At this point, I have sunk a few hours into Hello Games' No Man's Sky, a universe-spanning indie title in which players struggle to survive and uncover the secrets of the cosmos. The scale of the game can become equal parts overwhelming and breathtaking. That same scale also renders it difficult to write about in any kind of timely manner. Instead of a comprehensive review, which will be coming later, here have been my experiences with the game to date.
No Man's Sky begins by throwing players exosuit-first into its universe. I awoke with a damaged ship, a nearby distress beacon, and scattered supplies on the splotched surface of a world known as Janik. My ship had depleted engines and broken landing equipment, both of which required more materials than were scattered around the crash site to repair. This tutorial section covered how players need to approach mining new materials for repairs, upgrades, and charging equipment, the building blocks of living a successful life as a star traveler. The distress beacon, a strange, geometric orb, rose from the ground when I interacted with it. A barrage of thoughts and understanding blanketed my mind and I understood it was known as Atlas. This Atlas presented me with a choice: Follow where it might lead me or continue on my way. Lacking any sense of purpose in this universe, I made the decision to follow and see where Atlas might take me. Perhaps I was too hasty, though the effect it had on the rest of my initial experience was minimal.
While salvaging as much of the surrounding equipment and mineral deposits as possible, I had the chance to observe Janik. The surface of the world I had found myself on was a strange mixture of beautiful, desolate, and unpleasant. Browns, oranges, and splotches of blues made it half eye-sore, half delightful novelty. My initial scans indicated that it was a planet full of various plants, but only sparsely populated with animal life. As far as I could see in any direction, the scan results held true. Towering orange foliage covered a great deal of the terrain with yellowing iron plants representing some kind of metallic undergrowth. Small animals scurried around with bodies like powerful leopards and tiny heads that reminded me of miniature boars. I encountered pockets of animal life during my further explorations of Janik; creatures that defied normal description - swift, hippo-like animals with glowing blue spots, a towering horse-mammoth, and more. None of these creatures attacked me and most, if not all, were herbivorous.
As I made my way toward a nearby point of interest, some kind of abandoned shelter, I realized that simply living in my exosuit had almost depleted my energy reserves for life support. After a slight panic, I realized that I could charge life support with isotope elements like carbon, which existed in abundance among the local plant life. This simple approach to No Man's Sky's tutorial really worked for me. With minimal button prompts and no railroaded segments, I was given a series of problems and the tools with which to solve them.
I began noticing small scanning probes moving about, concentrating their activity on places where I had mined or destroyed some vegetation for resources. These scanners then turned on me and seemed to follow me for a while, giving me the distinct impression that I might have done something wrong against local law or custom.
Eventually, my travels brought me to a small outpost inhabited by a single sentient lifeform. Pat of a species known as the Gek, these stocky, reptilian creatures seemed to be an advanced, dominant species that enjoyed trading and exuding various smells to influence potential customers. I didn't learn details about the Gek until later in my travels, however. Language in No Man's Sky must be learned and my initial encounter with a Gek was an unintelligible mess. Scattered over the surface of Janik were knowledge stones, ruins, and old monoliths that contained data on the Gek and taught me more of their language. However, even after learning an unsteady vocabulary, I could still only guess as to what they were saying most of the time.
After over an hour of exploration and accumulating material to repair my vessel, I returned to the crash site triumphant. Booting up the ship's engines, I took off into the sky. I couldn't help but be curious about the rest of Janik as the horizon grew bigger and bigger. I took off, not towards the stars, but to the farthest point of interest that I had uncovered in my travels. Skimming through the atmosphere at high speeds made the journey, previously estimated to take 30 minutes on foot, last only a handful of seconds.
I need to take a moment to say that flying within an atmosphere was probably the first time I found something I disliked about No Man's Sky. The ship seems prevented from flying too low and crashing. It's also difficult to land in a spot for which you might be aiming. I experimented with flying a number of times and I found myself landing in ravines or minutes by foot away from my destination. Let us crash into planets, Hello Games. If we fly carelessly, let us pay the price. Additionally, the map for planets is terrible. The only time you can see it is in your ship and it doesn't convey useful information. Over the course of my time on Janik, I discovered many different locations, but I had no idea how to return to my favorites because I don't know where they are on the planet with no practical map to set me on the right path.
The far flung location at which I arrived seemed to be an isolated manufacturing facility with a locked door of thick steel. Using my mining laser's alternate pulse gun mode, I attempted to blast through it. This brought the ire of those scanning probes I had noticed earlier. Several of them swarmed to my location, shooting bolts of light at me, pecking through my shields. I turned my attention from the door to my attackers, focusing them down one by one. Seemingly having cleared them all, I broke through the door to discover some valuable upgrade technology among the fungus encrusted machinery within. However, I then noticed that there was one probe left and it existed beneath the ground. I think what must have happened was that the probe spawned under the terrain and could see me without being able to harm or be harmed. While this might not seem like a big deal, the longer those small probes detect a threat, the stronger the enemies sent to deal with you become. Soon a colossal bipedal robot with a powerful laser was on top of me as I huddled in the relative protection of the factory. Killing this seemed to stop the oncoming robots for a while and I made a break for my ship, hoping in vain to lose my underground foe.
Even taking off into space didn't help my situation as not one, not two, but three enemy spacecraft warped in to respond to that invincible probe's distress calls. My enjoyment of the increased maneuverability of my ship in space was short lived as I took one bogey out, only to fall to the remaining two. As I awoke aboard a mysterious space station, my initial time with No Man's Sky came to an end.
My initial reaction to Hello Games' much hyped indie darling could be classified as hopeful. I saw a lot of ideas that I truly enjoyed and some technical hiccups that sentenced me to disorientation and death. However, the incredible sense of discovery truly feels unmatched in modern gaming. I became an explorer discovering an entirely new world, and I could probably spend many more hours scouring the surface of Janik. But remember that Janik is only one of an untold number of places to discover with secrets to unravel. This has only been the first step of a journey with no end in sight.
No Man's Sky is available on PlayStation 4 and releases for PC on August 12.