In Defence of No Man’s Sky

I should preface this by saying that I have only- and only plan to- play(ed) the game on PlayStation 4. So if you were looking to have a tidy bitch about how your three thousand dollar rig and seven industrial fans couldn’t even boot the game, you really haven’t come to the right place. 

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No Man’s Shoes

Ever since Sean Murray stumbled his way onto the E3 stage back in 2014, No Man’s Sky has been the every-game. For two tantric years, every gamer from every corner of the fiber optic globe flocked to Sony’s triple-E blindside like it was the Messiah reincarnate, and packed its empty spaces with all the dreams and hopes every seven-year-old boy with a couple of freebies on their boxy PC had scribbled into a notebook and promised they would reify when they grew up and figured out just how the hell any of those vanity cards did what they did.

What that meant was that there was absolutely no way it couldn’t disappoint. And so when the lukewarm reviews started piling in, I wasn’t surprised; that is, I wasn’t surprised that they were bad. But what I was surprised by was the lack of any sort of defense. It was like as soon as the space-worm in the trailer passed into pre-release myth, everybody with a pre-order and a week off work jumped ship. Or should I say spaceship. There was no sort of loyalty to the game or the developers or any of the things that they did do and did achieve and did deliver on.

The crux of the online criticism all over Reddit and YouTube is that we were lied to, and that half the features we were promised are inexplicably absent from the final release. I will concede that there was a lot of stuff in the E3 demos and trailers that incalculable random generation can’t even pretend isn’t there, but I’m not seeing a lot of ‘Where is’; I’m seeing a lot  of ‘What if it was’ and ‘What if it wasn’t’.

What if it was Mass Effect with a god engine? What if there were cities and politics and populations and people? What if I could build this or build that? What if it wasn’t a mining sim? What if it was a procedural shooting gallery? What if I could rear alien cattle and raise a god damn space farm? (These are all things I’ve read and all things I’ve heard; if you don’t believe me, I’d suggest checking out Previously Recorded or AngryJoe’s reviews of the game).

Don’t get me wrong; I would throw my money around like a madman for all of that stuff (bar the bloodbath). But that isn’t what was promised, and that isn’t what was sold, or hinted at, or implied, no matter how much you try to convince yourself or tell yourself that Sean Murray has the key to your imagination.

So let’s not get hung up on what the game doesn’t do, like everybody else, and focus on what it does.

What it does is a lot, and almost all of it is fantastic. The sound design is par-excellence, driving and shaping your journey and matching every emergent move you make. The score could beg to impress, but it doesn’t. It touches here and there, but it never breaks from the whole, chiming a warm key or a pulpy synth before a jet blast flushes it back through the stellar galactic milieu.

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Seven generations and counting

The technology and what it has the capacity to produce is awesome, and, from what I’ve seen during my 20+ hours, the variety of its planets and solar systems is staggering. The infinite minutia of its ships, its lifeforms and plant-life, give the whole game a reality and genuine magnitude that nothing else on the market has ever come close to achieving. Yes, Minecraft is big and random and yes, you can do more with the environment. But it’s also made out of blocks. The graphical fidelity that Murray and team have managed to achieve in a game of this scope is mind-blowing. And to make it all feel real, to make a lightyear feel like a lightyear, is quite the feat.

No Man’s Sky is not the Second Coming, but it is pretty special. If Sony hadn’t bused Murray around like a tech Belfort, maybe things would have been different. Maybe people would be talking about that awesome new indie game instead of a fresh batch of digital snake oil. Because Sean Murray and his tiny team are not to blame; this is a case of corporate pressure on a studio, not corporate rooking of a playerbase, a la Watch_Dogs. Stop playing market victim and take a measured look at the size of Murray’s team and the scale of their project.

For all its faults, No Man’s Sky is the first game in a long time that has floored my flesh and blood brain with a 2D screen, and for that it gets my gratitude (if the opinion of one blogger among millions, like a planet among 8 quintillion, means anything at all…)

 

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