You know you’ve done something either terribly wrong or terribly right when you put out a game that receives initial confusion and then a whole lot of outrage and pushback along with a crowd of instant fans. But I’m betting whatever camp people fell into, there was a great deal of “What does this all mean?” And in my mind, that might just be a positive mark towards the mostly procedurally generated open sandbox game, No Man’s Sky. Or it might mean its fiery doom in the annals of gaming.
BE WARNED, SPOILERS!!! (and probably swear words)
No Man’s Sky
In August 2016, the very long anticipated (and really greatly hyped) game No Man’s Sky was released by studio Hello Games (both developer and publisher) to extremely mixed, confused and reactive reviews.
My husband, who initially thought it might be interesting when it was announced, later read some of the reviews and said, “I bet it sucks.” At least for him, as I read some of the reviews and decided to jump in. We went to Best Buy, which was sold out and then made our way to a GameStop, after calling and reserving a copy.
My husband and I have often talked about immortality and which camp we’d prefer: mortality or immortality. I am firmly in the immortality camp as I want to see what happens in this crazy world. How we evolve, how technology evolves, will we manage to colonize other planets, will we be eaten by zombies? He is mostly in the mortality camp. Seriously, you want to stay in this human life which sometimes can be equated with Hell? (He’s a psychotherapist.) While sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong century, as in centuries too early. One of the things that I wish I could be immortal for, is to witness the (I believe, eventual) exodus of humanity to the stars. Unless of course we burn ourselves out before that.
Since I won’t be around for that eventuality (either the burning or the exploration), I have to be satisfied with Curiosity’s excellent photos of Mars, New Horizons’ amazing journey to Pluto, and Juno’s soon to come smashing close ups of Jupiter. But what about the possible habitable planet circling our nearest star neighbor, Proxima Centauri (Proxima is the third wheel in the trinary star system that includes the binary Alpha Centauri A and B)? (1) Or the possible tens of billions in our galaxy alone! (2) I have always felt, scientific evidence aside (although I think we just haven’t the technology yet), that we are absolutely, definitely not the only life in this Universe, and most definitely not the only sentient beings out there either. And I’m never going to see it, those varied and myriad forms of life out in that vastness. The closest I’ve come on this planet to feeling like I was on Mars (I’m a Marsophile) was riding on a bus in the Sinai peninsula in Egypt, looking so eerily similar to those photos of the fourth planet that I’ve been seeing all my life.
So, would No Man’s Sky, which promised alien landscapes filled with all sorts of lifeforms, alien flora and fauna, fill that unfortunate gaping hole in my oh-so-very-not immortal life? Well, that was the biggest reason I wanted to buy it; to jump from planet to planet, fly my little spaceship over the surface of different alien worlds and just explore to my heart’s content. So, off I go.
Now, if you’ve noticed in my reviews, I don’t do a great deal of relaying or reviewing about gameplay or judging the game as a game from a publisher/developer, and if I do, I’m usually pretty damn lenient. I have a (my husband would say, “terrible”) penchant for watching one to two star apocalyptic, zombie oriented, horror, suspense movies on streaming services. He’ll always ask me what I thought and I’ll say, “Hey, it wasn’t bad!” I’m super lenient towards movies and games. Someone put A LOT OF FUCKING TIME into making these things for our entertainment, so I can usually find something within to give credit to. Be that a failing or not. So the joke is in our household, if I say, “That was okay.”, it’s a pretty bad review. If I say, “Wow, that really was horrible.”, then that’s a review that Satan himself would have had fun writing up. Let’s just say most one to two star things usually get a three star (out of five) from me and the ones that get actual one to two stars from me, well, probably most of humanity would shrivel and die if they had to watch these films. You just don’t get those hours back into your short pittance of a mortal life. In any case, I am going to talk a bit about the game as a game first before getting into my experience of playing it (aside from gameplay).
First off, after opening it up and installing it to our (very seldom used) PS4 (and what the fuck is up with having to install EVERYTHING onto harddrive these days?? There’s no room for all that shit! We have two external drives on our XBone, for Gods’ sake!), I start up the game after the (these days) obligatory “This game needs an update”. Why does it need an update so goddamn soon?? But okay.
