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Review: No Man’s Sky

by onAugust 13, 2016
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It feel like the release date has been light-years away for the longest time, but we can finally play the new title by Hello Games that mixes exploration, combat and space travel: No Man’s Sky. After dozens of hours of space exploration, here is our verdict (Nazih Fares testing on console while Mazen Abdallah co-writes this review for the PC versionwhich is still a mysterious challenge, with an immense ability to keep us in suspense over the long term, full of wonder but also weariness.

We start the first minutes of the game on a planet, one of the 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 available ones in the game. This astronomical (no pun intended) number means it’s virtually impossible to start the game like your friends or any other players, which already gives you the thrill of being the first “being” to set foot on this celestial body. To achieve this feat, Hello Games has bet on procedural technology, which while obviously making the game smaller (less than 3GB on both console and PC), allows larger amounts of content, and a randomness that removes predictable gameplay.

Screenshots provided by Hello Games

Screenshots provided by Hello Games

Despite the absence of any sort of opening cinematic, we discover our damaged ship and we learn very quickly that we were the victim of a crash of some sort. Obviously, our first order of business is to repair our ship, which will help us the gameplay features on foot, as well as crafting and the survival element. Fitted with a very clear interface, you need to take into account the numerous planet different hazards, including the temperature of the place which can reduce our vitality, radioactive planets which will drain your suit’s “life support”, or if you’re lucky like me, you’ll start on a temperate planet, lush with greens and resources.

In all the cases cited above, I realized that my exosuit is the only thing that separates us from death, and you’ll continually check that it is regenerated with energy and resources. In fact all our equipment requires energy and we need to be aware at every moment not to end up too far away from our vessel. For this you will have to mine for resources, thanks to your multi-tool, a sort of gun that can be used as weapon but also excavation and harvesting tool, topped with an extraction radius. A bit like the resources in Minecraft in a sense, these resources will stack in your exosuit, and you’ll quickly know thank to its scanner functionality the color scheme for each “collectible”: Red for energy resources or Isotopes (like carbon to power your mult-tool), Yellow for mineral resources or Oxides (like Platinum to power your shields), Blue for Silicate (Heridium to craft enhancements), Green for “Neutral” (like Gold to unlock powers or sell for cash called “units”) and finally Purple for Precious materials or point of interest on the map.

Waypoints everywhere! Screenshots taken with PlayStation 4 capture

Waypoints everywhere! Screenshot taken with PlayStation 4 capture

In a way, it is almost a matter of luck to find the right resource and it sometimes necessary to walk long durations to get to a certain point to find those last bits of Plutonium to refuel your ship, but once the latter is fixed, it will help you discover and roam bigger patches of land. You see, the sprint or jet-pack are both subject to a cooldown and the only way to improve that part of the game movement is to discover new technology. In both cases, the research part is a clever way for the studio to make us admire the diverse landscape of the game, all procedural without exception and search for ways to make your life easier on your way to the center of the universe.

Visually, the artistic direction is very beautiful, if not bluffing on almost all of the 40+ different planets I’ve discovered. The shades of pastel colors do remind me of 1970s space movies, with sharp angles and sceneries that are reminiscent of the classic 2001 A Space Odyssey. Unfortunately the technical part of these graphics is not well implemented, and that’s when things get annoying. The field of view is really narrow, constantly giving the impression of having the zoom button on, and while it is an easy way to hide some engine process, and limit the performance drop, it still generates horrible clipping that sometimes come to spoil the game experience (even crashing and exiting the game).

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So we sadly end up with packs of textures that start popping out within a few meters from us. The worst thing is that the clipping effect is also present in space, where we are clearly not immune to a surprise asteroid (sometimes huge) appearing 10 meters away from us while in full acceleration. Finally, the textures are sometimes really low-end and almost remind us of what previous generation consoles used to offer, topped with loss of framerate (barely reaching the 30 FPS), so there is plenty to annoy PlayStation 4 console players.

PCMasterRaceOn the topic of the PC version. By Mazen Abdallah

So what about the so-called “master race” platform and the PC version of No Man’s Sky? Well, I would say it is the same version as the PS4, but with a slight visual facelift. PlayStation 4 is quite limited in terms of resources to manage procedural content of this scale and such vast environments. Namely as stated above, narrowing the field of view to avoid loading too much data on the screen, with clipping to cause epileptic seizures and a frame locked at 30 FPS (dropping to 20 in certain actions).

The PC version is sadly no better. The framerate can reach him 60 FPS (depending on your configuration) and can even reach above 80 with stronger machines. Alas clipping is still there, and although a little less visible, the game on PC undergoes micro-freezes for no particular. Unpleasant and unable to determine the cause, we even disabled options one by one to try to see if things get better, but seems like this version is poorly optimized by Hello Games. A big letdown for a lot of PC players, who will have to wait for a patch.

But even when it comes to textures and graphical performance, as you can see above, there’s almost little difference between the different “graphics” levels in the game. Strangely enough even jumping from basic to high settings, the difference is not as obvious, even with the PS4 version. We did notice some subtle “enhancements” especially at the level of vegetation and shadows, but that’s about it. However, the options you’d expect from a PC version are all present (vertical synchronization, anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, etc.) and higher resolution reaching up to 4K but requiring quite a powerful beast of a machine. At least now (if it was not already the case), it is certain that all of the promotional videos were made on PC.

