No Man’s Sky is pretty much the game I expected it to be, pretty much mainly the game I wanted it to be.
Obviously, I’m fairly happy with this. Fairly happy with it to the tune of around 12 hours or something so far across two days. That’s pretty happy, I think.
I knew, when going in, it’d be a game that had kinks. Not just because it’s a small team job, although obviously that is a factor. No, because I’ve not played an open world game yet that doesn’t have some really strange quirks. No Man’s Sky is unsurprisingly no different there.
If you were to ask me what No Man’s Sky is as a game, I’d say it’s most of my favourite things about Just Cause 2 transplanted into an almost endless series of backdrops. Most of, not all. There’s no boats (yet?) in No Man’s Sky. The thing with Just Cause 2 for me was I very, very quickly found there wasn’t really that much of a mechanically interesting game there, all told it was a fairly limited and fairly rudimentary handful of things to do. It took next to no time to get bored of clearing out the fortresses and what have you yet I still racked up a few hundred hours on it.
Why, if the game as game wasn’t really all that did I do that? And the answer is, I just really like looking around and climbing hills in videogames. I first discovered my love for it in Codemaster’s slightly wonky Fuel. There was, again, a game that’s gamey bits were a bit more empty, a bit tattier than they needed to be. Yet hundreds of hours racked up in it because of hills. I’d clamber up a hill, watch the sunset, find a way down. Zip through the forest then find another hill to climb.
Just Cause 2 had a lot of really nice hills. No Man’s Sky is just all about the hills. And caves. And space. And what a space it is. I realise that it’s probably a generational thing here but No Man’s Sky is, so much, Old Man’s Sky. It’s the covers of books I grew up reading, it’s a prog rock album cover become game. It is a chance to exist in a future I believed in that never came. I feel like I owe an apology to everyone who has to endure my Steam activity right now as I upload screenshot after screenshot of this game because it is, and I’ve maintained this from the first trailer on, a videogame I always wanted to exist. I’ve never been so fussy as to what the game itself would be as long as it made that sci-fi dreamscape real.
As long as it looked like this.
It’s about 30 years late by my clock but I’ll take it. I’ll take every landscape that looks like it’s fallen out of a lost Roger Dean poster, every Monolith, every Trumbullian space travel effect, every Chris Foss spaceship. I’ll take all that. I’ll walk those hills, I’ll fly through that space. I can barely believe it exists. It feels, more than any game I’ve played in years, like it’s held together by magic and dreams. This is what I crave from games, always.
I know, heart of hearts, that the game is a rudimentary open world game that’s Capital I Indie sized. I make games, I can see the seams. I know, because I don’t know how you couldn’t know, that the inventory slot system doesn’t really make much design sense and just about serves to nudge you to do what the game wants you to do. I know it’s a game that’s now up against literal megagames where it’s all the content, all the things to do. It exists in a world where the open world has been filled with a thousand minigames and missions, it exists in the same world where Destiny has put all the FPS into one FPS. And here’s this game where you walk up hills and do a bit of trading or something. You look around, you climb the hills until you’re bored of the hills and then you get into a spaceship and find more hills. It is, whether by design or limitation, a game that’s simultaneously the future and the past of videogames.
It makes so much more sense as a game that picks up from where we left off 25-30 years ago than it does a game in the now. It is the game Elite never strived to be, it’s the sort of videogame world as Paul Woakes dream, more a Mike Singleton dream than a modern dream. It’s a gap filled.
But it’s only now, really, that the gap could be filled and look like this. So achingly beautiful, so able to bring those book covers, those album sleeves, those posters and imaginary worlds to life.
No Man’s Sky is not without its flaws, without its wonky decisions here and there. I don’t care though, not that much anyway. I just want to be here, amongst the space dinosaurs. I want to be where the islands hang in the sky, where the storms are radioactive, where the space freighters burst into view, where space travel feels like opening up a wound into the heart of all time and space, pushing inside it to taste infinity.
I know some people might crave more, more game, more mechanical stuff, more things. I understand that. I appreciate that. But I just got a glimpse of a future game I always hoped would exist. I want to climb more hills, look for more space dinosaurs, explore ruins of a lost civilization and fly into space to find more.
It might not be enough for you but it’s everything for me.