“Space…the final frontier.” And in a perfect world, the space exploration game No Man’s Sky (PlayStation 4, PC) would’ve been as fun and engaging as watching the crew of the Enterprise boldly go where no one has gone before. But thanks to some fundamental flaws and a lack of variety, No Man’s Sky is instead a dull and annoying voyage.
When No Man’s Sky begins, you find that you’ve crash landed on some unknown alien world. Armed with a scanner and a laser cutting tool that, oddly, looks like a Covenant Type-25 Directed Energy Rifle from Halo, you set off to find the raw materials you need to fix your ship. Once repaired, you take off into space, where you explore other worlds, gathering more supplies you can use to either craft or trade in for gadgets that will improve your ship, which allows you to explore more planets, and so on and so on and so on.
In other words, No Man’s Sky is basically like the original Mass Effect if all you did in that game were the planetary survey missions. Sure, there is an ultimate goal — to get to the galactic core — but with 18 quintillion planets to visit, No Man’s Sky is really a game in which the journey is the destination.
Now, this may make you think I didn’t enjoy No Man’s Sky. And I didn’t. But not because of what it is. Or rather, what it’s trying to be. As a fan of Star Trek, the Mass Effect games, and such hard sci-fi and space opera novels as Iain M. Banks’ Consider Phlebas, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War novels (the latter of which is quoted when you die), I was hoping No Man’s Sky was going to be as fantastic voyage on par with those movies, TV shows, games, and books.
And there are times when you No Man’s Sky is just that. It’s thrilling the first time you come in for a landing on an undiscovered planet. Or when you find something mysterious, like a strange monolith that recalls that Star Trek episode with the space Indians. No, the other one. With 18,000,000,000,000,000,000 worlds to explore, who knows what could be out there?
Unfortunately, No Man’s Sky has fundamental problems that made me want to quit long before I made it to 1 quintillion worlds, let alone 18.
For starters, your walking speed in No Man’s Sky is frustratingly slow, more of a saunter than a jog. Which is a real problem since everything is so spread out. And while you can run, you’re clearly out-of-shape because, after a few seconds, you run out of stamina. Which is not just annoying, but can also put you at undue risk during those rare moments of combat.
Your spaceship in No Man’s Sky has similar speed issues, but only because planets are so far apart. While your hyperdrive can get you from one planetary system to another, once there, it can take a while get from one planet to another, even at top speed.
Even just navigating can be annoying. While there is a galactic map in No Man’s Sky, there isn’t one for individual solar systems or planets, not is there any way of marking points of interest. Instead, there are icons that float in your field of vision, but they’re inexact until you get near your objective, and don’t indicate whether something is on the surface of a planet or below it. It also tells you how long it will take you to get there your current speed, but this ends up being more annoying than informative when you’re constantly reminded you’ll have to walk twenty minutes to the corner store.
It’s also one of those games where you’re tasked with finding lots of raw materials, but even after you upgrade them, you still only have a small backpack and ship with a tiny trunk, so you end up having to run back to the stores all the time to sell stuff off. Which, as I’ve mentioned, takes forever.
The checkpoint system is also frustrating. Despite indications to the contrary, the game did not save me at a beacon, but instead brought me back at my ship. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, had I not spent the last twenty minutes running around, looking for plutonium to fuel said ship.
Of course, once you notice the big flaws in No Man’s Sky, you begin to notice the small, inconsequential ones, the kind that won’t annoy everyone, and are easy to get used to, but still should’ve been avoided. Like how the the button layouts are inconsistent, and have you using the right trigger to shoot and the “X” button to boost your jetpack when you’re on the ground, but “X” to shoot and the right trigger to go when you’re in space. Or like how the PlayStation 4 version has you navigating the menus with the left thumbstick like it’s a mouse, which works as badly here as it did in Destiny.
It’s also one of those games where the HUD fades out after a few seconds, and there’s no option of keep it on, even though it contains some very helpful information you need to know at all times. You also have a flashlight that isn’t that bright, and the same can be said for your suit’s internal monitoring system, which seems to think you should panic when your life support or radiation protection falls below 75%.
No Man’s Sky also has a problem so prevalent in video games these days that I now just cut and paste this paragraph into every relevant review: some of the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading some of the menus, how far you have to walk, and other text in the game.
But the biggest problem with No Man’s Sky is that it becomes redundant after a couple hours. While there are interesting things to find as you wander around — such as the space Indian pylon I mentioned earlier — and they clearly play into some bigger mysteries about the universe, those kind of finds are few and far between. Instead, you spend most of your time just going from planet to planet, scrounging around for supplies, and occasionally shooting at or chatting with some of the locals. And that’s all you do. Because you can’t carry much, especially at the beginning, and because it takes forever to get anywhere, you spend more time walking and flying than you do actually doing things.
Which is why, after only a few days of planet hopping, I started to get bored, and eventually abandoned my five-year-mission mission. Sure, there were moments that broke up the monotony, just not enough of them to make me want to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I knew No Man’s Sky wasn’t going to be an action-packed adventure like Star Trek or the Mass Effect games or any of those great books I mentioned. But when I signed on to boldly go where no one had gone before, I hoped I’d be do more than just collecting rocks when I got there.