No Man’s Sky – Five Months On…

After the spacedust has settled, what’s on the horizon for No Man’s Sky?

One of 2016’s most hyped releases became one of 2016’s biggest flops, but given the passing of time, I took the opportunity to go hands-on with Hello Games’ debut title over Christmas, and I did so armed only with the knowledge that No Man’s Sky disappointed many upon its release; but today, is it still as lofty as a lead balloon?

No Man's Sky
Ah trusty old Rasamama S36, she’s yet to let me down

As I fumbled around blindly in space, I considered NMS from a newcomer’s perspective. My initial feeling was that it felt more at home on Steam than on the PS4 (no offence meant). It quickly became clear that the procedurally generated landscapes have certain limitations, and there is a general lack of polish that you don’t always expect from a fully-fledged console release.

Once I got to grips with the gameplay mechanics, I felt that whilst they were certainly of a repetitive nature, that might not be entirely a bad thing. There’s an element of “just one more” to the harvesting that taps into the whole FarmVille, Pokemon Go, or even Harvest Moon styles of gameplay. Repetitive, yes, totally without merit, certainly not.

And while the gameplay might not involve too many surprises, the universe itself offers up plenty. Getting spun out in space by a wayward asteroid belt, or overcoming hostile ships in a tense shoot-out can be thrilling and unexpected, and even coming across your first freighter, docking and meeting the creatures inside is undoubtedly just one of many cool moments. The main problem is that the universe is fundamentally a massive, and therefore somewhat lifeless feeling place, even if it is technically brimming with life forms.

Journey Milestone
Journey Milestone Accomplished: Find a load of blue glowing rock things

Every planet shares some functional similarities, but even if the differences aren’t monumental in size, you’re still exploring new territories with fresh flora & fauna. Some disappoint, but others will dazzle, and you can stay and go as you please. The game’s open for that. All that’s really missing are some bustling Zelda-esque towns full of people to give your lonely trip a sense of home.

The game does a lot right, it’s part sci-fi flight sim, the crafting, trading and upgrading can be addictive, the planets are, if nothing else, unique and capable of impressing, and the sense of scale as you engage hyperdrive towards a distant moon that would otherwise take 4 hours to reach is very nicely balanced. But the game’s freedom means it can lack direction. I’d wager it’s a game best played in short bursts, checking out a new planet or two at a time.

No Man's Sky 2
There must be a free parking space around here somehwere

The fact of the matter is, No Man’s Sky has received some hefty gameplay updates, and can now be bought for just a fraction of its original cost, I’ve seen copies as low as £10, mine cost around £13. The game’s biggest flaw pre-release was arguably its “maybe you will maybe you won’t” style of marketing, which unwisely pushed the hype into warp speed in a way that was always going to get people’s backs up. Still, experimental games like this surely deserve their place in our collections, and if you think of this one as a damn good interactive “space app” rather than a story driven cinematic epic, you should find yourself really enjoying an occasional trip to the next galaxy every so often.

No Man’s Sky is perhaps not every man’s thing, but I’d encourage you to give it a chance if you haven’t already.

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