What I remember most about last year's Damien Chazelle-directed First Man is a sequence where Gemini 8, the 22nd manned spaceflight ever, gets stuck in a nerve-wracking spin. The sound design is intense, as a relatively calm and collected Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) tries to halt the ship, even as nothing works. The image is close, the camera shaking. In one of the biopic's premiere achievements, First Man does an excellent job portraying how it's crazy that anyone ever was able to go to space on that flimsy technology. By the end of the scene, it gets fixed, they stop spinning, and all goes well. Eventually Armstrong walks on the moon, as you may have heard from sources outside of YouTube.
That scene though is, basically, my worst nightmare. Imagine flying out to space, and then your ship betrays you.
I had the same experience in No Man's Sky VR, which is coming this summer as part of the new Beyond update. It's not a mode relegated to base building or another easy to carve out feature of the game. It's the entire game, playable in VR.
During a PlayStation VR event last week, I played 15 minutes of No Man's Sky in VR, led by a developer from Hello Games. Unlike most of the experiences there, I could play it sitting down. It was a little refreshing, to be perfectly honest. While it will be playable with a DualShock, for players that prefer the PS Move controllers, every functionality has been rethought. Most interactions will be simplified to rely, accordingly, on just the triggers and the face button as a result.
My No Man's Sky demo was swift, as I was guided between navigation to inventory, to even mining massive mushroom-tree-things for materials. Teleporting is a little different from other VR games, with one Move controller able to tilt the reticle to change the position you're facing, while the other projects your distance. (You can also snap turn with a face button press, as per other VR games.) There is no experience left inaccessible through VR. It's all playable.
There is still some clunkiness to it though. To pull up my inventory, I had to point at my wrist while holding out my other arm (both hands clutching Move controllers, obviously) to pull up the different options to switch between mining guns, and even summon my ship. The distance I had to hold my arms to activate the menu was a little finicky, something the developer helping my demo said they were still working on.
After bumming around the demo's red desert planet, I eventually summoned my ship and climbed in. The cockpit was better realized, and more interactive, than I anticipated. I clutched the throttles with both hands—one helping me lift off, the other helping with speed. After a rough start, I eventually launched myself into space. But then it happened. My Gemini 8 moment.
I didn't have a great grip on how to stop my ship, or at least slow it down, so when I crested the atmosphere I found myself suddenly flipping over and over again. The developer talking me through the demo asked if I was okay when I finally steadied myself, to which my reply was, "eh, yeah," half-heartedly. The truth was, I felt really sick, but I had to persevere because I wanted to see my favorite lizard alien, the Gek, up close on the space station a few light years away.
After stabilizing myself in this peach-shaded universe, I flew to the nearby space station. It was here where all of a sudden, the appeal of No Man's Sky in VR clicked with me. The space ships as they flew in were massive; when I made my way up to the common area, different sorts of aliens walked around freely, and I could pull them aside for a quick chat in their native tongue. I asked if custom characters will have an impact on your character's height in the in-game world, and was told that at least in the current build it will, with the shorter alien creatures being, obviously, far shorter than a normal humanoid.
The scale of No Man's Sky has already been a bit awe-inspiring, with almost infinite planets to mine and name as your own. Now with VR, it's taking that awe-inspiration to another level. With the new "Online" update that's coming with the Beyond patch this summer, maybe we'll be able to run into random players more seamlessly, rather than buddying up in parties the current way. In VR, I can imagine syncing VR players with normal players might be a bit of a challenge, especially in combat situations.
As I played my short demo, I thought back to the sea of criticism No Man's Sky has weathered since it first launched in 2016, and the commitment Hello Games has made to incrementally updating the game. At the Game Developers Conference just a couple weeks ago, Hello Games founder Sean Murray said during a panel that, "Innovation is in such short supply in this industry, and we need to encourage it, we need to foster it. We need to get people to shoot the moon. And if they fail, we need to be there to support them."
After my demo, I made a mental note that if I am to pop back into No Man's Sky for the Beyond update, I refuse to shoot those scary eggs while in VR, because the last thing I want is for subterranean space bugs to chase me in virtual reality. Other than that though, exploring the endlessness of space with my Move-hands ready at my ship's throttle? I see the potential.