Finally, we recommend a good PC to run the game in the best conditions. The title seems to be greedy, and rather poorly optimized, as Nazih has seen on his own computer (4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960 fitted on a 5th Generation Intel i7 4720HQ 3.2Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM). We also strongly advise you to wait for the first drivers for your graphics card.

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Fortunately, if you go back to the core of what No Man’s Sky offers, the impression of freedom and sheer scale, topped with a soundtrack that builds itself depending on the instance (music algorithm created by 65daysofstatic), succeeds in making us forget all technical problems. The planets are huge and full of life (at least 90% of them). Wildlife, both fauna and flora is instantly generated via the same procedural engine, which is quite impressive and extremely varied. The discovery of these animals and plants is also useful because it adds a sort of completion-ist factor to the game, by scanning these creatures and send upload them into the galactic database and rename to whatever your heart desire! This aspect highlights our explorer status and helps motivate you to discover new planets in No Man’s Sky.

In the end, the game gives us the feeling of being alone and at the same time made us realize that we share the same universe as other players without any real possibility to meet. In fact, there is a small chance to make an impromptu meeting and contact with other players only through the discovery of species and planets for now.

No Mans Sky - The VGProfessional Review (16)

Screenshot Provided by Hello Games

The extent of the universe, especially when it you fixed your vessel, is when you start to taste the joy of space travel. A technical feat flying from the planet atmosphere to space without any transition (there is no loading in the game) but there’s still massive clipping. Anyway, space in general remains a very enjoyable gaming era. Our ship has different speed modes, where you can move without acceleration, boost, the Pulse Jump (which will help reaching planets and points of interest faster) and finally the Hyper speed Jump (to launch into a new nebula or star system). The later technology is not available at the begging of the game, and it will be obtained as you discover the various alien races that populate the universe and help you achieve your quest: reach the center of the Universe.

While in space, you can engage in Combat with hostile ships (or you can be the hostile yourself), and that can be fun but don’t expect something like Elite Dangerous. These combats or dogfights can occur because of several reasons – usually randomly activated – such as an attack on a cargo ship under way by hostile forces, or just a space battle between two factions. While fighting in space, the ship control is pleasant ti use without being transcendent, but our biggest regret is the impossibility to perform simple dodging maneuvers like barrel rolls, and your battles end up being a matter of who has the biggest shield installed. We really hope it will be resolved because it clearly does not push players to engage in battles for now.

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While in space, you can engage in Combat with hostile ships (or you can be the hostile yourself), and that can be fun but don’t expect something like Elite Dangerous. These combats or dogfights can occur because of several reasons – usually randomly activated – such as an attack on a cargo ship under way by hostile forces, or just a space battle between two factions. While fighting in space, the ship control is pleasant ti use without being transcendent, but our biggest regret is the impossibility to perform simple dodging maneuvers like barrel rolls, and your battles end up being a matter of who has the biggest shield installed. We really hope it will be resolved because it clearly does not push players to engage in battles for now.

 

Nevertheless, the sensation that we felt when playing the game is quite strange and nontraditional within the first couple of hours. The magic of the infinitely large and the sense of discovery makes us amazed every time. Then quickly, after ten hours, we realize that we are doing the same thing, namely extract resources, sell them, improve your ship, etc. Although we are still continuing our exploration, lassitude is there, but not enough to put us off, yet nevertheless present. So obviously some people will get tired less quickly, but it is clear that most players will not like a lack of content in the long term. It is a special game, one that might not appeal to everyone, one that is played by taking his time. The quiet and relaxing atmosphere allows you to take a good breath of fresh air and a clear your mind at the end of each session, and we cannot stop but feeling a real impression of finally playing something very different than what the current 20 years or so of gaming trends offered. 

No Man’s Sky was reviewed using a PC downloadable code and PlayStation 4 press kit of the game provided by Hello Games Studio and the PlayStation Middle East team. Co-written by Mazen Abdallah and Nazih Fares, the majority of the game’s review was done on PlayStation 4 and the PC version was tested on two different machines: first running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM, and the second running Windows 10 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 960 fitted on a 5th Generation Intel i7 4720HQ 3.2Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published

What we liked

• 18 Quintillion planets to discover
• A true feeling of freedom and wonder
• A masterpiece of procedural content
• Beautiful art direction
• Amazing soundtrack

What is not fun

• Needs a lot of patching
• Game that quickly becomes repetitive
• Space combat is a bit simple
• Overall lack of depth
• Not for the inpatient kind of players

Editor Rating
 
Concept
8.2

 
Graphics
7.6

 
Sound
9.2

 
Playability
8.5

 
Entertainment
7.7

 
Replay Value
9.0

Final Score
8.4


Our final verdict
 

No Man's Sky is an atypical game offering an experience outside the norm. With a highly procedural content, it can offer the player a universe so vast that even billions of years are insufficient to discover it in its entirety. For one of the very first time in the history of video games (with the exception of Minecraft), we really have the feeling of being in a world without limits. Sadly, in this infinitely large, thousands of other players travel the cosmos like us, but have virtually no chance to meet one day and with repetitive gameplay (yet interesting), the game lacks depth in the long term whether in combat or crafting. We also regret that both the PC and PlayStation 4 version have technical problems that sometimes ruin the beauty of the surroundings (less on console though), but in conclusion No Man's Sky is clearly aimed to stay for long, especially if Hello Games studio frequently expand the content with new features.

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