- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 05 October 2016
- Written by JOHN MORANO | STAFF WRITER
In the gaming world, there’s a commonly used phrase, “hype-train.” If you are on the hype-train for a game, it basically means you’re excited for it and believe it will be good. Many gamers and critics alike boarded the No Man’s Sky hype-train; this game received numerous best-of-show rewards at the E3 gaming conference, the cover for an issue of GameInformer, as well as air-time on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This is all rather impressive, especially considering that No Man’s Sky was developed by a small indie team, Hello Games.
So, what is No Man’s Sky? No Man’s Sky is an open-world, exploration-based, sci-fi space-simulation. It’s described on Steam as “a game about exploration and survival in an infinite procedurally generated universe.” Procedural generation means that many elements of No Man’s Sky (planets, animals, plants, starships) are created by an algorithm, designed by Hello Games. So, the universe of No Man’s Sky has, in some ways, near infinite possibilities. That no two planets you visit, or two ships you cross paths with, will be exactly the same (at least in some respects).
Unfortunately, the earlier-mentioned hype-train doesn’t always reach its station (actually, in this case, it derailed). No Man’s Sky, as of the writing of this review, has a 71/100 critic rating and 4.6/10 user rating on metacritic. Since its release, more wittier people than myself have referred to this game in reviews as “No Man’s Lie” and “No Game Buy.” Steam even allowed gamers who had spent more than 2 hours playing No Man’s Sky to refund their copy (this is quite out of the norm). The 68,000 user reviews of No Man’s Sky according to Steam, are “mostly negative.” Twelve thousand out of 13,000 people found the following No Man’s Sky Steam review helpful, “This game has endless possibilities (almost all of which are not featured in this game)… This game is great (at wasting your time)… 18/18 (quintillion). Would recommend (throwing this game into a black hole).”
If I had to sum up No Man’s Sky’s problems with a phrase, I would say that the game is miles wide, but only an inch deep. Although some have stated that the game’s procedural generation resulted in overly similar locales, I personally felt that the planets of No Man’s Sky offered enough variety to serve as a suitable backdrop for the game’s activities, my issue was with the activities themselves. Within 10 hours I was quite bored; I had run around dogfighting, mining, and exploring to make money. I then used this money to upgrade my ship and my spacesuit/gun, which were each quite bland. Even though No Man Sky’s spaceships are cosmetically unique, there’s almost no difference in terms of functionality (this also held true for the various guns).
My biggest complaint is that there was nothing beyond this for me to do in the universe of No Man’s Sky. The game’s story was skeletal at best, and although it may technically be a “shared world” there is no multiplayer to speak of (multiplayer, while not essential, can give people a reason to keep playing a game). I couldn’t own more than one ship, I couldn’t buy capital ships or space stations, I couldn’t build on or terraform planets, I couldn’t create a fleet, I couldn’t design ships, etc. There are numerous other games within No Man’s Sky’s genre which allow players to do these sorts of things, to feel as if they’re having some sort of an effect on the universe they’re playing in.
Contradictory to all the negative comments, I would still have reviewed No Man’s Sky mostly favorably, if not for one major issue. No Man’s Sky is an indie game developed by approximately 15 people. I typically would take it easy on such a game, I wouldn’t expect No Man’s Sky to compete with Elite Dangerous, another popular space-sim developed by Frontier Developments. This time, however, I am grading No Man’s Sky against Elite Dangerous, for one simple reason: Hello Games decided to sell it at the accepted price of a new Triple-A title, $60.
When Hello Games released Joe Danger, one of their previous titles, they sold it for around $15; $10 might have been fairer, but this is generally considered an acceptable price for indie titles. If No Man’s Sky had launched for $15, I would still have issues with it, but I would have recommended picking it up, if it seemed interesting. If it were $25, I would have said that in my opinion, that’s too much, but many will find it to be worth that value. Some games which are large in scale, and in-between indie/triple-A in terms of development sell for $40. I would have criticized No Man’s Sky severely if it sold at this price, calling it a blatant cash-grab, claiming that Hello Games knew the value of its product and sold it at an inflated price due to the hype-train. Hello Games didn’t do this though, they sold their game for $60, a price at which I am frankly aghast; any criticism they receive for No Man’s Sky not meeting the public’s expectations, they brought it on themselves. To be honest, the only reason I bought this game was out of curiosity, and the moment I heard Steam was offering refunds regardless of playtime, I got mine.
There is also a matter of ethics associated with No Man’s Sky’s release. Sean Murray, one of Hello Games’ CEOs stated on the record that this game would receive no paid DLC (downloadable content), that updates would be free to those who purchased it. They went back on this and announced that they will be selling DLC. My uncle bought this game thinking that it would be like Minecraft; he thought that he would pay one price for this game, and that even if it was a little lacking in content at release, content would be added by free updates in the future. According to Gamespot, Murray has claimed he was “perhaps naïve” for initially promising free updates. The claim that Mr. Murray put forward has cost a number of people money, so I feel that “Naiveté” is not a valid excuse.
To cut straight to the chase, if we’re viewing No Man’s Sky as a triple-A title, I give it a 3/10. I find Hello Games misrepresenting their product and overpricing it to be a serious problem; there is a lot of this in the video game industry (Spore, Watchdogs, even Destiny to an extent) but never to this degree, and on a game that got this much media coverage. If we’re talking about No Man’s Sky as if its price were $15, I would give it a 7/10, and would say that despite some serious flaws, it’s fun for a while. At this price, if you like space-sims, and it looks at all interesting to you, it’s absolutely worth picking up. To use a nerd-metaphor, No Man’s Sky has been presented as if it were gold-pressed Latinum, but really, it’s just a hollow gold bar, pretty, but entirely without value.