The monitors on my cockpit dashboard flicker dimly as I slowly move through space, I see a planet in my sight and activate my pulse engines to enter its atmosphere. As I land on the planet, my sensors blare that the planet is highly radioactive; having landed near a coast, I take a dive into the ocean. It is even more radioactive than on the surface. I explore as much as I can on such an unhealthy planet, then head back to my ship to move on. I look up, and see three planets on the horizon of this planet. Three planets much larger than the one I’m standing on. That’s when I knew that No Man’s Sky was meant to be.
No Man’s Sky is a procedurally generated space-exploration adventure title. You are known as a Traveller, and your goal is to reach a star in the center of the universe. To do this, you must improve your ship, exosuit, and Multi-Tool to make your journey just a little easier, but only just. See, there are apparently 18 quintillion planets to explore, so your journey could take a long while.
You start by awaking on an unknown planet. Your Multi-Tool and starship are a little worse for wear, and you must repair everything to work once again. Your Multi-Tool is both a mining laser and offensive weapon, and for the majority of your playtime, you’ll be using the mining laser. As you explore whatever planet you land on, you’ll find various resources like Plutonium, Carbon, Iron, and so on. You use these to upgrade equipment and craft items that will aid you; improve your mining laser’s speed or reduce its time to overheat, or improve your suit’s life support systems.
This applies to everything, but you’ll need to discover blueprints to upgrade these systems first. This requires exploring the planets you land upon. You can discover outposts, trading depots, abandoned factories, even ancient ruins. These usually contain blueprints, better equipment, and the occasional alien species. When you talk to these aliens, they will speak to you in an unknown language; this is another thing you must discover; ruins, monoliths, or “Knowledge Stones,” contain single words of the various species you’ll meet. As you learn new words, you’ll start to feel like a translator, trying to understand the context of the conversation you’re having simply with fragments of a sentence and words in specific places. Eventually, you’ll know entire sentences, and that feels amazing.
All of No Man’s Sky is themed around “discovery.” You discover galaxies, planets, landmarks, even flora and fauna. All of these discoveries give you small amounts of Units, the game’s universal currency. (Get it? Units? Universal?) That said, due to the procedural generation, you’ll probably find both beautiful alien fauna, and monstrosities that shouldn’t have happened. Regardless, finding all of the animal species will grant a large Unit reward (based on how many species there are). You can use these Units to buy Exosuit upgrades, items and resources at a Trade Station, or even trade starships with a friendly alien. Doing this is another big thing about No Man’s Sky; the trade economy. Specific resources are worth much more in other galaxies than they are in the galaxy you’re in. This is a big deal, since eventually, you’re going to want a ship with a much larger cargo size.
Occasionally, you’ll also have to defend your cargo from hostile ships, which means you’ll enter a dogfight against a group of enemies. This is where combat shines. Where ground combat is consistently about making sure you can defeat an enemy in time, space combat is all about situational awareness. You’ll constantly be looking around your cockpit, searching for your enemies. Doing maneuvers and leading your shots to make sure you can take them out before they retaliate. Thankfully, death is only an obstacle you can easily overcome; you get a nice quote ala Call of Duty 4, then respawn next to your ship. You can go retrieve your dropped inventory with ease.
After repairing your ship and tool, you can leave your first planet and enter deep space. Look around, take in the sights, turn back and see just how big the planet is that you were on. Turn around again, and look for another planet. You can explore the entirety of that planet if you so wish; and that’s the extent of this game. It’s an adventure with a single destination that you can reach whenever you want. You can upgrade and improve as much as you want, or you can make a beeline to the objective. I want to explore every planet I find, and that’s my accord to take.
I’ve discovered nine galaxies and over thirty planets. After getting Antimatter and building Fuel Cells, you can use your Warp Drive to go to any galaxy you want. Any star you see in the Starmap is somewhere you can go. A scary thought when you realize that those planets you were exploring are such a small blip in a gigantic universe.
I’ve found monstrosities and fought Sentinels, the “protectors” that you occasionally encounter on most planets. I’ve seen things that I could explain as a story, something I’m insanely tempted to do, but for the sake of brevity, I’m sticking to the review. I want to say so much, but I’m just glad that I have dozens of pictures to share. No Man’s Sky was beyond what I expected, and I knew more or less what to expect: My adventure, my odyssey.
In terms of the game’s performance, it runs at 60 FPS, and keeps it pretty well. The render distance is a bit wonky, but when you’re near foliage and various objects, the graphics are excellent. The art style is also very consistent, maintaining a minimalist style while also having a very vibrant color range. The design is based on 60’s and 70’s sci-fi; blocky, retro-modern, and simple. The game doesn’t seem to take note from most popular sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, but it keeps a familiarity that would make most sci-fi fans comfortable. That said, the game does like to crash, and this isn’t including the apparent issues on PC. As of this review, I’ve crashed maybe a dozen times; thankfully, the PS4 accounts for it and prevents a hard crash.
The sound design overall is excellent. The dynamic soundtrack composed by 65daysofstatic is very good, and has a very assuring atmospheric tone. Activating your pulse drives and launching heightens the tones, while exploring on foot brings a gentle yet mysterious rhythm. The sounds of animals are randomly generated, too. Everything in general is beautifully done; on a planet with rain, being in your ship’s cockpit will leave you with quiet taps of raindrops on your windows. The loud drone of a windstorm muffles out the sounds around you, and the silence of being underwater is unnerving while mystical due to the soundtrack.