‘Disappointment’ is a strong word to throw around, but for some it fits No Man’s Sky like a glove. Allowing you to explore thousands of worlds in a randomly-generated universe, you can’t type this game’s name into Google without bumping into claims that it didn’t keep its promises. Worse still, many argue that there isn’t enough to do in its randomly generated universe. While I can’t comment on whether that’s true or not (£50 seemed a bit steep to pick it up on launch day) this doesn’t sound dissimilar to genuine space exploration; lonely, dull and crushingly repetitive.
In an unfortunate reality-check for any would-be Captain Kirk, most planets seem a bit boring. Collections of lifeless rock spin through space in tandem with gas giants and frozen wastes, bypassing the visual feasts we’re usually treated to in science-fiction. The number of Earth-like planets out there is barely above a handful. Even those are lightyears apart, and we can’t be sure they’re similar to our world in the first place. If we were to jet out into the cosmos right now, it’s doubtful we’d find much beyond balls of dust and fumes with an endless void between them. This is fascinating in its own right, but I understand it’s not quite an adventure in the Millennium Falcon. It brings to mind a quote from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space’.
It’s not unrealistic for the game to be so preoccupied with resources, either. Space exploration is almost prohibitively expensive, and any company that wants to jump on the bandwagon will need an incentive beyond exploring the final frontier. I can’t imagine mapping the heavens would be enough of a motivation for organisations pumping billions into this field. An untapped well of minerals, metals and precious gases would therefore fit the bill nicely. As such, lumping players with the task of collecting natural resources doesn’t feel unbelievable – even if it is unenviable. It’s less U.S.S Enterprise and more Nostromo, the space tugboat from Aliens.
At least No Man’s Sky doesn’t make us worry about something equally plausible; foreign bacteria. If we ever found an alien world, we’d probably find alien illness as well. The human body would never have encountered this kind of pathogen before, so it’d have no absolutely defence against such a threat. The results wouldn’t be pretty. What might be a common cold for the locals could easily kill us.
In retrospect, stroppy space monsters and boredom are preferable. Because No Man’s Sky got something very, very right without meaning to; space is a miserable place to be.
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