Video Games

‘No Man’s Sky’ a mesmerizing solitary odyssey unlike any other

Video game review: 'No Man's Sky'

Bee columnist Rory Appleton takes on new release "No Man's Sky," walking others through the high -- and low -- points of the game.
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Bee columnist Rory Appleton takes on new release "No Man's Sky," walking others through the high -- and low -- points of the game.

Philosophy professors around the world see “No Man’s Sky” in their dreams.

At first, the highly anticipated space exploration title from British developer Hello Games may seem like an unlikely ethical arena. Much of the fuss around the game in the years building up to its release was centered around its sheer size and scale. And for good reason – 18 quintillion explorable planets is a mind-boggling achievement. My first hour “playing” was actually spent pacing around and sucking my thumb while pondering the vastness of this fictional galaxy when compared to our actual infinite universe.

“This could really happen in the future,” I heard myself saying. “What if they put Earth in here? What if I were the only person on the real Earth to find the fake Earth? Can I find myself on this Earth? What does finding one’s self truly mean?”

It is for this reason – and many others – that I can’t condone playing “No Man’s Sky” after consuming any mind-altering substances. Your brain is likely to fold in on itself.

With that existential crisis behind me, I was pleased to find a game that pushed me to answer pressing moral questions we humans still haven’t quite figured out. It centers around exploration and survival, but players are given the freedom to repeat history’s mistakes.

Aliens in ‘No Man’s Sky’ have their own language, which players can learn by finding magical stones scattered throughout the galaxy. Each of these stones teaches a new word.

You begin your adventure stranded on an unfamiliar planet with a busted space ship. You have to get this hunk of metal back into orbit and to do that, you will need resources. That’s no problem. Your trusty laser can turn rocks, plants, animals – pretty much everything – into those resources, which power your technology but also serve as a valuable trade resource later on.

The mission appears clear: Drain the planet, collect the spoils and repeat on other worlds until all of the goals are met. But I felt this odd sting. Do I really want to take the Christopher Columbus approach? It isn’t the aliens’ fault I crashed onto their planet. And if I take all of their resources, they will surely die. No, I should take what I need and move on.

This led to an odd realization: I am concerned about the footprint I am leaving in the “No Man’s Sky” universe. But why? Yes, all of the millions playing share the same universe, but it’s unlikely I will ever see another player in my travels. I am not ruining these worlds for any fellow explorers. And I doubt I will ever return to any of the planets I have visited up to this point, so does it matter if some made-up computer dinosaurs survive?

To me it does. And I can only chalk this up to “No Man’s Sky” being a truly immersive experience. I am putting myself in the shoes of an explorer.

Unlike most games these days, “No Man’s Sky” is a solitary experience. It can’t be played with others. I also have yet to encounter another human character – the closest thing I have to a friend in “No Man’s Sky” is a bird-like alien that runs a trading post and ate something once to make himself smell nice for me. Because I am not talking to any real people in-game or in the same room, I am able to dive into it fully – like in the days of old, when the world was new and we gorged ourselves on top-notch role-playing franchises like “Zelda” and “Final Fantasy.”

‘No Man’s Sky’ was originally scheduled to come out in June, but release was pushed back to Aug. 9.

I am only about 20 hours deep into “No Man’s Sky.” Unlike most major releases, PlayStation did not provide the press with early copies, so I only had about three days to play it before writing this review. But I have enjoyed my experience thus far.

The visuals are stunningly colorful and pay a surprising homage to older science fiction films like “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I was expecting a modern depiction of space with only three colors – black for space, white for stars and red for the blood of my enemies – similar to the space travels pictured in “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” But space itself is quite colorful, at least according to “No Man’s Sky.”

The trade and technology upgrade systems are well-made. The combat system is archaic, but it serves its purpose. As I said before, I don’t much like fighting anyway.

I had a few freezes and crashes along the way. These were made a little bit more frustrating because “No Man’s Sky” doesn’t allow you to save whenever you want, so I lost some progress. I also found that planetary terrain doesn’t really form like it should when you are flying across the world’s surface. You can see the mountains and oceans being generated in front of you as you are traveling, which definitely brings you back to the realization that you are playing a video game, not exploring an actual world.

But these inconsistencies mean little when compared to the lifetime’s worth of content delivered in “No Man’s Sky.” The exploration may go stale eventually, but few games can offer as much as this long-awaited blockbuster.

No Man’s Sky

Video Game Review

1/2

▪ Rated teen for fantasy violence.

▪ Developer: Hello Games

▪ Publisher: Hello Games/Sony Computer Entertainment

▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4 and PC

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