No Man's Sky: A whole lot to see, not much to do

No Man's Sky: A whole lot to see, not much to do

All too often, when a game with a seemingly novel premise is first revealed to the public, many in the media — as well as everyday gamers — seem to lose their collective minds and begin to hype that title as the greatest thing ever.

And then, when the game comes out, disappointment tends to quickly set in. It’s usually not because the game is actually bad, but because — given our current technological limits — there was no way it could ever live up to expectations.

It’s happened many times before. With “Watchdogs.” With “Titanfall.” And now, with “No Man’s Sky.”
I’d say it’s easy to understand why the hype train latched onto “No Man’s Sky,” a tale of space exploration where there’s an estimated 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 planets for players to discover.

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But I was never taken in by the hype for one simple reason: I’ve long since understood that vast doesn’t mean good.

While the developers were talking about how huge their game universe was, they never explained exactly what there was to do within it. It seemed to me that players expected a blend of interstellar thriller, space dogfighting simulator and grueling exploration adventure.

What we got is not anything like that.

Technically, there are space battles. Exceedingly rare and oddly boring ones, in my experience. Oooh, alien ships are zipping around and shooting at me. I’ve had no dialogue with them, no idea what they want. Let’s return fire and … they’re dead. My grand prize for fighting off their vicious attack? Metals I can easily pick up for myself with two minutes work on every planet I’ve visited. Woo-hoo.

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Yes, this isn’t an epic adventure game. “No Man’s Sky” is an emotionally muted journey of self-discovery. It’s cerebral, not visceral. A game where, while it’s certainly possible to make your own fun, that fun isn’t going to involve giant explosions or pulse-pounding feats of daring-do.

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The game begins with the player, presumably human, marooned on an alien planet next to a wrecked spaceship. First task: Mine the scenery for the iron, carbon and other elements necessary for repairs.
Mining involves pointing a mining laser at plants, rocks, etc., and pulling the trigger, just like in a first-person shooter. Material mined is automatically sucked into your inventory, as long as you’ve got space.

If you’re unlucky, a hovering Sentinel drone will take notice of how you’re despoiling the environment and start shooting at you. These drones are pretty much the only combatants you’ll face — except for stray wildlife — and they seem to take exception to pretty much anything you do. Mostly, though, they’re just nuisances.

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So, you collect materials, sometimes convert them into other materials, and repair your ship. You can stick around the planet and explore if you’d like. Basically you’ll find the same things on every single planet: abandoned bases where you can find upgrade blueprints for your ship, weapon or exosuit; outposts, each staffed by a solitary alien, who you can barely interact with and cannot attack in any way; alien monoliths, that teach you alien languages and affect your social standing with entire species; and derelict ships, you can repair and use.

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If you’d like, you can also try to scan every single type of rock, plant and animal on the planet to create a comprehensive catalog you can then upload to the gaming community as a whole. (And you can name everything you discover.)

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Once you leave the planet, visit a space station and essentially follow a mini quest to get a warp drive, you can then cruise from star to star, eventually getting pulled into a journey toward the center of the universe if you choose to follow the rather loose storyline.

You can fly about in space as you will, and on extremely rare occasion you’ll be attacked, but generally in space, nobody can hear you scream … from boredom.

I’d be more enthused if the journey of “No Man’s Sky” actually went somewhere interesting. But there aren’t even any alien cities to visit. Think of that: Seemingly infinite planets built into the game and not a single alien city. You also won’t encounter other players. Though you’re all in the same universe, you’re each alone in the universe at the same time.

Depressing, I know.

A quote from a favorite old movie of mine, uttered by Richard Boone’s character Bors in “The War Lord,” a 1965 film starring Charlton Heston, seems appropriate to my “No Man’s Sky” experience:
“We’re pilgrims to nowhere, and we have arrived.”

 Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette’s Playing Critic. Contact him at jleizer@news-gazette.com.

“No Man’s Sky”
■ Platforms: PS4, PC
■ Price: $59.99
■ ESRB rating: T for teen

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