No Man's Sky PlayStation 4 Review: Over the Rainbow [Update: Final Thoughts and Score]

Kat shares her thoughts on the first several hours of No Man's Sky.

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I began to see No Man's Sky appeal when I made my first proper creature discovery - a hawk-headed quadruped that I christened a "Parish." All the sudden No Man's Sky's universe seemed infinitely more vibrant and alive as I gazed upon the flora and fauna around me and realized just how much there was to find.

That may ultimately be what keeps me in No Man's Sky's much-hyped sandbox, which purportedly features some 18 quintillion planets to explore. I'm not normally one for aimless exploration and resource collection - I soured on Elite Dangerous quite quickly - but I've hardly been lacking for things to do as I bounce from planet to planet in Hello Game's galaxy. If I'm not cataloguing strange creatures or collecting resources to sell on the galactic exchange, I'm battling space pirates or (apparently) getting myself randomly betrothed to a distant alien bride (yes, this happened to me on today's stream).

It helps that this exploration takes place within a relatively solid and directed framework. At least so far I've had a fairly constant string of objectives to accomplish, beginning with repairing my ship and building a hyperdrive, then continuing on to investigating strange monoliths that pop up on various planets. The ultimate goal is to make it all the way to the distant galactic core, making No Man's Sky a kind of solo roadtrip movie in space.

Mostly, though, you're hunting for rocks. Pretty as some of No Man's Sky's planets can be, the real impetus for landing on a planet is to collect the minerals you need to keep your ship fueled up and ready to go. A single hyperspace jump requires a Warp Cell, which means crafting antimatter, which in turn requires a fair number of fairly expensive materials. Hence, when you're planetside, most of your time is spent either burning a variety of multi-colored rocks down to their component parts, or scavenging abandoned campsites and debris. Then it's on to the next planet to do pretty much the same thing.

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Though not exactly empty, other beings are few and far between in No Man's Sky. A space station will frequently have just one alien manning the controls, with some planets seemingly devoid of any lifeforms at all. You will see starships zip through the air above you, but bustling cities are non-existent. The loneliness accompanying this sense of isolation is bolstered by the mellow soundtrack and the meandering pace as you wander about collecting resources.

As you might expect, action is sparse. In the day or so that I've spent with No Man's Sky, I've had exactly two combat encounters. One was against a handful of floating sentinel robots, and the other was a dogfight with some raiders. Of the two, the space battle was quite a bit more fun. The nearby planets serve to anchor the action and make the combat feel like less of a turning battle in the middle of nowhere, and the enemy fighters are quick to come in with guns blazing. By comparison, the ground combat feels stiff and unimpressive - an inevitable compromise given No Man's Sky's scope and ambition.

It suffers a bit in other ways as well. Pop-up, for example, is noticeable to the point of being distracting when exploring some planets. Inventory management isn't great, either. It was barely an hour before I started having to actively shuffle resources between the slots on my exosuit and my ship, which are also partly taken up by equipment like the ship's hyperdrive. It's a pain, and the reasoning behind its design isn't clear outside of an apparent desire to add to its sense of realism.

Meanwhile, the lack of emphasis on combat has led some to ask what exactly you're supposed to be doing in No Man's Sky outside of collecting resources. The answer, I suppose, is to find out what is at the end of the proverbial rainbow. That might not be enough for some, but the sense of mystery surrounding the force called "Atlas" and the desire to see what awaits me in the galactic core has been enough to keep me going.

With that, I've managed to avoid being bored by No Man's Sky despite the somewhat pervasive sense of repetition baked into the game's design. It's driven by a propulsive desire to see what's just over the horizon, instinctively pushing you to look to nearby planets and wonder what exactly you might find. Gold? Plutonium? A wild Parish? I have no idea what I'll find as I ply the stars and make my way toward the fabled core, but I'm keen to find out.

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Tagged with Hello Games, PC, PlayStation 4, Reviews, sandbox, Sony, space combat.

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