Available On: Windows PC, PlayStation 4
In space, no one can hear you scream. In No Man’s Sky, they can’t hear you at all. They can only read the names of planets and species you’ve discovered. An infinite universe of randomly generated planets is an intriguing premise. But underlying the promise of exciting exploration is a dull grind for the same few resources within a shockingly limited universe.
One Small Step
No Man’s Sky isn’t a grand massively multiplayer space game nor an action-packed space flight sim. It’s a survival-crafting game.
You begin on a random, undiscovered planet with a broken down spaceship. Using your laser multi-tool you can break down whatever counts for trees and rocks on your planet for basic resources. Resources are limited to a handful of categories, which helps prevent you from ever getting stuck on any one planet. But limitations like that peel back the layers of clever game design to reveal the not-so-clever base components.
Once you repair your ship you can freely travel around your planet, and out into the stars. Each planet is dotted with special locations, such as other crashed ships, star ports, a store, or simply an area of respite from violent weather or fauna. Every planet has the exact same structures and handful of events, further dispelling the illusion of an infinite universe of possibilities.
You’re not completely alone, as you frequently run into other sentient aliens. Language is an interesting barrier and a means of progression. Finding ancient ruins or knowledge stones gives you more and more words you can use to piece together each conversation and meeting.
A story of sorts does exist, though it’s entirely optional. An entity called the Atlas sets you on a specific journey to find a bunch of stones, and learn more about the alien races around you. You can also journey to the center of the universe, which takes a very, very long time. Or simply explore the stars, finding crazy slapped-together creatures or strange new ruins.
The economy of resource collection is almost all there is to do in No Man’s Sky. Finding blueprints and building new add-ons for your ship and tools becomes frustrating due to your extremely limited inventory space. The entire goal of the early and mid-game is to make enough money and resources to upgrade the slots in your exo-suit and ship. Each spiffy new laser coolant system you build is another precious slot lost. It’s a constant struggle that makes the basic gameplay far more aggravating than challenging.
Automated drones called Sentinels patrol each planet, ranging from docile to frenzied but typically don’t pose much of a threat. Hostile ships in space are far more of a problem, but mostly due to the terribly limited ship controls. Dying brings you back to the last time you exited your ship (or the nearest spaceport), making No Man’s Sky one of the more casual survival games out there.
You sink into a steady rhythm of dropping down on a new planet, assessing it for resources and danger, and sticking around as long as you like. Planetary geography and creatures come in different shapes and sizes, but underneath it all you find the same resources and locations on every planet. It’s not a question of if the repetition kicks in, but when.
No Man’s Sky has been rated T for Teen by the ESRB. It has the Fantasy Violence descriptor, as you do engage in combat with alien animals, drones, and hostile starships. There’s no blood and enemies either explode or fall over when slain.
Having your own spaceship with the ability to travel to a limitless array of new planets is an awesome idea. But without any base-building, permadeath, or multiplayer, No Man’s Sky’s gameplay is limited to collecting a few resources and upgrading your ship and tools. With the right planet discoveries it can be a lot of fun, but the magic wears off far too soon. The sky may no longer be the limit, but right now the potential of No Man’s Sky is far better than this initial offering.