No Man's Sky
I'm torn over No Man's Sky. I have a very real love-hate relationship with the game, and it represents a clear dichotomy that pulls me in either direction. I love the old-school sci-fi sentiments and visual style, but I loathe its monotonous simplicity and the rote, formulaic approach that slices through the immersion like a hot knife through butter.
It's hard for me to say if No Man's Sky is worth your money or not specifically because the game's enjoyment factor is so extremely conditional. Whether or not you'll like the game depends on so many different factors, proving the game is more of a niche experience than a mainstream mega-hit (at least in spirit, not sales figures). To know if you'll like No Man's Sky, you have to understand what it is and what it isn't. With any luck, this review will help point you in the right direction, and you'll understand what to expect from the game.
To many, the game is just a chore simulator that's not worth their time. To others, the game embodies a breathtaking adventure across the uncharted corners of space. My experience lies somewhere in the middle, and the scale slides, either way, every time I play.
The main problem with No Man's Sky is that the visual style sells you a game that doesn't exist. The game is quite literally a feast for the eyes, but this is actually its worst enemy. The visuals are a double-edged sword.
As soon as you fire up No Man's Sky, it triggers something deep within you, awakening that inner astronaut in all of us. This space-faring mind's eye is especially keen in sci-fi nerds like me, who grew up avidly consuming Star Trek and Star Wars. So when we saw this game, it immediately clicked with us and conjured up an entire galaxy of possibilities.
Those beautiful planets swirling in the scintillating firmament are something right out of John Berkey's imagination.
Starships soar the heavens as bizarre animals roam across a strange and alien landscape. Impossibly weird flora twist and snarl every which way as toxic irradiated rain falls across the calcified flats. Eldritch monoliths tower in geometric shapes that bring to mind secrets of some long lost race, entombed in mystery and wonder. Space stations orbit the planets, and outposts right out of an Isaac Asimov book cover provide a safe haven for would-be explorers.
When we sci-fi nerds see these things, everything we've ever experienced within the genre's vast realm comes flooding into our imagination. That's not necessarily Hello Games' fault; to their credit, the team has told us what to expect from the game (despite tons of misleading hype and outright lies). But if you're going to make a game that's literally built on "making gamers feel like they've stepped into a 1970s sci-fi book cover," there's going to be tons of expectations.
Sadly, the game's wonder is just subterfuge. It's an exotic mask veiled upon tedium. The atmosphere and visuals call forth images of epic interstellar derring-do and infinite adventures amidst the stars, when in reality, the game is reduced to an obvious rote formula after a few hours. The mask starts peeling away, and you see the game for what it is: an experience sabotaged by its beauty and betrayed by its soul.
This, to me, is the heart of why No Man's Sky has gamers so divided. In its very nature, it promotes divisiveness by not delivering the very things that gamers (and most notably sci-fi nerds) naturally expect from a game such as this. The game wants to take advantage of that wonder, that sense of freedom and awe, that deep soul of the stars that's in all of us every time we look up at the night sky and wonder "what's out there?" but it doesn't--and apparently can't--deliver on it.
Even still, there's magic here, but I can't help but recognize this magic isn't in the game but in our own imaginations. If anything, No Man's Sky just focuses that magic, the same way that a lens can focus a beam of light. The game channels all of our dreams and hopes of the stars above by reinforcing specific motifs and themes found in the sci-fi genre.
No Man's Sky is very much an homage to the "golden age" of science fiction, the days where Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke spun tales of aliens, rocketships, and ray guns.
And like our imaginations, No Man's Sky never facilitates the very thing it's trying to sell you. It never makes that sense of wonder corporeal; it's just on the faraway horizon, or in the distant stars. It's not really there, just a trick, just a titillate ruse that makes you almost believe you're part of some amazing jaunt across the cosmos.
Like any game built on grinding, it urges you forward, promising you that fun will be had on the next planet, with the next starship, with the next Multi-Tool upgrade, but ultimately, the game isn't about the grind or progression, it's about getting lost.
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