You start off on some randomly generated planet and get a few missions to basically give you tutorial on how to explore a planet, mine for resources, repair your ship, fuel up your ship, exosuit and multi-tool, analyze the various flora, fauna and mineral objects around and eventually get flying. Or you can just run around and look at stuff, whatever. The game has kind of a dearth on informing you about different game mechanics. The instruction itself is pretty minimal. You might poke at some round debris near your crash site and get the option to “Follow the path of the Atlas.” What does this mean, you wonder, as you blow up some crystal nearby to obtain plutonium to fuel your spaceship.
And by the way, I initially, being a former therapist myself and currently an environmentalist/ecologist, reacted very strongly to this destruction. Most things you “mouse” over (you still have to put your cursor over different game objects to see what it is), have a “Item / Destroy” with the controller button icon required next to it. I railed to my husband about how we practically encourage this sort of thinking, to just callously be okay with destroying everything in our environment and on and on, and he just snorts in his usual way and says “You’re just reacting to the word.” I pause and think for a moment. True and fair enough. (Although I still think I have a point.)
So, eventually you get up into space, and slowly start learning how to use your pulse engines to move faster to different planets in the system and eventually you get a hyperdrive and learn how to jump out of the system entirely. You start exploring other planets, meeting new lifeforms; the sentient and intelligent kind, even learning words of their languages from “Knowledge Stones” or monoliths scattered across planets. You start learning some background about these different species, which thus far seem to be comprised of the Vorax, the Vy’keen, and the Gek. And you also start to either engage in combat with or just run away from these flying little bots called ‘Sentinels’. And eventually you learn you can free explore, follow a path towards the center of the galaxy, or continue on this path of the Altas. You often find a space ‘anomaly’ in which you can continually make the choice for one of these three throughout your different hyperjumps into the next system, and the next and the next and the next and the next…. maybe you see where I’m going here.
At first, I was all excited. I was on alien planets! I was flying over the surface of different alien landscapes! I was on the mysterious path of the Atlas who seemed to be some big glowing red orb, what did all that mean anyway?! But I wondered what was at the center of the galaxy and should I be following that path because would I not get to see that following the path of the Atlas? Gosh, what did it mean to make that choice, too? Am I missing out on something on the other path? But then I started to see a very repetitive pattern. Jump to system, find space station and either enter there or land on planet (or moon), mine for resources to either refuel your stuff or sell for units (currency) to, well, buy more stuff. Better stuff or stuff to upgrade your stuff. Scan rocks and plants and animals and either just upload or rename and upload to earn more units so you can…. you get the picture. Find various outposts or beacons or abandoned buildings or little research huts or monoliths, or even crashed ships which you can salvage and take for your own (usually as upgrades). You can meet “advanced” lifeforms and solve little problems with them and “increase or decrease your standing with said race”. And then you do it again. And then you start to notice that you saw that same plant structure or rock type or weird animal creature on the previous few planets but with a different color scheme or slightly different shape or with the animals, various different physical structures attached differently but still the same parts. And you also notice that there really isn’t much to do other than explore some not so very vastly different planets, mine and collect shit (although speaking of this, I mean resources, but there’s a funny thing where you can feed an animal and follow it around until it… produces something for you, in which you can find some of the more rare substances needed for upgrades), deal with Sentinels, and look for save points. And then jump to the next system. Maybe you find an Atlas Interface where the Big Glowy Red Orb says something pithy and off you go to the next system.
But after a while, I started to feel like I was playing a beta version of the game. And the game I bought, for $60, was the officially released game I purchased from a game store. But, and having played beta before, I started to wonder if I was being fooled, that the final product was actually just the studio’s huge beta testing effort rather than full release. But I keep playing because it seems that there should be something different, or some answer, right around the corner. Maybe this next planet. Maybe this next planet will be so different, it will make up for all the planets before it. Maybe I will see something so cool, all these jumps and mining will have been worth it. Maybe they’ll fix the bugs the game seems to have, like freezing, like crashing, like being hurled into space from a simple launch when you just wanted to lift off the surface to fly to your next spot… on the same planet. Or being able to engage in space battle with any accuracy. You get “hostile scans” occasionally (okay, more often than I’d like) and then attacked by anywhere from one to a multitude of ships (most I’ve seen thus far is seven) and there just doesn’t seem to be a way to target them and fight back. So thus far, I try to run, land on a nearby planet or space station but often I don’t make it and I have to fly back to my ‘grave’ and collect all my shit again.
