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No Man's Sky Part 1: Overhyped, underdelivering, game of my dreams.

Posted 08-20-2016 at 12:30 PM by jedidia
Updated 08-21-2016 at 10:05 AM by jedidia

Disclaimer: Any references to Starflight in this review do not refer to the Genesis port, which pretty much removed the coolest aspect of the game: Procedural real scale planets.

I will now state my oppinion about no man's sky in a multi-part blog post, because I feel I have to talk about the game from different perspectives. A simple review won't do, because I have to be pretty harsh with the game at times, while at the same time loving the hell out of it, and I need some space to lay all that out without being more confusing than the game itself.

So No Man's Sky has been released, the internet went nuts and still hasn't calmed down yet. In the typical manner of first world problems, some missing features from no man's sky has made it the worst game ever and turned Sean Murray into the father of lies. The situation, meanwhile, isn't half as bad.

The first problem no man's sky faces is the amount of hype surrounding it, which could partly be blamed on vague communication by the lead developer, but then again not so much. While many aspects of the communication were far from brilliant (and still are... You shove out a stability patch, only announce it on twitter, and the patch notes are still not available? seriously??), Sean Murray did his best to temper expectations of the game since that first trailer completely ran away with the imaginations of people.

And now the devs ran out of time. Sean Murray has described the process of developing No Man's Sky as "building a rocket on the way up", because basically people wanted to know all about the game while the developer still only had a vague idea what it was actually going to be. When push came to shove, It looks like they had to put until then largely disconnected parts together to a working whole, dumping all the balast that wouldn't fit anywhere just right without some more work while trying to get the rest to play nice together in order to reach orbit. Optimising the procedural engine for the ridiculously overchallenged CPU of a PS4 also left visible marks on the game.

So yes, I won't deny that the final product is still somewhat disappointing even for somebody who had very realistic expectations. The amazing thing is how well it all still works... For a certain group of players, at least, but then it was reiterated over and over that this was a niche game.

So, how does it play?

Anybody remotely interested in the game will by now have seen some streams. The problem is that these streams might convey a completely wrong picture, based on how the streamer plays.
The game has some elements from survival/crafting games a la minecraft, but if you want to play it as such, you'll find it shallow or excessively grindey. The game has some elements from a space trading game, but if you play it as such you'll find it outright horrible. The game has some elements of an FPS, but if you want to play it as that you'll find it ridiculous. The game has some elements of adventure games, but if you want to focus on that aspect you might find it outright insulting. The game has a good chunk of "universal sightseeing simulators" in the vain of Noctis, Spaceway and Space engine, but if you want just that you'll get annoyed about how gameified the whole universe is and that the game restricts you from going to certain places without having certain stuff.

What No Man's Sky ultimately is, is a reanimation of the long defunct genre of Space exploration games, a genre so long forgotten it doesn't even have a wikipedia entry, and if you search for space exploration games you'll get the gammut from rpgs to space trading sims to space shooters. None the less, the genre was a real, and popular, thing once, being created back in 86 by the ancient one, Starflight, progressing over to Starflight II, seeing its peak in popularity in the much dumbed down but incredibly fun Star Control II, and after that some lower profile titles that tried to keep the genre going without success, like Protostar or Nomad, along with some crossovers like for example the RPG/Adventure/Spaceexploration sandbox Planets Edge, which is kind of a proto-"Mass Effect" (it doesn't play the same at all, being turnbased, but the general structure of Mass Effect is clearly visible).

Since the mid-90ies, that genre has pretty much been dead. There was a fan sequel to starflight (which I could never get into because planet exploration was emulating the Genesis version), and the roguelike Prospector, which has a lot to recommend it if anybody's interested.The only "professional" recent addition to the genre could be considered Starbound, but Starbound feels very different in a significant number of ways that kinda make it an odd member out in the genre.

Why do I know all that crap? Because this is my genre. Like, this is the genre I always wanted to play as a kid, but didn't know about its existance because Switzerland was the but of the world before the Internet. This is the genre I discovered shortly after the turn of the milenium, and I have since then played every single title in that list above (some of those have CGA graphics for crying out loud, do you have any idea how much you have to love a concept to do that to your eyes?). Not all to the finish line, but I had some fun with all of them. And I kept coming back to them, because there just was nothing comparable coming out.

And now there is: The concept and gameplay mechanics of no man's sky fits right into this ancient, long forgotten relic of a genre. And for this I love it unconditionally, glaring issues that it has and just barely finished state it is in be damned!

For issues there are indeed, and about those we will talk. After I'm through salivating about how close No Man's Sky comes to being a modern day Starflight, and lamenting the ways in which it misses the mark in Part 2.
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  1. Old Comment
    Fabri91's Avatar
    Looking forward to the following parts of this post.

    My only contact with this genre, at least until a possible future sale where I might get NMS, has been Elite, specifically Elite: Dangerous.
    As far as I know that series would indeed be part of the "space exploration" genre, but I see it's missing from your list. Have you had any experience with them?
    Posted 08-20-2016 at 02:26 PM by Fabri91 Fabri91 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    jedidia's Avatar
    As far as I know that series would indeed be part of the "space exploration" genre, but I see it's missing from your list.
    That's kind of why I go into that much detail with this stuff: No, neither Elite nor any of its successors including Dangerous, are space exploration games in the sense of the old genre, they are generally considerd "Space trading games". In fact, the original elite predates the birth of the genre in Starflight by 2 years, and it is doubtful that it has influenced starflight very much, considering it was in development for 6 years.

    Basically, the space trading genre can be summed up as "Flying between the stars making money following some kind of vocation, traditionally trading, but more likely by blowing stuff up". The genre employs various degrees of exploration, but it's not the core gameplay.

    The space exploration genre, on the other hand, is perfectly summarised by the Mission assignement you get in Starflight:

    1. Seek out and explore strange new worlds
    2. Boldly go where no man has gone before
    3. Establish contact with any sentients
    4. Capture and bring back non-sentient lifeforms
    5. Record alien lifeform data
    6. Bring back alien artifacts
    7. Bring back any valuable minerals
    8. Keep from getting brutally killed
    Space exploration games have emphasised these aspects differently, but they were all in there in one way or another. I'll go into more details on how No Mans Sky is distributed over these aspects.
    Posted 08-20-2016 at 02:54 PM by jedidia jedidia is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Fabri91's Avatar
    Thanks for the clarification! Goes to show that I really am not familiar with the genre, apparently!
    Posted 08-20-2016 at 05:35 PM by Fabri91 Fabri91 is offline

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