by Bradley McManus
How can you possible review a game with an area which is humanly impossible to discover. At The Midnight Gamer we pride ourselves on giving real world reviews so you can understand whether it's right for you. I've spent 10 hours playing Hello Games' giant and I'm ready to pass judgement.
. 10 hours for a game of this size may not be enough. Reviewing a game that is designed to not be played fast is something risky. You can go in too strong, not knowing there is a slow and dwindling late game. The opposite is a slow game which guides you tentatively to a beautiful pay off. The problem with No Man's Sky is that I did not experience either of these.
At a base level, NMS is a first person survival game. There are elements of farming, first person shooters, puzzle and management games but the joy comes from your desire to explore. You start the game on one of the 18 quintillion planets and you must repair your ship to be able to carry on. There is a very brief tutorial on what you need to do, a hint of a story where you have to make a decision on following an Atlas being (no idea what this means) and then you have to just get on with it. At this stage, I was optimistic and ready for the hunt so I started lasering anything I could get my hands on to get some carbon. I also needed to find some Plutonium which is where my love started to wain. I happened to be on a very dry planet and to get some of the fuel, I needed to walk for 20mins in game. There could well have been something nearer but I couldn't work it out. I got my plutonium, as much as I could carry - then realised I had another walk on my hands. For all the pain that my first hour had given me, the surge of excitement when you blast into space for the first time and turn around and look back the plant you just left is spectacular; all of the walking was forgiven.
That feeling of euphoric highs and cataclysmic lows was something I'd have repeated again and again. It's hard to judge a game so readily on its emotional pull instead of the gameplay, graphics, sound etc but this is how the game affected me.
The game has some pacing issues where little instruction is given to you on what's next, even then it is pretty vague. I can see why some people enjoy this and it did remind me of starting Minecraft for the first time. Not really sure what I should be doing, not sure which items work best in each situation, but you learn. NMS is very literal, to the point where it becomes abstract. Scientific items are stored in your backpack and can be used for matter, energy, healing and the usual things we find in games. Like in Minecraft, if you find gold & diamond, you know it's a big deal which plays to people's general knowledge of value. In NMS I am trying to work out which things to keep, drop, sell and construct. For me, this was too much work with no real direction. If I find a hammer, I know I need to hit things with it, if I find some Iridium then I, er, look it up on a wiki!
The games progression comes in the form of (initially) gaining a hyper drive and quickly jumping between star systems. This is an incredibly well done experience which allows you to feel the distance and the size of the world first hand. The over-world universe map is a user experience nightmare but you're there for so little time it barely gives you trouble. The issue here is that whilst you constantly jump between star systems, planets and more - you do feel at odds of how much you need to explore for yourself. I do get why some people are happy to do this and in fact, enjoy it more than any tenuous plot but when tasked with exploring an couple of extra rooms for a health pack, I'm willing and able. To search an entire planet to source a stone that gives me a new language word...I'll pass.
The size of the world cannot be underestimated and has long been one of No Man's Sky's biggest selling points. Over 18 quintillion planets are waiting to be discovered and when you find something for the first time, you can name it whatever you like (profanity filter tested of course). You may come across my planets, The Midnight Gamer, The McMoon, McHopperland, Bradley Planet...you can see how I soon got bored of this. It's one of the things in the game which soon becomes dull. At first you want to name everything, you think of themes. I came across one planet called Shield and all the lifeforms were named after Marvel characters. When you have the chance to name plants, planets, areas, beacons, animals and more you get bored and it shows how you can have too much of a good thing.
After getting this far in my review you'd expect me to give NMS a really bad score. The game has so many issues and yet somehow it still works. The sense of wonder and exploration means that the fleeting feeling of joy is so high that you can forgive it for all the shortcomings. I have spoken to friends about it, who have discovered lush green planets with dinosaurs and hidden caves, something I've yet to find either of. The poison rain and toxic waters of the aptly named Acid Floor Planet aren't much fun at all, it feels like work. To just know that there's a giant robot, dinosaurs, bigger ships waiting to be repaired, a language to be unearthed and things that I can't comprehend, I can see how you get sucked back in.
Despite being let down by the impossible hype surrounding No Man's Sky, I would urge you to at least give it a go. Everyone will have a different experience of the game, you might get lucky and find a new ship, bigger weapons and dinosaurs. Or you may be like me and get constant toxic planets with little life and bad weather. It's a roll of the dice that has utterly incredible technical coding to create, but it doesn't make it a good game. Perhaps a victim of it's own marketing, Hello Games have certainly made a name for themselves.