trailer dropped when the Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous hype was in full steam. Meaning before X: Rebirth hit the shelves and damped down the space-game mass hysteria.
This oddly, did not faze No Man’s Sky one bit, for, you see dear reader, they were selling a dream. A dream in which a plucky indie dev goes toe-to-toe with the established AAA devs and kicks them where it hurts them. And, well, that was the sentiment I carried the most when I saw the trailer. “The mad bastards are really doing it! A universe sized game in 2016 with 21st cent. graphics!” Then the hype kept on increasing my bearing went, to quote Douglas Adams, from initial doubts, followed by cautious enthusiasm and then greater and greater alarm at the sheer scale of the undertaking and still no end in sight. Kind of like my bearing towards Star Citizen, actually, except those mad bastards are actually doing it.
So how did it turn out then? I… I can’t do this. It’s bad, man. It’s just plain bad. Don’t believe me? Read on and see for yourself in excruciating detail.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO IN NO MAN’S SKY?
Easy. You mine shit with your shit-mining gun until your inventory is full. Then you sell shit to receptacles and NPCs which are glorified receptacles. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum and et voila! You’ve got an endless game! Also you can tag aliens and shit but it gets tedious 15 minutes in. I mean there are only so many innuendos and puns on genitalia you can make before it devolves into wet dreams featuring bananas and cucumbers again. Very uncomfortable and sweaty wet dreams, might I add.
Ahem. Moving on, the game is ‘fun’ if you turn off your brain and settle into the mindless tedium of a mechanical routine. ‘fun’ in the way Viscera Cleanup Detail is, except somehow even more tedious. There is not much to do. It gets especially tedious if you’re like me and foster a healthy disregard for authority, therefore steered well clear of the Atlas quest. Although if folks are to be believed that storyline sort of just ends.
I know it sounds dull already but I haven’t even got into the nitty-gritty of the dullness yet, baby! Here’s the deal. Your ship needs fuel for every warp jump. That means mining Plutonium, which grows in jagged ass red crystals on the planetary surface for some odd reason and not as an unstable and highly carcinogenic (like internet memes, heh) mineral found deep underground. That’s the fuel you need for liftoff and casual cruising. Your warp drive takes Warp Fuel which is crafted with Thamium9 and Anti-matter (!), which you craft (!!) by mashing together Heridium, Zinc and electron vapour (¿que?).
But enough poking fun at plebeians who can’t into science. This here crafting is something you have to do before every jump. And that is the depth of the crafting mechanic this game offers.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?
This game is a game designed by hipsters for hipsters. The colour scheme is entirely fluorescent shades of pink or green or blue. The UI favours form over function. Mineable materials are voxel-based (like in minecraft) but are implemented very sloppily. So you get some protruding structures that when you shoot with your shit-mining gun, they disintegrate into raw minerals. This might fool you into thinking you can destroy the ground. You can’t. Speaking of which, a certain someone promised us we could tunnel about 128m into the ground.
The UI is 32 flavours of butt. Tell me, good people of the internet, how can 500 units of carbon take the same space as one itty bitty piece of techno-paper carrying a blueprint? And yet in NMS’s inventory it does. Plus for crafting something you need a blank inventory spot and mere words cannot describe the amount of rage that gives me. If you drop something, its gone. And again, one unit of something takes up as much space as 100 or 500 units of it. This leads to rage. Gibbering, frothing-at-mouth rage. Choking small animals rage. Tearing out your own hair rage. But on the up-side, it looks totally Nordic and A E S T H E T I C!
PROCEDURALLY GENERATE BOREDOM
“The game is VAST, dude,” gushed Hello Games “18 jillion planets! All with procedurally generated terrain and life!” They’re right. Ain’t that sad? Let me tell you of a game I tried to like so very much. A Bethesda game by the name of The Elder Scrolls: Arena. Arena boasted of a playable game world area of about 6,000,000KM2. For scale the entirety of Europe, half of Russia included, is about 10,000,000KM2. How did Bethesda manage to do that, I hear you ask. Simple, silly! They didn’t! It was procedurally generated! And as a result walking to a nearby town could take up to 10 hours of real time, while a far off town in another province could take several days! Fun fun fun! Actually, it wasn’t. There’s a reason Bethesda hasn’t done that since Daggerfall.