Some of the main issues: horrible inventory management, horrible space combat, no way to track or search places you’ve been either on planet or planets you’ve been to, landscapes with flora and fauna seem the same over and over, extremely repetitive nature (which again, I’m not that averse to but still, even I can only take so much).
There have been many articles posted by angry players and gaming sites about how they requested refunds or feel cheated and lied to, from the difference of the trailers to the game itself. And the broad differences of what was described in the game in interviews by the founder of Hello Games studio and what is presented in the final release.
I personally don’t see a huge difference from the trailers themselves, other than thus far, the broad variation of types of ecology presented on these planets in the trailer have not shown up in my play. Yet? I mean, again, will I eventually run across a sandy, desert planet with Dune like sandworms slithering about? So I keep seeking….. But boy, some people got really, really pissed. Here are some rants on Youtube, and other articles, if you’re so inclined. I won’t post the videos, but you can follow the links if you like.
AngryJoeShow – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTTPlqK8AnY
Honest Game Trailers – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wsFhv_Kz38
Pyrocynical – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Wgolc1rRro
Reddit – List of Grievances – http://www.onemanslie.info/the-original-reddit-post
I didn’t really have a lot of investment with the “these features will be in it” prior to release to feel that angry although I can fully get inline with Angry Joe’s review. Although, now that I’ve seen the “ending”, I’m not sure I want to keep going. Although I have seen other posts where players argue that really what they (the developers) meant was the center of the universe, not the galaxy…. whatever the hell that means.
And now we come to it. Why were people so initially confused about this game? The major question seemed to be “What’s the point?” or I might translate to “What does this all mean?” And one answer that seemed to come up for some people was, the concept of meaninglessness. Here you are, a tiny being, floating around in vast space, soaring over planets where surfaces go on forever and ever, where the number of the planets themselves go on and on forever. And in a way, you’re wandering lost. Now, I know you might have the overall goal of “getting to the center of the galaxy!!!!!” or “following the mysterious path of the Atlas!!!!!” But in general, there’s really nothing else to “do”. At least not like in a traditional game where you have levels and points and missions or quests or puzzles or… something.
So…. what’s the point? IS there a point? Or is it just about experiencing something? I found a very large Reddit discussion entitled “Just had an awful NMS experience… And loved it!“, detailing various players’ stories about certain experiences in No Man’s Sky and although arduous, why they loved it. Natch. I can see the points described in these stories, because I’ve had a couple of them myself.
What I do like about the game and a few things that I have experienced that I actually liked:
* It is kind of soothing to fly over these surfaces of different planets and engage in the repetitive nature of game’s mechanics (mining, flying, scanning, whatever). Perhaps the developers were on to something, considering the nature of the human brain.
* I do like hearing about the backstories of the different races through the monoliths. I like “learning” the words you find on Knowledge Stones, although I wish it actually taught you the word itself since you are only just able to translate into your own language. It would have been nice to actual learn it, like Wenja from Far Cry: Primal (thanks, Urki!!). I created languages as a kid, so any chance to learn foreign words, I’m all over that shit.
* Getting to a planet to find my very first dinosaur! A sort of T-Rex looking dude with a weird crest on its head, wandering around making barking noises. “Oh hey!” I shout, “A fucking dinosaur!!” and promptly run right up to it in order to examine said beast and it just about kills me with one bite. Okay, Ix-nay on that motherfucker. I run back to my grave to collect my shit and I laser beam that son of a bitch to death, collect its carbon and use that to refuel my multi-tool to mow down a few more, shouting “Fuck you, Dino T-Rex Thingies!!!” Yeah, some ecologist/environmentalist I am.
* Landing on a planet that lit up gorgeously at night. Most planets seem to have the glowy-glowy plants but this planet seemed to have an abundance of them, along with getting darker at night than any other planet I’d been on. I named that one “Pretty At Night”, of course.
