No man’s sky (Hello Games, 2016)

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No man’s sky, developed by Hello Games and distributed by Sony Interactive (2016, PS4).

Score: we’ve all been scammed.

I had already sort of decided to not buy any more games in pre-sale a few weeks before No man’s sky was released but it turns out I had reserved it months ago, so not wanting to lose the deposit money and being a bit overly optimistic, I decided to buy it anyway. The collector’s edition. It came with a T-shirt.

The game dumps you on a random planet with a broken spaceship and tells you to gather materials to mend it. The tutorial is fairly non-invasive, which I liked a lot. It’s not one of those tutorials with an annoying mascot that goes: “Walk up to this rock and press A! Very good!! Now do the same with other twenty rocks!” It just lets you figure out stuff and if you die, well, too bad. (Spoiler alert: I’ve played five or six hours and I haven’t died once.) Once you’ve fixed your spaceship, you can take off and go to a different planet within the same system. There is an excuse for a questline involving getting a better engine so you can travel to other systems, which basically involves speaking to an alien janitor and getting a blueprint from them.

The only guide for stuff to do are milestones. Milestones cue you to walk around for as many clicks as possible, interact with aliens, learn alien words, hoard money, destroy other ships, destroy sentinels, survive in extreme conditions, visit different star systems, and discover every single species on a planet. So off I went. I really like playing the hoarder and the scrap merchant. Every game that I play that allows it, I pick up every piece of rubbish I find lying about, craft other items with it, sell it, trade it, enchant it, make potions with it, you name it. So I started scanning everything and picking up all the materials I could. It was fun, on the first planet. The PC walks really slow. But I didn’t mind because that means it’s realistic! Why would a space merchant be able to trot around for half an hour straight? I found a cave and got lost in it. It was really huge and contained a lot of minerals and animals I could scan, but after half an hour I realized there was no way I could find the way out. The game doesn’t have custom waypoints that I’m aware of and it doesn’t lead you out of caves or anywhere else. Waypoints are stationary and if there is a rock wall between you and your goal that’s too bad.

So I reloaded a previous checkpoint and promised I would be more careful with caves next time. I was kind of tired of this planet and my pockets were full, so I took off. The instructions for piloting the spaceship are meager, so I found myself failing and running out of fuel until I figured it out. It tells you to point to the sky and go. I assumed the process was at least semi-automatic, so I guessed the ship stopped tilting when it reached ninety degrees, but it turns out it doesn’t so I did a beautiful three-sixty and almost crashed my sorry ass on the ground. I managed to get out on orbit and my long-distance engine turned off when I ran out of fuel. So I was stuck with my short-distance engine, which is extremely difficult to tame, I assumed because of inertia and momentum. I wanted to go to a space station but was unable to because I kept falling to the bigger bodies that were around. I liked this realistic physics quirk until I figured out that if you turn off every engine you become stationary and then can aim for the body where you want to go, which means you also save a lot of fuel. Yes, you read it right. You can be stationary. In space.

For a game that bothers so much with being realistic in some points, it gets very silly in others. Your exosuit and spaceship have limited slots for carrying objects. The problem is that one tiny pearl takes up one slot, the same slot that can be filled with 250 kg of gold. No, you can’t stack pearls, I tried. I chose another planet and went down. Many of the specimens were exactly the same. I thought to myself that must be because this system is colonized by aliens, so it’s only natural that they brought species from their home planet and that’s why they’re here. You can also discover landmarks, which involves walking up to a beacon and powering it on. But if there’s a beacon here, someone must have put it there, right? How can I discover a place where someone else already laid a beacon? I found knowledge stones, which teach you alien words. One by one. Thank goodness it looks like the PC is very good at playing charades. Later I found alien beacons, which are like the most disappointing things ever. You get this flavour text where it explains that this beacon was placed by aliens to contact other species and you get immersed in their culture and history and when it’s done it says: “You learnt these aliens’ word for ‘parallelepiped’”. Thanks, that will be really helpful when I go up to the space station and try to barter with the alien there.

