The screen fades in from white, the landscape of an alien planet takes shape before my eyes. Tall oddly shaped vermillion coloured trees strain skyward, like they are trying to pull themselves from the earth and take flight. The soil is punctuated with weird hexagonal green rocks, while off in the distance a strange two-legged creature hops from one spot to another foraging for food. The camera pans around and I see what’s left of my crashed space ship, smoke billowing from its cockpit. Debris strewn all about the scorched ground. I look at the oval shaped multi-tool that I am brandishing in my right hand. Time to start exploring
This is the opening few seconds of No Man’s Sky, the new space exploration and survival game from Hello Games, a small company based out of Guildford, England. It boasts a staff of just twenty. Their most noted releases up to this point has been the Joe Danger series. A fun collection arcade action games. No Man’s Sky is very much a departure from what they have done before. Set in a galaxy stuffed with 18 quintillion procedurally created worlds for players to explore. They have stretched the very limits of sandbox gaming when they created this title. As the game unfolds in front of me I notice that there was very little hand holding. None of the usual game tutorials about controls, you just wake up and off you go, learning how to play by just getting on with it. I was sucked in straight away.
The first task you need to complete is to get your space ship back up and running again, and this requires resources. You are equipped with a multi-tool, which allows you to mine minerals from the surrounding area in order to repair your damaged ship. It also doubles as a weapon when you need to take down a pesky sentinel bot, or fend off attacking wildlife. Every piece of tech you own in the game is upgradable, allowing you to customise both your multi-tool, ship and your Exosuit which acts as both your environmental protection suit as well as your backpack.
Once you have gathered enough material to get your ship airborne again, you have two choices; keep exploring the world you are on, or point your ship skywards and shoot off towards the stars. The first time I did this I couldn’t help but get a little tingle of excitement as my ship blasted through the clouds and in real-time emerged out into the lower atmosphere, then into deep space. No loading screen, just a straight forward transition from planet to space in one swift blast off manoeuvre.
When you finally reach space you start to realise how vast this game is. Each system is made up of roughly three to five planets, with an alien run space station in each system. There are three Alien races in the game. They will either aid you in your travels or work against you. This all depends on how you interact with them as you go about your business.
First up we have the Gek, who show their pleasure or displeasure by pretty much farting in your general direction with either foul or sweet-smelling vapours. They are a race of traders,with Parrot like in features. Next up are the Korvax, they kind of reminded me of a mix of Prince Robot IV from the comic book epic Saga and Daft Punk. They are a logic driven race, robotic in nature and outlook. The final species are the warrior race of the VY’Keen. Think Cthulhu Klingons and you’ll get the general idea of what these guys are about. Most transactions with them ends better with a show of brute force rather than acts of kindness, seriously. I slapped one of them across the face during a sale and the creature offered up his badass multi-tool as a show of respect.
Both the beauty and the downfall of No Man’s Sky is the fact that you really need to figure out how the in-game universe works, and what your place in it means. The size of the galaxy is daunting and scary, which is one of the many things I love about it. The downside to this is the fact that this is not a game for the casual gamer. You either go all in with this title or you go back to playing something less taxing. I can see this turning off a lot of players. It took me a while to wrap my head around fully understanding the Hyperdrive star map. Only after a few hours of messing around with it did I discover that it was possible to bookmark previous systems you had visited.
For those who are willing to put the time in, then this game will be a hell of a lot of fun. The game play is very much a solitary endeavour. I have spent hours on one planet alone, by myself mining resources so I can upgrade my gear so I will be better equipped for the next planet or system I plan on exploring. You really need to prepare yourself for the worst in order to survive. Those familiar with games like Minecraft will see similar ground here. Harvesting much needed resources in order to build better equipment. For those of you who might have turned up your noses at that last sentence I urge you not to. No Man’s Sky is a bold step in the right direction for gaming.
One of the most exhilarating things to happen to me in the game was when I warped into a system. Straight into a Pirate raiding party of twenty ships. All buzzing around a huge cargo freighter. My childhood dreams of being an X-Wing pilot kicked in and I immediately went in full throttle, hoping that would keep those enemy fighters of my back. It didn’t. They destroyed me in seconds and I re-spawned on the nearest space station. I hopped back into my ship and went off in search of the materials I needed to upgrade my weapons. So the next time I came across those Pirate bastards, I was going to reduce them to space dust.
Exploration is a huge part of this game. You can spend hours on one planet, analysing life forms, giving them ridiculous names, decoding alien monoliths in order to learn the languages of the Gek, Vy’Keen and the Korvax. Or uncovering long-lost transmissions hidden in abandoned outposts, long forgotten by their founders. There is a lot to do in this game, which will have a lot of players wondering if there is an actual storyline in the middle of all this hunter gatherer malarkey. Fear not, there is.
Amongst the search for minerals and better equipment to aid you in your battle against Space Pirates is a mysterious journey through the stars. Players must find the Atlas relays and unravel their secrets. There is also the journey to the centre of the galaxy that you can choose to undertake, consisting of a long series of hyperspace jumps through numerous systems. Initially prior to release, a lot of gamers thought that this was the main objective of the game. I can tell you now that after pumping more than thirty hours into the title that it isn’t. Well, not for me anyway, and that’s the ultimate beauty of this game.
There is no one way to play it. You choose which hyperspace paths to take. You can decide not to go near the Atlas path. If you wish to ignore the center of the Galaxy, then so be it. That is one of best things about No Man’s Sky. It’s your galaxy to explore.
I have spoken to gamers who have spent days on one planet alone, happily mining it dry of all resources and selling them on in order to buy the best ship they could find. Others have scrapped together just enough materials to just keep flying, warping from system to system as soon as they have enough antimatter to power up their hyperdrive. I approached the game with a mixture of the two.
No Man’s Sky can be a lonely adventure. Hello Games did speak about multiplayer options in a future update, but for now you spend a lot of the game alone, wandering barren alien worlds with nothing more than the somber but fantastic score to keep you company, which was composed by English electronic band 65daysofstatic. The haunting melodies are as much as an integral part of the game as your multi-tool. After a while, though, I found myself listening to well known Sci-Fi movie scores while I blasted my way through space, which I found also fit well with the gameplay, particularly the Wrath of Khan score.
No Man’s Sky is Hello Games’ love letter to all of the science fiction and fact from the 70s and 80s. Death is greeted with words of wisdom from icons such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and Alan Dean Foster.
No Man’s Sky is riddled with nods and winks to movies like The Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dune, Bladerunner and the classic video games like Descent, X-Wing and Elite. Hello Games even got Bladerunner star Rutger Hauer to do the voice over for the gameplay trailer. Space station designs in No Man’s Sky are heavily influenced by the original space station designs from Elite. It is a title filled with a love of what has come before.
Hello Games as a team have built on the fact that they love this genre, giving us a game that is immersive and impressive in its scale and vision. If you seek out numerous reviews of this title, they all share one thing; the reviewers all state that it is a review in progress, and I have to agree. A full review of this game would require weeks. I can say this about it. Based on the thirty plus hours I have put into it. I will happily put in another thirty.
Space is indeed the final frontier, and in No Man’s Sky that frontier is infinite and breathtaking.