No Man's Sky Review
PS4* | PC
No Man's Sky Cover Art
System: PS4, PC
Dev: Hello Games
Pub: Hello Games, Sony
PS4 Release: August 9, 2016
PC Release: August 12, 2016
Players: 1 Players
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Fantasy Violence
Freedom, Wonder, and Inventory Management
by Becky Cunningham

No Man's Sky is a game about discovery in every sense of the word. Of course, you'll eventually be gadding about the prodecurally generated universe, seeking interesting new life forms and precious resources. First, though, you'll have to discover how to survive, how to get guidance on where to go next (if progression is your thing), and even how to talk to the alien races you meet along the way. It's an exploration game in the purest sense, challenging players to take a moment and figure things out before flying willy-nilly through the vast reaches of space.

Yes, your grand space adventure starts with one very small step – a step away from your disabled spaceship onto a planet full of alien life forms and resource-rich rocks. You'll stumble through the interface with minimal guidance, but eventually figure out that gathering and mining various metals is vital to keeping all your gear in working order. Your life is measured in bars – health bar, mining tool charge bar, hazard protection bar, warp drive bar, bar, bar, bar. It's overwhelming keeping them all filled at first, but as you progress, you'll develop a quick eye for the materials you need to keep on hand in order to stay alive and keep moving.

The universe opens up slowly, and you can choose whether to go it alone as an independent explorer looking for the center of the universe or follow the storyline path given to you by the mysterious Atlas. It's a slowly-unfolding mystery that might be tempting to follow as quickly as possible, but I recommend learning the ropes and thoroughly exploring the first few star systems you discover. Seeking out points of interest on planets gives you access to vital things like technology upgrade blueprints and exo-suit improvements that add precious extra slots into your limited inventory. You'll also come across the occasional trading post on the way, and that's of vital importance if you want to make enough money to trade up from your cosmic puddle-jumper into a bigger and stronger ship.

Along the way, you'll find worlds worth exploring and others that are utterly boring. When you come upon a lush planet, teeming with fascinating flora and weird fauna, it's cause for celebration. Not only do you get to name your discoveries, you earn money for uploading them to the game's servers. Maybe somebody will even come across them someday, though I have yet to find any other players' planets.

No Man's Sky Screenshot

The diversity of planets found in this universe is impressive, though it can also feel like a slog if you hit up too many dull, desert planets in a row. Still, the full spectacle of the places available to explore almost made me a believer in procedural generation for the first time – almost. While I've delighted in discovering species that I've named things like "Galumphing Stagiphant" and "Hoppy Hoppy Worm Worm," the cracks in algorithmic intelligence occasionally break through my reverie. Why am I on a "wet" planet that has no bodies of water? How come I'm running into a bunch of herbivores with pointy teeth and carnivores with flat, cud-chewing jaws? Are there any rivers, anywhere, or is it just lakes? Right now, No Man's Sky's creation algorithms are somewhat lacking in biological logic, and it can be jarring if you're even a bit of a science nerd. There's a difference between "alien" and "completely illogical," and I'm hoping that we'll see an improvement in that logic in future patches.

No Man's Sky Screenshot

The sentient species populating this universe make a bit more sense, and it's fun to slowly make sense of them as you learn their languages one word at a time. Your communication difficulties make for some fun dialogue choices, as you can't be quite sure if your actions will delight or offend your conversation partner. There's conflict in the universe, too – pirates are a right pain in the ass, so upgrade those ship weapons. There's apparently a conflicting alliance system of sorts as well, though in my game so far I've been trying to stay friends with everyone. Interspecies relationships look like they'll either be surprisingly deep or disappointingly repetitive in the late game, and I'm not sure if any of us will have the final verdict on that for weeks.

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