You can’t call your spaceship to where you are. You either walk back to it or use it to go half a kilometre from where you already were, which involves using up a quarter of your maximum fuel reserve just to take off. If you decide to walk, there is a very handy chronometer that tells you how many minutes of your life you’re wasting. Scanning specimens is also very annoying, because it doesn’t tell you how many there are. It just says something like “Flora: bountiful”, or “Fauna: nonexistent” when you land on the planet. These planets don’t look like they have different ecosystems at all so I’m assuming if you linger in a particular area long enough you’ll be able to scan everything. I wouldn’t know because the only scanning milestone I have I got by speaking to the alien janitor on a planet where there was absolutely nothing. Who sets up a post in a planet with no food or water? Seriously. Also, since it’s already clear that multiplayer experience is nonexistent, why do I have to manually upload my discoveries? The only thing that does is giving you money, so why would I not want to do that?

Once I had a jump drive I packed my shit and flew to a different system. Landed on a planet and that’s when I was convinced I had been cheated of my money. It looked exactly the same. The same marshmallow-looking plants. The same skittering creatures. The same minerals over and over. They just had spots on them or were a tad greener. The floating stones, for goodness’ sake. I don’t know if they added them because they looked cool or because the game went like “oh, I procedurally generated an ore of bronze in midair, how awkward”. I didn’t have to endure any bugs or crashes, thankfully, but there are plenty of videos of people who have.

There is no combat. Some animals might attack you, but the weapon you have is no fun at all. It takes ages to reload and it’s hard as damn to aim. There are no incentives to hunting, other than alerting the drones so you can destroy those too and get a trophy. No space pirates, bandits or scavengers. Damn, there’s more competition when you go pick up mushrooms in the countryside. And the mining laser overheats all the time–ohgodwhydoesitdothat?? So I have to spend longer mining this bloody boulder?

I haven’t played anymore. The game is there on my shelf giving me the puppy eyes. I don’t want to play it. Even if it weren’t the greatest thing since came bread came sliced I would play it a few more hours. But I don’t feel like it at all, I feel cheated of my time but more importantly of my money. It was a good idea, but sacrificing fun and playability to a quirky concept is not. Exploration as the main theme, great, but give it a 20-hour story mode or something, even if it’s not the main attraction. Give me more storage capacity if I’m supposed to be mining for resources and then trading them. Give me a reason to hunt, something to run away from, give me weapons, give me something to do other than shoot at rocks and scan the same small dinosaur over and over. Maybe it’s best to have a scripted universe where interesting things happen, or have a procedurally generated one that’s smaller and has more variety. I don’t know, there are many things that could have been done better.

It’s a game literally made by fifteen people (no, I’m not making that up) that’s been bloated to the size of a AAA and hyped shamelessly. Sean Murray, the Managing Director, had the nerve to stroll around the media telling lies about what the game would do. We were told you could do whatever you wanted with it, that you could potentially play with other people, that all the planets would be different and you could never explore them all. Where’s the becoming a galactic hunter? Where’s the becoming a bandit? Where’s the becoming a polyglot? Where’s the becoming a treasure hunter or miner? Where’s the fun?

It’s really sad that this is not an isolated incident. Developers and distributors are getting into a very nasty habit of lying about the games they are making and buying off professional media so people will buy whatever crap they’ve made. The game doesn’t have to be good. They just have to hype you enough so you will cough up the money before it’s too late. And if we keep buying into their crap, there are not going to be any consequences. Hello Games and Sony have my money and there is no way in the world they’re going to give it up. From now on, I’m not going to make reservations for any more games, I’m going to check out user and independent reviews and I’m going to let early buyers take one for the team. I’m not going to be the early buyer anymore, I’m tired of being made fun of. Scammed, more like.

Being positive, I now have a T-shirt I can wear to Silly T-shirt Day in my office.

Resources:

New disappointment discovered: No Man’s Sky by CrowbCat on Youtube.

El timo de No Man’s Sky by JinoGamerHC on Youtube. (Spanish)

Where’s the NMS we were sold on?, original Reddit post recovered in onemanslie.info.

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