Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Review for No Man's Sky on the Playstation 4

Every once in a while you just gotta take a break from all of the political bullshit and stop to smell the roses. And by roses, sometimes that means digital roses. And by smelling, sometimes that means with your eyes and your ears. Or something.

No Man's Sky (also referred to as NMS) is a Playstation 4 game (also just released on Windows PC) that has been in development for over 5 years by an indie developer named Hello Games, which consists of a small team of 15 highly talented and creative people and headed up by boss and frontman Sean Murray (who's quite the humble and disarming dude). With multiple delays, the weight of ever-increasing expectations from the mainstream press and gaming community and a massive hype train barreling forward such as which the world has rarely seen in the videogame industry -- it was a project almost beginning to look like another depressing example of vaporware doomed to crumble under its own weight, bearing down on the small team. It was a herculean effort, but by golly, they did it.


First, a few things. I haven't come close to 'beating the game' (whatever that means, anyways), but I've played a lot since it was released and have a pretty good handle on how everything is and where it's going. There doesn't seem to be much of a 'story', so much as tons of 'lore'. Personally, I like this and think it fits more with this style of game, but some people may not. The lore is solid enough, too -- it's not overly cheesy, unoriginal and flat like you'd find in your typical sci-fi videogame, and seems to be more along the lines of the kind of philosophical, abstract foundation you'd find in a decent sci-fi book. The heaviest inspirations fall clear from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the general '50s to '80s space sci-fi era. On the lighter side, you'll find inspirations from franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. As a genre, it's harder to nail down (like an increasing number of games these days) -- NMS is a lore-filled open world 'sandbox' focusing on survival, exploration, discovery, and trade, with a sprinkling of light combat -- lighter on the FPS side, slightly heavier on the space-sim dog-fighting side.

If you're interested in seeing more screens from No Man's Sky, you can see my full gallery here. Now, onto the review in an easily digestible, nutritious format. It's just Like soylent green!

The Good
  • The game really does an amazing job of conveying an absolutely massive, unheard of scale to everything. There are 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets. That's an 18, with 18 zeros after it. Let that sink in for a moment.
  • Many have described the game as having an immense feeling of 'loneliness'. I know where they're coming from, and to an extent, I agree -- but I don't find the word to be entirely accurate. A more appropriate word is 'virginness'. In most cases you'll be both the first and last person to visit and explore an entire planet with its own climate conditions, flora, and fauna. It's a feeling you have to experience to really appreciate.
  • And of course, you can name any of the flora, fauna, planets, moons, and star systems you discover. They get uploaded to the game's server and any player who comes across it will see anything you've named and discovered, with your account name next to it.
  • The 3D graphics and visual effects are, in a word, sublime. This is by far my favorite game to screenshot.
  • The ambient music, which is also procedurally generated (to an extent) according to the scenery and situation, sounds really great. It fits very well, and has a solid space sci-fi, Mass Effect-ey kind of sound to it. 
  • The procedurally generated worlds and creatures are varied enough, although it can be quite clear they are all 'coming from the same place' -- that being a computer algorithm that deforms, recolors, and retextures (within certain parameters) a bunch of hand-made presets. This all still looks great and there's no way I can hold this against them considering current technological limitations and the size of the design team at Hello Games.
  • The procedurally generated animations for the procedurally generated creatures interacting with the procedurally generated landscape looks mostly natural, with only some minor clipping issues every once in a while.
  • The variability of challenge is solid enough. Some planets will be very relaxing, with bountiful resources and a pleasant environment. They'll feel 'safe'. Others can be an legitimate challenge, with extreme, harsh climates and effects, hostile life, aggressive sentient machines, and far less resources needed to survive. These planets will severely punish you for mistakes and overconfidence, making you stress out on if you'll make it back to your ship before you succumb to it all. One minute could have you and your inventory filled to the brim with needed resources and protection -- the next will have you genuinely worried if the planet is going to eat you alive.
  • The transitions from planet to space, moon, other planets, and back again is seamless and looks, sounds, and feels great.
  • The open nature of the game allows for solid, personal, emergent storytelling of exploration and survival.
  • The potential for patched-in, free, and paid DLC for this game is absolutely immense. Soon we're going to have volumetric clouds, and already Sean Murray is talking about base-building and your own personal freighters.  I also foresee a future with a much-needed 'snapshot mode' a la The Last of Us and Doom.
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something. It's a giant magical factory of hilarious memes, great stories from players' experiences in the game, beautiful screenshots, and a helpful community for players with hints and tips.
As a side note, you can tell that even with all of 'The Good' parts to its whole, that it is even still somehow more than the sum of its parts. Sean Murray and his team at Hello Games clearly really put their heart and soul into this, and at the very least, for that alone, my hat is off to them.