And theirs was a far more nuanced approach than No Man’s Sky’s, in which you have procedurally generated animals all made from a pool of about 200-300 body parts (I’m being generous here). The terrain is procedurally generated and the flora and fauna are placed dynamically there. That bit is fine when it works. Sometimes it breaks in a way that would be endearing in a better game. Planets may vary, but are only made of one biome. One. Biome. About 4-5 varieties of animals and plants made from random spare parts the game found in a used goods bin and some odd looking plants along with idiotically coloured grass.
Speaking of animals, they react in one of two ways: they’re either hostile on sight and stupidly, suicidally attack you or run scared until you feed them raw minerals (!) at which point they become docile and point out hidden resources and as a Comp Sci student this is downright abhorrent to me. As a player I should not be able to see the if-else clauses in action in your AI at a cursory glance.
Speaking of comp-sci stuff, the game has a very precise and single track way in which it wants you to proceed. It’s almost precisely an algorithm. In fact, I’ll jot down the algorithm right here:
1. IF on planetary surface: Get out of ship ; else go to nearest planet and then get out of ship
2. Mine minerals until inventory is full
3. Mine Plutonium
4. IF suit energy/life support/ temperature protection runs low: Recharge relevant systems with raw minerals (again, !) or an energy cell if you’re fancy
5. IF inventory is full: Go back to ship, refuel ship, take off
6. Go to nearby space station
7. Sell all the hoarded minerals
8. IF available Credits can buy a ship with a bigger inventory: Buy ship from NPC
END REPEAT 1
Yeah, I think I made my point.
In this section I speedily cover up sticking points that are annoying. Alright, here goes nothing: *deep breath* The “solar systems” in NMS are idiotic. Stationary frozen spheres with a painted on sun, they don’t move or rotate at all. When you enter the atmosphere, you can go from day to night just by entering the atmosphere. The sun is just a light source in the distance. You can fly towards it for ages and never catch it. The gravity on all planets is the same regardless of size, water bodies are rare, the shadows never change. It doesn’t have Newtonian physics. Asteroids just sort of pop in around you, unlike the stationary things they are in the trailers. I’m nowhere near done but this is getting monotonous, just like the game. Just know that I’ve got a 700 word (as of yet incomplete) list of things wrong with the game.
I still chuckle humourlessly when I recall Hello Games’ interview with The Atlantic. I’ll quote the crowning jewel of the interview here:
“The team programmed some of the physics for aesthetic reasons. For instance, Duncan insisted on permitting moons to orbit closer to their planets than Newtonian physics would allow. When he desired the possibility of green skies, the team had to redesign the periodic table to create atmospheric particles that would diffract light at just the right wavelength”
OK, done laughing? Back to our dreary reality.
CAN I SPOIL THE ENDING, DADDY?
The main goal is to make your way to the centre. Now usually I do not like spoiling games, but No Man’s Sky is one of those things in which you gotta know what you’re getting into. So after you travel to the centre of the galaxy. So about 8-9 hours of grinding later, you make it. Huzzah. What happens now? And keep in mind Mr. Murray’s Merry Men have been hyping it up since 2015. I’ll tell you what happens. A sick post-rock track courtesy of 65DAYSOFSTATIC starts up and you get the warping animation. And you crash land on to a planet in a new galaxy. Whoop-de-fucking-doo, lad! Your game just looped on itself like a Do-While!
You know they went “fuck it, nobody’s coming this far” when the galaxy names start becoming randomised 5 galaxies in. And that is the crappiest randomiser I’ve ever seen, one step above a Random String generator.
AREN’T EXPECTATIONS A BITCH?
Yes, heading. Yes they are.
DO YOU LOVE ME?
‘NMS was a dream come true. It was supposed to be a cheaper, indie-r Star Citizen. Too bad, eh? Now you might be asking if this game is so bad what do we do to quench our thirst for good space games? To which I reply: Space Engine, Empyrion, Kerbal Space Program, Frontier: Elite II, Space Engineers. These are better games that you can get for cheaper. Especially Frontier: Elite II. A follow-up to Elite, a game on 8 bit computers from the 80s is a better game than NMS. Space Engine isn’t even a game! It was made by a Slav as a hobby project and still outclasses NMS by a country mile! And it’s free!
Now when I look at NMS, Humpty Dumpty comes to mind. Humpty Dumpty’s had his great fall, and all the king’s men cannot put him together again.
From the reveal to the launch they kept hyping it up. They kept increasing the scope and they kept piling more on to it. In retrospective we should have known. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
For more news and long winded rambling, check out Gaming Central.