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No Man's Sky PlayStation 4 Review: Spaced Out

By: Derek Strickland | Adventure in Gaming | Posted: Aug 19, 2016 3:40 pm
TweakTown Rating: 75%Developer and / or Publisher: x

SSDP: Same Sh*t, Different Planet: intergalactic tedium

 

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The odds are so supremely stacked against the game right from the start because it tries to exemplify that golden age of sci-fi without capturing the core essence: immersion. No Man's Sky's immersion breaks down quite fast, especially when you realize that the game is built on rote mechanic grinding. Every planet might be different, but they're also the same: since every planet has pretty much the same resources, the "infinite" universe is made extremely derivative.

 

The crux of No Man's Sky is its repetitiveness. This isn't a game of instant gratification. It's a space survival sim, and that means grinding--lots and lots of grinding, and lots of time.

 

 

The grinding elements eventually erode the immersion and reveal the sameness at the game's core. You don't just grind resources to progress in No Man's Sky: you grind them to stay exactly where you are. Just standing still drains your Life Support systems, and every time you take off your ship, you use Launch Thruster fuel that needs to be replenished.

 

I understand that the game is a simulator, which means grinding. But a good portion of No Man's Sky's gameplay feel like a chore--it feels like work, with no real immediate payout. You're constantly micro-managing your inventory space and stacking up resources and unloading them for Units to buy more ships, Multi-Tool upgrades, and Exosuits.

 

Your warp drive, which allows you to jump to different planetary systems, adds another few layers to the grind. So instead of being a tool that represents the ultimate freedom in the entire galaxy, the warp drive adds even more weight to the mentally exhausting tedium.

 

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Grind resources. Fill your inventory. Sell your inventory. Buy upgrades. Charge your warp drive. Jump to another planet system so you can do it all over again. Rinse and repeat, over and over and over--no matter what star system or planet you're on, this remains the same. Tedious grinding is the heart of the game.

 

Apart from very light "exploration," deciphering alien languages, and some mediocre FPS gunplay, this is basically the game's mechanics. After a while, you start to think that grinding has been emphasized so strongly to create the illusion of progression, and that grinding is the dev's way of propelling your journey onward.

 

The worst part about the experience itself, but your expectations of what could and should be. No Man's Sky's trailers show gigantic slithering sandworms straight out of Dune, but I've yet to see anyone discover such a thing, let alone any other mammoth creature.

 

Your "discoveries" bring on this sense of the unknown, of embarking on an epic journey to unexplored space, but it ultimately boils down to the same experience you had before, just a little different.

 

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You don't explore in No Man's Sky--you just observe

 

So many people describe No Man's Sky as an exploration game. There's a very real problem with this description. The truth is that No Man's Sky is more about observing than exploring.

 

In reality, No Man's Sky doesn't make you feel like a participant in your own journey. After a while, you feel like a factory worker that's just pulling levers and pressing buttons. Your decisions don't amount to anything really, and you don't make a dent in the universe; you just drift across the cosmos like some planet-hopping passenger.

 

Exploration implies charting unknown space and meticulously cataloging your findings. Players don't even really chart their "discoveries," and we only really get a rather lacking Pokedex-like bestiary would ultimately amounts to nothing because the information literally doesn't help you--the only thing you need to know about animals is are they hostile and what do they eat--and an extremely disappointing list of places you've been.

 

Related: What is No Man's Sky? A primer for curious gamers

 

You can name everything you discover, from plants, animals, outposts and planets, but that doesn't mean much as you can't plant specific waypoints on your findings. Scanning a nearby outpost adds a blip to your HUD, and visited outposts are green whereas unvisited are white, but you can't tell the green from the green and the white from the white. So retracing your steps and coming back to certain outposts can be difficult.

 

So ultimately your "discoveries" are scattered on a planet's surface, and you're never really sure where to find them again.

 

You can't teleport to a discovered outpost, nor can you plot a custom HUD icon to ensure you'll be able to find your way back. There's no mini-map. Hell, there isn't even a basic compass. As such, your spatial orientation is off-kilter, and you're constantly getting lost, even in the very places you've already discovered.

 

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Exploration isn't about getting lost in places you've been. You should only get lost in the unexplored, and that shouldn't even last long. Once you explore something, it should be mapped in some form or another on a static system, a planetary catalog.

 

If you're the type of gamer who wants to discover everything, No Man's Sky will punish you over and over and over. On top of wasting your time by constantly grinding mats to refill your ship's thrusters, you'll sometimes have to turn your back on new Multi-Tools or Exosuit upgrades because you don't have enough Units to buy them.

 

There's a severe disconnect with the game's so-called "discovery" and "exploration" elements, to the point you sometimes feel that certain things just aren't worth your time anymore. I've often found myself not even bothering to name certain things because it feels like a chore rather than the neat novelty it initially was. There's the bonus that most people won't even see your named creations, so it's only for your personal reference--much like everything else in this game.

 

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Another reason I think No Man's Sky is more about observing is how you "interact" with aliens. You don't make any real meaningful impact on alien species or their factions. In fact, the "encounters" are multiple choice dialogue prompts that ultimately amount to a new upgrade or some Units.

 

The NPCs start to feel stale and act as nothing more than item dispensers. You feel like you're observing them from afar, not making contact with some exotic creature--and certainly not having an actual real effect on their lives.

 

You can't overthrow an empire, nor can you disrupt a faction's trade system. You can become a pirate of sorts, but there's really no incentive to do so other than easily gathering mats--providing your ship is up to snuff. The game is intimate and personal, and you won't be building up a massive legion of alien allies nor will you be helping them survive in the wilds of the universe. You simply drift along, eking out a "journey" across the stars.

 

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Animals are a big part of No Man's Sky's observation-not-discovery mechanic. "Discovering" (more like scanning them into a Pokedex) the strange creatures is interesting, and it can be fun. For a bit, at least, until you realize how hollow the creatures really are.

 

The randomly-generated engine ensures this can also be horrifying, with freakish permutations that would make Dr. Moreau cry in shame. Basically, the animals are only there to look at--for better or worse--and give you some cash for each discovery.

 

You don't interact with them except for feeding the nice ones and shooting the hostile ones, and they don't actually do much except run around. They can, however, show you "secrets" if you feed them and take the time to follow them, but these are things you would've found anyway.

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