The Bad
  • Some bugs on the PS4. I've had the game crash about 30% of the time while trying to warp to another system. This is far too high, and kind of an annoying problem. A couple times I've also had serious clipping issues such as 'falling through the world' and getting stuck, having to reload a save, as well as pulse-jumping into an Atlas Station, requiring another reload. 
  • 'Finding nearby discovered systems' in the galaxy map doesn't seem to work with finding my old systems, nor can I remove waypoints that I've set to other systems.
  • Some silly, unintuitive design decisions on the GUI and controls that really should have been fixed or implemented. You can't change control schemes or bindings. While the galaxy view looks great -- it's very clunky and doesn't work quite as it should at times. I can't find some old discovered systems or planetary locations to go back to and can't set any of them as a waypoint from the discoveries menu. You can't change temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit. All seemingly very simple stuff that should not be an issue.
  • The developers apparently thought you were too stupid to learn how to actually fly your ship on a planet, so they took away any option for advanced flight controls altogether, limiting you to extremely basic flying and an inability to hover in place. Maybe it's a kind of game design limitation, but it's still a let-down.
  • These guys really need an editor. Far too many typos and grammatical mistakes which can be immersion breaking even at the worst possible times such as when 'the lore' advances.
  • You can't fly near the sun, no matter how long you try. Trust me, I've tried, as have others. It's a fucking skybox.
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something, along with Sean Murray's non-answer answers.

The Ugly
  • The PC version, by user reviews and community comments, seems to be absolutely unplayable for far too many people at release. Technically irrelevant with regards to the PS4 version, but it should still be noted. Your mileage may vary.
  • Boss and frontman Sean Murray explicitly stated numerous times that you would be able to meet other players, however extremely unlikely that would be. On the first day, two players did what was necessary to meet eachother, but it was not possible. It does not seem to be the case that you can actually meet, and he has utterly avoided answering questions on this head-on. Make of this what thou wilt. There are also a few other controversial issues, one example being with him claiming that technically you'd be able to fly directly from system to system, though you'd never want to, and it would take forever, when in fact the Hyperdrive warp is a loading screen, and you can't even fly near your own sun (again, it's a fucking skybox).
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something. The vitriol and hate slung personally at the NMS fan community, Hello Games and, in particular, Sean Murray, can be really, really disheartening. There are some very, very bitter and nasty trolls out there.


So considering all of this, should you buy No Man's Sky? Well, that depends. 

If you are primarily a CoD fan (even the so-called 'sci-fi' Advanced and Infinite Warfare versions) and those are the only kinds of games you like, where you want to kill shit and blow it up with non-stop action and excitement, then no -- do us all a favor, stay the fuck away from NMS. You will most certainly find the game 'boring', and to top it off we're going to have to hear about much you think the game 'sucks', even though it wasn't designed for that kind of experience. If you go through No Man's Sky, rushing to the end, not caring about and ignoring the lore, not caring about 'stopping to smell the roses' often, and trying to 'beat the game' as quickly as you can -- you're probably going to have a bad experience. And while I have yet to beat the game, myself, it looks to be building towards a deeper message relating to this.

However, if you're a huge sci-fi fan and are okay with or prefer a more 'deliberate' and generally 'chill' experience and have retained a sense of imagination and wonder, then buy this shit, right the fuck now. Yes, in spite of its (glaring) flaws, 'The Good' most certainly, hands-down overweighs 'The Bad' and 'The Ugly'. Plus, we know that most, if not all, of the issues brought up will be fixed, and the game will be greatly expanded over the years. Hell, this is too much of a cash cow for Sean Murray and Hello Games to pass up patching, hooking people in with free DLC, and releasing paid DLC, to not do this.

If you're in between those two, then your mileage may vary. Even then, I would still say it's worth at least a sale price of at least 20% off for its originality alone, as long as you've still got a sense of wonder and imagination going on.

In short, the experience of playing No Man's Sky is a slow burn, akin to a controlled, delayed orgasm through tantric sex, while playing a game like Call of Duty is more along the lines of having a quickie. Some people experience premature ejaculation and can only have quickies, and hey, that's fine and all -- while others, well... they have room in their repertoire for and know that there's a time and place both.

The Final Verdict

Initially, my gushing for this game was getting the best of me and made me want to give it a whopping 9.0 out of 10. After discussing it all a bit more on reddit, a rereading of my own review, and some reflection, I've recalibrated myself and adjusted my score accordingly. A score of 9.0 out of 10 is what it could have and should have been according to what was promised -- but primarily due to some missed expectations, a lack of a couple promised features (that IMO don't really detract from the intended experience), bugs, and some other silly elements I noted, I have adjusted the score down one point.

8.0/10, would still tantric sex the galaxy again.

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