Thursday, May 3, 2018

No Man's Sky: A Review in 2018

"Where is all the water?"

A chilling statement by itself. This is what I repeated constantly as I traveled a lush, desolate planet.

But let's start at the beginning. I heard about No Man's Sky, the controversy, and the fact that Hello Games has supported the game with free post-launch updates. By the sounds of it, the updates were pretty good. The Humble Bundle store had the game on sale. So nearly two years after launch, I bought the game.

I like to play games. All kinds of games. Artsy-fartsy kinds that are more "experiences" then pure gameplay. With all that you know, you should think I'm the perfect candidate for No Man's Sky.

And you might be right.

The difficulty "mode" I chose was Survival. Sure, I tried Normal, but that was too easy. I was practically put to sleep after fifteen minutes. Survival had less resources, more aggressive enemies, and let's be honest, it's more fun to struggle for survival than have everything presented on a platter.

I started my life on an Ice planet. Twice. The first time I constantly died, because the cold was slowly killing me, and my life support was slowly killing me. I didn't know moving reduced my life support. I didn't know that I needed a supply of carbon for my multi-tool, or carbon for repairs, or iron for repairs, or carbon to resupply my multi-tool after mining for iron, or more carbon.

In Survival, your spaceship is about ten minutes away. In an environment that constantly drains you, and moving drains you, and running drains you faster. And hopefully the planet put the supplies you need to do the intro "missions" within a reasonable distance. I constantly ran from cave to cave to wait until I was warm enough to go outside and gather more resources. And then gather resources to replenish my recent gathering. Exciting.

Do you know what happens when you restart a new game? That entire intro "cinematic" is completely unskippable. You have to wait for the slow pan down from the sky, to the slow pan across the ground, for the slow widescreen bars to consume your POV, to the slow text that tells you that, yes, you are on a planet and probably fucked.

So I restarted a new file, and thankfully, was put near better resources. Everything you just read I did again. A grueling two hours later, I had a base and spaceship. Not bad. Mastery over the game mechanics was leading to a better life.

Do you know what a better life feels like? Warmer. So I set out on my space ship for a planet that most closely resembled the Bahamas.

I was just in luck. I scanned around and found a planet labeled "tropical". Yes, please! Beach planet, here I come! With all my might and fury, I held down the B button and went straight there. After eighteen minutes, I arrived on my new home planet.

The window of my ship burned red with entry. My ship searched around for a clear landing zone to get a lay of the land. Touch down. I thought, this is it! Finally, I only have to worry about my life support. This is easy street where I can build the base I want, and explore an entire planet to my liking.

And then I got a migraine.

After some rest, I returned to my search of the planet, where I made a startling discovery. No plutonium.

See, here is what I heard and came to understand about No Man's Sky. The player has access to all these planets and all these opportunities, but there is a base "idea" for the game. Planets must have resources for the player to play. Carbon, iron, zinc, and most certainly, plutonium. Plutonium is used to power your ship. If the ship wants to get off the ground, it uses plutonium to do it. If you call your ship, it uses plutonium. And a lot of it.

Yes, my Planet Bahama had plutonium, but trace, and I do mean, trace amounts. I had plenty of Thamium, which meant my life support continues indefinitely. Also plenty of carbon, and iron, and zinc. But no plutonium.

I was left stranded on a planet. "But No Man's Sky is an experience..."

I traveled for literal hours. On the surface, no plutonium. Then I thought, "Maybe the plutonium is below ground!" Eureka! That makes perfect sense for a procedurally generated game. After thirty minutes of crawling in the darkness, I find some plutonium crystals. I quickly hit them with my multi-tool, and was told I had no space in my inventory. That meant the plutonium simply vanished into the ether.

I also died in those tunnels because I couldn't find a way above ground.

A swift return to a previous save state, and I begin traveling again.

You know what, this planet is meant to be tropical, but I haven't seen water anywhere. Listen, I'm from south Florida. I love the weather. Ice planets, lava planets, you can keep them. Let's get some mojitos out here and we can explore to our heart's desire.

All this green, but no water. How in the world can there be no water sources at all? What are all these animals surviving off of? How are these plants growing? I've been traveling for several in-game days, but no rain.

These were the thoughts I was left with. In early reviews I read, No Man's Sky was said to be a game that, "You can be alone with your thoughts in." Truth be told, the only thoughts you'll be left with are boredom. It's about as fun as sitting in your dentist's waiting room.

If you want to know what Hell looks like, imagine an existence where you can never die due to exertion, but the thing you need to live, to really live, is never around. And when you do find it, it slips between your fingers. That sums up No Man's Sky pretty well.

The ultimate lesson No Man's Sky taught me, after hours fruitlessly traveling across the surface of two planets, is that I should turn off my video games and go outside. Throwing a Frisbee by myself is a more engaging way to spend a few hours. At least I'll get a tan and some exercise.

"But what about the experience?" No Man's Sky is about as mentally nourishing as a kick to the nuts.

If you buy No Man's Sky, in the Year of our Lord 2018, I have no sympathy for you. There is no price that is fair for this product. Not even free. Your time and your talents are simply too valuable to be spent on this game.