* Mining a huge deposit of some mineral which stretched far down into the ground, I excavate deeply and then accidentally fall into the pit I’ve created. My jet pack cannot get me to the lip of the hole and I have to blow steps into the sides with my grenades, almost running out of fuel for said grenades in the process. I get out to the top with a sigh of relief, as I hadn’t had a save in quite some time.
* Landing on a planet which FINALLY had some different landscaping with these giant stone… tubular structures looping around the surface. I promptly named the planet “Noodles”. It’s the first planet I’ve seen that actually seemed different in terms of structure. Although it seemed to have difficulty rendering until I got quite close to said noodles.
But after this constant piddling about, finally I decide to make a break for it, figuring I’d head straight for the end of the Atlas path, if only to finally be able to finish this entry!! Only to find out after logging in, and not having logged in for a bit, that my Atlas path is gone. Along with my custom waypoint set to my starting planet (which I liked a lot). Just Free explore and the path to the center. I’m all, “What the fuck!” but read that if I can just find an anomaly again, I can ask Nada (the weird Korvax priest dude) to set me back on the Atlas path again. So I do that. I’m about 20 jumps in at this point. I’ve read that it can take around 30 hours with a straight drive towards the center, or possibly an easier path with Atlas. Unless you upgrade your hyperdrive to be able to make longer jumps and skip systems. So… perhaps I should collect the resources to build that. Okay, maybe after I finally get the 48-slot ship… Ugh. Very, very clever, Hello Games, I tip my hat to thee.
So I try a couple of jumps in this new mission but find I can’t help but land on one of the systems’ planets each time. I mean, what if I miss my desert planet with sandworms? I feel vaguely guilty for not landing on these planets but I’m basically not going to get anywhere if I keep stopping (which I know is kinda the point of the game, if it had one, to stop and explore). I will have to stop to collect resources for warp cells to fuel the hyperdrive, but again, am I going to miss something??!! This is the very curious interesting factor of this game. The promise of “something”. And I don’t mean the things they actually “promised” in the final release of the game, but this weird (and psychological) pull towards, “There MUST be something (else) out there!!”. And also as I mentioned before, some of us humans’ propensity towards “get the best” or “collect all that shit” is used perfectly against us.
So okay, I recognize that if I wait until I actually “finish” this game, whatever that means for this particular game, I will never post this entry. If I persist with my foolish quest for the “ending”, maybe I’ll post an update. Maybe I will jam burning bamboo splinters in my eyeballs.
In Short Conclusion
Well, I guess, overall, I’d have to say No Man’s Sky is an “interesting” experience. It seems minimal and very repetitive. Very repetitive. And stuff that you do over and over and over and over… Wait, didn’t I say repetitive already? It appears empty and meaningless and lonely and pointless… Wait, didn’t I say meaningless already? And unfortunately, it feels like if you took all these negatives and were able to have them be positive features (like, you know, actually better), all of this would add up to the fact that it might actually be a really great game. But until then, or Hello Games makes some big reveal about it, it’s unfortunately a bizarre dud.
What did I gain from the game, or think about?
Besides the awesome idea of being able to visit alien worlds (although I may want to wait for some good VR to come out so it’s a bit more varied and immersive), and the somewhat oddly soothing nature of the repetitive gameplay, this game really made me think about the concept of a game itself. What is a game? What do we expect from a “game”, especially these days, with the bar set so high? What was the intention of Hello Games? Was it to actually to build those things they promised or was it some strange subtle fuck you to the players, or a social experiment, or a performance piece? Or was Sean Murray like, “Wow, death threats for setting the time table back, I better get this thing out there as soon as possible!” (And seriously? Death threats? That is ridiculous, even with humans and their attachments, and we can be far better than that as gamers, can’t we? RIGHT?) Whatever the intent, I find myself turning it over and over in my head trying to figure out… SOMETHING.
I am missing something, right? RIGHT?!!!
Played on PlayStation 4.
* And yes, the title comes from Star Trek’s Vulcan concept of IDIC.
“No Man’s Sky cover” – Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –