No Man’s Sky

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De­vel­oper Hello Games Pub­lisher SIE For­mat PC, PS4 Re­lease 2016

An­ear-in­fi­nite uni­verse of 18 quin­til­lion plan­ets is all well and good – but what do you do in it? This was the ques­tion re­peat­edly posed to Hello Games after the mys­te­ri­ous re­veal of No Man’s

Sky, a sci-fi fan­tasy so am­bi­tious that it left stars in the eyes of ev­ery­one who saw it. In the lead-up to re­lease, the tone of the ques­tion changed: from cu­rios­ity, to con­cern, and even­tu­ally to scorn, as the fi­nal prod­uct turned out to be a game dif­fer­ent from the dream.

This was per­haps to be ex­pected: shoot for the moon, and you’ll land among the stars, they say. The trou­ble was that the stars weren’t par­tic­u­larly great ei­ther. The thrill of each new pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated vista couldn’t quite out­weigh the thud­ding rep­e­ti­tion of the iden­tikit ar­chi­tec­ture and point­less ex­er­cises in min­ing. But more than a year since re­lease, No

Man’s Sky has changed con­sid­er­ably. A se­ries of reg­u­lar patches and free up­dates have ad­dressed a host of the launch game’s is­sues – the pre­vi­ously clunky in­ven­tory is now a breeze to use, and there’s more va­ri­ety among alien races, flora and fauna – and made an al­ready ac­ces­si­ble space-ex­plo­ration game even sim­pler, let­ting play­ers call their ships to their lo­ca­tion on a whim, of­fer­ing a far more in­for­ma­tive Anal­y­sis Visor and even a com­bat-free Cre­ative mode.

En­tirely new fea­tures have been added, such as base build­ing, ground ve­hi­cles, ter­rain de­for­ma­tion and a photo mode. Now there’s a rea­son to col­lect re­sources, as you pump them into, say, a hy­dro­ponic farm in the en­vi­able pad you’ve built on your favourite crim­son­turfed planet. The an­niver­sary At­las Rises up­date was the most sig­nif­i­cant of all, thanks to the ad­di­tion of rudi­men­tary mul­ti­player – fi­nally of­fer­ing clo­sure on that launch-week PR de­ba­cle by al­low­ing play­ers to use a sys­tem of glyph-based co­or­di­nates, por­tals and voice chat to in­ter­act with one an­other.

Much of Sean Mur­ray’s en­thu­si­as­tic over­promis­ing ap­pears to have been for­given, with a thriv­ing on­line com­mu­nity of fans still ex­chang­ing tall tales of space travel and an­i­mated GIFs of ridicu­lous di­nosaur crea­tures. In­deed, Mur­ray and the team at Hello Games have now de­liv­ered on both the chilled­out yet ex­is­ten­tially chal­leng­ing con­cept they wanted to re­alise, and al­most all of the fea­tures they hinted at in E270’ s cover story. But there’s an awk­ward para­dox at the heart of No Man’s Sky. The closer it grows to an ex­pe­ri­ence that jus­ti­fies the game’s lofty launch price tag – with its added mis­sions, ob­jec­tives and qual­i­tyof-life im­prove­ments – the fur­ther it moves from Hello Games’ prob­a­bly ill-ad­vised but ad­mirable art project. At least, we sup­pose, there’s plenty to do now.

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