What is No Man’s Sky?
Those who are unaware of the game would have certainly noticed the colossal amount of hatred, salt and disappointment borne from it after it’s release, but what is No Man’s Sky? 3 years after its announcement, the question continued to plague my mind even as I played the game itself.
For starters, No Man’s Sky seeks to offer us the thrills of discovery. Of interstellar exploration as a lone explorer in a dizzyingly massive galaxy — one filled with uncharted planets, entire civilization, weird animals and cool spaceships, with the sole objective (should you choose to accept it) being to reach the galactic center and unravel its secrets.
Waking up in a dreary, toxic and frozen planet, I hurried to repair my spaceship, desperate to leave this wasteland. After a half hour of getting used to the controls and scavenging for materials, my ship was ready. I gasped audibly in relief as the ship’s hatch closed around me, replenishing my suit’s life support systems and turning the roaring blizzard and toxic winds into a gentle, muffled hum. Effortlessly, my ship launched into the air, and instinctually I steered it upwards, towards outer space.
Without hesitation I hit the boost, cutting across the atmosphere and muttering hateful goodbyes to this piss hole of a planet. The sky turned red, and all around me were the muffled rattling and howling of my ship escaping the pull of this miserable planet.
Then, sky unraveled. And there I was, chest pounding, completely captivated by gargantuan planets and a massive space station that beckons me.
A slow, hopeful piano tune echoed in my cockpit, and I flied towards the space station.
After several hours of trekking across the diversely gorgeous planets in my solar system, soaking in vivid colours and awesome sceneries, I built my first warp drive and warped eagerly to the next star system — one step closer to the galactic core.
But that’s about it. Upon reaching just the second star system, the astonishment had mostly fizzled out, and it became glaringly obvious that No Man’s Sky is a confused game that bites off way more than it could chew.
First off, the controls and movement are sluggish and awkward, with the fastest (and best) way to travel on foot being a bug that involves pressing jump right after a melee attack.
The fact that shields and most gun functions can only be recharged through the menu is a massive red flag on its own.
Next, the atrocious combat. Touted as one of the 3 pillars of the game (the other two being exploration and survival), the combat in this game basically boils down to shooting at your braindead opponents until either one of you dies. Space dogfights pit you against a handful of ships (instead of massive fleets shown in pre-release footages), all of which bearing the same weaponry and durability. Combat just doesn’t feel right at all, let alone satisfying.
Now, these technical issues wouldn’t have been such a pain if the experience of the game itself was as incredible as it seemed in pre-release footages, or at the very least remained as astonishing as the first few hours of the game.
But it isn’t.
No Man’s Sky promises to create unforgettable moments of discovery in which we explore planets untouched by civilisation, but the game litters alien outposts and space stations everywhere. It’s tough to feel like a lone traveller in an even lonelier space when every single planet I’ve visited have been colonised.
It yearns to create experiences that are unique to each player, but has so few visual assets and elements that every outpost, alien, flora and fauna look identical. The wonderful, diverse architecture and massive crashed freighters are nowhere to be seen in the game (despite being used repeatedly in promotional material), and don’t get me started with the horrible, HORRIBLE pop-ins that constantly reminded me that I was playing a game.
It aspires to be a relaxing yet thought-provoking game, but features a thoroughly boring crafting system, a tedious inventory management system and an economy that encourages grinding and inventory managing.
Among all its shortcomings, the most frustrating aspect of No Man’s Sky for me lies in is its user interface (UI).
Ah the menu, a cursor-guided menu so unintuitive and awkward that it worsens the already unpleasant resource gathering experience. No Man’s Sky’s UI is completely devoid of the finesse and elegance boasted by its source of inspiration — Destiny.
And unfortunately, the crafting and economy aspects of the game takes place almost entirely in the menus, with the constant pause to switch between gameplay and menu overriding any sense of thrill and joy I had from exploring the unknown. For example, in any conversation with NPCs, it takes about 15 seconds for everything to fade in letter by letter without any way to skip it.
Another example is how the game celebrates the milestones of your journey by cramming in a letterbox and dimming the screen without pausing the game, leaving you completely defenseless as there’s no way to skip or fast forward, and you can’t interact with objects during this 15-second notification.
These cluelessly dated and self-indulgent design choices really show how No Man’s Sky is a game that refuses to decide between realism and fantasy. Instead it lingers awkwardly in the middle.
Which is such a pity, because the art direction and music in this game is simply phenomenal — one of the best I’ve ever experienced, really. Particularly the vivid colours and especially the designs of the monoliths, space stations and Atlas Interfaces. Looking up to the sky to behold gargantuan planets and nebulas, cutting through the atmosphere into outer space, cruising across the system in warp speed to the tune of an endearing and soothing soundtrack, are all moments that I will cherish dearly.
But it’s just not enough to justify the RM209 (or RM329 if you bought the Limited Edition like I did) price tag. Not at all. And that’s not even taking into consideration the supposedly missing features and elements that were shown in pre-release footages.
No Man’s Sky brilliantly succeeds at inspiring awe, stirring the wanderlust within us, and creating vistas that are just so unforgettably beautiful; but fails spectacularly at actually being a game.
This game is reviewed on PS4.