ANTISUN GREY Presents | A Brian Franklin Review
1To the Sky, On

When I saw the E3 video for this game I immediately decided that I didn’t want to see anything else from Hello Games besides a release date. I read bits and pieces of what the game was actually about, but mostly it remained a mystery. Exploration was touted as the main attraction. Seamless planet to space travel. A laid-back, 70s sci-fi aesthetic. All things I love.

In the couple weeks leading up the release I let myself finally be hyped about the game. I love hype, I love when people try to get me excited about something and I love letting my imagination run wild. I play on PC, so I watched news pour in from folks playing on the PS4. Even through the haze of many people’s apparent disappointment and confusion and deflated hopes, I was no less excited.

Then No Man’s Sky released for PC.

I got my copy via GOG, installed it, and was off. Drifting through the stars and then finding myself crash-landed on an alien planet with nighttime temperatures just about -40 degrees Celsius. It was beautiful.

Being I went into the game absolutely blind, it was fun learning how to do things. There was a sense of wonder that I rarely feel in games. The only ones I can think of right now that did that were Exile: Escape from the Pit, Albion, Myst III: Exile, Skyrim and Fallout 3.

I did a great amount of walking on that first planet. Just looking at flora and fauna, analysing things, occasionally mining elements and hiding from pissed off Sentinels.

In the background rock formations like snakes slipping through the air and land. The ground touched by frost below yellow-leaved trees.

Screencapping the sunset and sunrise and the distant planets hanging like clouded eyes in the night sky.

Blasting off from that world was wondrous, as was descending into another atmosphere. I felt like an intrepid space explorer. Alone on a mission barely understood even by myself. Cataloguing the galaxy. Moving towards the centre to some unknown end. Could I be a robot? As synthetic as the ship I’m in? A scion of a greater power pushing me to unforeseen ends? This game is so open, the narrative so light, that one can fill in all the blanks if one cares to.

I must admit I generally do not play games to beat / win / read-over them. I know that sounds weird. But years ago before I had access to the internet I had very few games to play. I loved that I could return to their worlds again and again and still not see everything. That they’d still be there. I would play a game for an hour, or even twenty minutes, in an attempt to not get to the end.

It’s why I’ve been attracted to open worlds, and RPGs rich in lore. It’s been five years and I still don’t know how Skyrim ends. So No Man’s Sky works for me in this – I can’t ever see everything, go everywhere. There’s always something to come back to, make my own stories.

I had no issues at launch with the Day One patch installed, playing on Windows 10 with a GTX 970, i5 4670k and 8GB RAM. I did almost get carpal tunnel playing with keyboard and mouse, though! I’ve found using a gamepad to be a much more comfortable experience when exploring, with switching to the mouse when things get hairy or you need finer control, as in combat. This game handles this switching like a champ.

For example, I was in my second solar system heading to a planet that was about 2 minutes away on pulse engines. I got a message that hostile ships were inbound, and then suddenly I was out of pulse and facing four pirates who then began to blast the shit out of me.

At first I couldn’t make heads or tails about where the fuck they were coming from but I wised up real fast when my shields went offline. Luckily, I read somewhere that iron and zinc recharges shields, and even luckier I had a shitload of the stuff in my cargo bay.

So there I am with a gamepad labouring to recharge my shield and spinning myself in bloody circles before I grabbed my trusty keyboard and mouse and took the fight to the pirates. They didn’t last too long after that, and I came away pumping my fists and shouting obscenities at their exploding husks.

Storywise, I think a more Dark Souls-y approach would’ve been great.

Mechanically, I’ve found the core of the game to be sound. Land your ship, explore (learn bits of alien language, trade, investigate ruins and distress calls), catalogue wildlife and flora, refuel and head out. Storywise, I think a more Dark Souls-y approach would’ve been great. Building the lore into the worlds (or solar systems) that tell a story.

Some of that is already there, what with the ruins and their tantalising views of the alien cultures you meet, and I think with further updates this can and should be fleshed out.

It’ll also help bring out the themes in the game. Right now the themes of loneliness (you are the only one of your kind in this galaxy), anti-violence (Sentries attack you when mining, or even attempt to blast through a locked door) and a capitalistic fuelled environmentalism (cataloguing flora and fauna and getting paid for it… but by whom?) thread through the experience. An interesting mix.

While I love the look of the game, and the PC specific options were nice to see, I would love for the game to make more use of my hardware.

The grass draw distances could extend out towards the limit of visibility, and the fading-in of landscape features could also be more distant.

I’m not sure if these are artefacts of limitations imposed by the PS4, but I hope this can be addressed in the future.

That said, the planet generation algorithm is nothing short of impressive. I’ve not been to a planet that was the carbon copy of another one yet. However, as I love emergent gameplay and interlocking systems in games, I would have liked to see more interaction between the fauna and flora. I know some of the animals “eat” via “absorbing nutrients” and other non-traditional ways of getting their fill, but I would’ve liked to see this taking place.

Many animals just seem to exist.

I hope that in the future some manner of ecosystem based on the planet can be added, though that is a real tall order! One game Hello Games can take inspiration from here is Rainworld (I backed this one on Kickstarter, check it out!). Though Rainworld isn’t procedurally generated, its creatures have behaviours and animations that react to their world most impressively.

Seeing something like that on the scale of No Man’s Sky would be breath-taking, and provide more incentive to just explore the world and watch alien nature just work.

Musically, 60 Days of Static nailed it. Although the music is generated from “soundscapes” whilst in-game, all of the tracks on the official soundtrack are fantastic on their own, with standouts such as Heliosphere, Contrastellar, Red Parallax and Supermoon (great fucking track names, btw). Every piece adds to the sci-fi, space-exploration atmosphere. It’s one of my favourite game albums of the year.

It seems that the game can be modded, which is awesome. It is early days yet, so I’ll be watching how the community develops around the game in this respect. Fallout 3, New Vegas and Skyrim modding kept those games very fresh for years and hopefully that turns out the case for No Man’s Sky.

It would be very interesting to see what all of the talented modders in the PC community can do in such a vast sandbox. I hope the developers can embrace this scene.

No Man’s Sky met and exceeded my expectations and I’m having great fun with it. And with some further refinement and love from the developers I believe it can become a great platform for emergent gameplay.

FOLLOW antisunGREY!

antisunGREY v1.0 | © Copyright 2015, Brian Franklin. All rights reserved.