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previews
No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky

We climbed into the cockpit and explored Hello Games' ambitious title.

  • Text: Anders Mai

In a lot of ways the internet has ruined the challenge in the games we play. If you're stuck on a riddle, you can always find the answer online. If you're constantly killed by the same boss, you can always find an exploit on the internet. We're not saying all of us do this, but if you've been stuck for three hours on the same obstacle, it's difficult not to take advantage of the option. Before the internet, it was necessary to figure things out for yourself, or talk with your friends about your troubles (or spend a small fortune calling up premium lines for hints and tips). It was another way to play and in a lot of ways No Man's Sky is returning to these roots, all the while simultaneously having a scope larger than ever before.

Imagine being stuck on a planet. There is a high probability that you're the first - and maybe even the only one ever - to visit this place. You are deprived of the opportunity to find the solution online, because no one has been there before. You can't even send a mail to the developers, because they haven't seen the planet before either. You're left to rely on your own logic, and have to find your way forward through trial and error, that is if you want to leave the planet safely. The game is built on this fundamental, where players have to learn from their mistakes, where they have to decide which role to play in the place, and where they have to complete the journey to the centre of the universe alone.

When you begin you start on a random planet, without resources and a ship not good enough to fly to other galaxies. Hello Games doesn't believe in tutorials and that is why you shouldn't count on a lot of help doing the first few hours, aside from your own curiosity and endurance. It's an interesting design choice and it's going to be exciting to see whether players have the patience to learn the mechanics on their own. Should they succeed in becoming a space explorer who laughs at danger, the satisfaction will be that much greater, because you did it on your own. We've only had thirty minutes with the game, so the developers were nice enough to explain what we were supposed to do, and after fifteen minutes we were flying out of the planet's atmosphere. But let's go back to the beginning of our experience.

After having watched and read a lot about the game, we were exited - and somewhat nervous - when we finally got the controller in hand. The game has amazed everyone with its size, but how does it feel to play? What are you supposed to do on the different planets? And is the shooting as bad as some gameplay trailers made it seem? We begin the demo with a primitive gun and only a few scant resources.

The planet we're standing on is located far away from the nearest sun, which means the temperature is low enough to kill us, if we don't find shelter. We can see a space station in horizon and start running towards it. On the way we see red crystals that we can use as a resource, so we draw our gun and start shooting. We don't manage to blow up many crystals before the planet's defence system flies over and investigates the noise. The machines start scanning the area we're standing in and suddenly we got one star, and after that they begin attacking us. The shooting mechanics work fine, but don't expect the next Call of Duty. The weapons lacked a little weight, and when we finally hit our target, they often took the bullets without being noticeably knocked back. It's important to emphasize, that I was armed with one of the weakest guns in the game, so maybe the shooting will feel more satisfying with a more powerful weapon. Regardless of what you're armed with, there can be no doubt that No Man's Sky is a game about exploring first, and a shooting things second.

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When we get to the space station an alien is standing peacefully inside while reading something on a notepad. When we get closer to him he says something to me, but because we can't speak his language we don't understand what it is he is trying to say. We're presented with four different answers that include: "ask him to help you understand what he's saying" and" praise his ancestors for their architecture". After deciding to praise his ancestors we're greeted by a confused look and a text that emphasizes the fact that he doesn't understand us either. Humiliated we walk outside and hope the journalists behind me didn't see the dialogue option I choose. Scattered across the whole universe are countless different alien races that you can interact with. They all speak a different language, and the only way to learn the language is through huge monoliths hiding throughout the universe. Every time you find and read a new monolith, you will learn a new word. So the next time you're talking with an alien, you may understand one out of 5 words and can guess what he's trying to say.

Some races appreciate trade, some strength, and others appreciate travellers that explore a lot, and throughout your time with the game you'll start to understand how to behave and react to the different races. If you help an alien - it could be by getting something specific for them - your relationship with the whole species will increase. A good relationship can decrease prices on whatever they're selling or help you out if you need specific resource. It's still unclear what a bad relationship entails. Whether they'll attack you if you get too close or just have unreasonably high prices, we can only guess, but it is an exciting system that we're looking forward to fully exploring. It is good to finally experience first-hand what we're supposed to do on the planets, besides finding resources, and we hope this part of the game is a rich and satisfying.

Outside the space station lies a landing pad for spaceships. We're provided with a keycard, which we put inside the terminal and up comes our primitive but beautiful spaceship. Jumping on board by holding down square, we hold down R2 and start flying towards to open sky. Flying is exactly as fantastic and freeing as anticipated. When we get outside the planet's atmosphere, we find a huge green planet on the horizon, press L1 and R1 simultaneously, which starts my jump-drive and immediately I travel towards the planet at great speed. The spaceship isn't accustomed to travelling at such high speeds, so it swings dangerously back and forth, which makes it difficult to dodge the asteroids.

It's clear that the difference between your first primitive spaceship and a newer upgraded one will be huge, which only adds to feeling of progress when you finally buy a new craft. Luckily we manage to arrive safely at the planet and as we enter its atmosphere we're slowed down automatically. Flying into a planet's atmosphere is a wonderful experience, where all the planet's characteristics slowly jump into view. Suddenly you can the seas under you, the lush green forest landscape and the animals jumping in the grass.

We find a clearing in the forest and press square, thereafter our spaceship slowly lands on its own. With feet back on solid ground, we see fabulous animals of every size. With a single press on the D-pad, we can scan everything around us, and with surprisingly huge range, and we learn that the animals haven't been found yet, so we jump inside the menu and name them myself. One of the smaller animals considers us a threat and starts attacking, so we bring out the gun for a second time and start shooting. Some of the animals around continue to eat grass as if nothing is going on, others are fleeing the battle, but no-one or nothing is helping the creature attacking me. It's a nice addition that the animals behave differently, because it only adds to the experience and makes the place feel alive and believable. We just about manage to kill the beast before the demo is over and we sadly have to put the controller down.

Explaining everything about our No Man's Sky experience after only playing thirty minutes is impossible. Consider this a taste of what can only be described as a gigantic main course. Whether you want to be a trader, a survivor, a fighter or an explorer is entirely up to you. There are still a lot of unanswered questions: what will drive us to the centre of the universe and will there be more to do on the planets besides what we experienced doing the demo? The different races, whose language you're learning and slowly building a relationship with, is a big step in the right direction. But there has to be even more to do, to keep players entertained. The game's gigantic size managed to arouse our curiosity but it's the gameplay that has to sell the experience. After thirty minutes with the game we know that it's a game we're looking forward to playing. Whether it's a game that is going to entertain for hundreds of hours? Only time will tell.

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