As I sit here gazing wide-eyed at No Man’s Sky’s impossibly vast galactic overview, resplendent with more stars than I can comprehend, I can’t help but draw distinct similarities between it and the game as a whole. Radiant points of awe-inspiring light dot the cosmos, instilling feelings of profound amazement, yet between them looms a soul-sucking darkness utterly devoid of inspiration. There are moments in No Man’s Sky where you can’t help but feel like it’s the greatest game in the entire universe, yet they are but fleeting flickers of jubilation surrounded by a darkened sea of mundanity and poor gameplay design.
The core selling point of No Man’s Sky is undoubtedly its unfathomable scale. With 18 quintillion planets available to explore, it is almost impossible to truly comprehend the magnitude of Hello Games’ universe. You could spend your every waking moment exploring this infinite cosmos and only see but a minuscule portion of its entirety. The feeling of grandeur is almost mesmerising, and Hello Games should be applauded for pulling off a feat of such technical brilliance.
Yet while it’s unquestionably enthralling to simply regard the sheer scale of No Man’s Sky, exploring this immeasurable galactic playground is even more so. Touching down on a brand new planet teeming with alien life and untold possibilities is one of the most spectacular and memorable experiences I have ever seen in a game. While not the most visually impressive game, No Man’s Sky’s colour pallet is a thing of simplistic elegance, with warm oranges and vivid blues combining together to create some utterly spellbinding vistas. It is a living watercolour of galactic proportions. Unfortunately, that feeling of amazement soon wears off as you peek under the shimmering canvas to discover a hollow and lifeless core.
By the time you reach your fourth or fifth star system, the illusion of discovery starts to dissipate. Touching down on a brand new planet, you’ll soon realise that it essentially looks near-identical to the last twenty you visited. The plants are but a pallet-swap of those you meticulously scanned light-years away in an entirely different system, the animals but a slight variation of the beasts you spent hours hunting on the last planet you visited. You’ll explore the same outposts, meet the same aliens and do the same things you have done countless times before. The sense of immersion is shattered once you uncover the truth, and you’ll never be able to escape the immense feeling of disappointment that comes from discovering the harsh reality. It leaves No Man’s Sky feeling like a predictable and artificial façade, one that is devoid of almost all of the wonder and amazement that you’d expect when sailing through the countless stars of an undiscovered galaxy.
This issue is only accentuated by the painfully slow movement. As an intrepid spacefaring pioneer, I was expecting to be able to leap and bound my way across the game’s alien landscapes like a Red Bull loving Luke Skywalker, but instead I found myself crawling around like Jabba the Hut. It makes getting anywhere an excruciating experience, and only serves to give you more time to witness the aforementioned sense of overwhelming repetitiveness of the planets. The added jetpack does little to improve the situation – due to the pipet-sized fuel tank – further destroying the fantasy that I’m a swashbuckling space adventurer.
As does, I’m afraid, the immediate moment-to-moment gameplay. In order to keep your planet-hopping escapades in full swing, you’ll need to meticulously comb every star system in a quest to harvest the necessary resources to keep your ship in tiptop condition. This basically constitutes in you pointing and shooting your mining laser at various, suspiciously phallic-shaped rock formations. There is nothing inherently wrong with the system, and during the opening moments of No Man’s Sky, where you are frantically trying to duct tape your ship back together, the experience is ultimately a rewarding one as you take your first small steps into a universe of opportunity. However, like the art of exploration itself, the initial feeling of excitement drains away to leave behind only the dregs of bored disappointment. You never feel like you are actually accomplishing anything, and while there are a plethora of potential upgrades to craft using your collected resources, the majority of them do little to change or affect the overall experience. The only tangibly useful upgrades come in the form of expanding your inventory, something which is inherently important due to the utterly minuscule amount of space you are given at the beginning of the game. Yet, like the rest of the improvements of offer, the purpose of these developments is negligible at best.
It all stems from the fact that the world of No Man’s Sky is soulless and, surprisingly, empty. While such a declaration might seem unfounded given the overabundance of alien life emanating from all over the universe, your lack of overall affect upon the world means that you never feel truly a part of it. Yes, you can make minuscule changes to the landscape, kill hordes of native creatures, learn alien languages and even name everything you lay your weary eyes upon, but in reality you are merely a powerless spectator languidly meandering your way towards the exit. Minecraft is brilliant due to the fact you have a palpable impact upon the world around you, shaping it to your whims in order to carve out your own little piece of digital Eden. No Man’s Sky fails to grant you anything remotely close to the feeling of gratification and investment that Minecraft achieves; it’s as if the game’s universe is no man’s to conquer…or even live in.
No Man’s Sky is a remarkable technical achievement that could potentially revolutionise the landscape of videogames for many years to come, yet it entirely fails to create a game that is anything more than a brief distraction. Intense repetition, a sense of uncanny similarity and an overall lack of immersion and worldly impact prevent No Man’s Sky from being the world-changing supernova everyone was expecting it to be.