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Slot Galaxy Explorer — Game Review

No Man’s Sky review: beautifully crafted galaxy with a game attached

No Man’s Sky screengrab

N owadays it seems difficult to consider a game separately from the months or years of expectation that preceded its release. Just as science fiction is built on speculation, so too was the conversation surrounding this science-fiction video game. Two-and-a-half years ago, the team at Hello Games presented their concept for a practically infinite procedurally generated galaxy, and since then they’ve been suffering the consequences of that pitch’s success, faced with the task of creating a real game that would somehow measure up to thousands of different imagined ones.

No Man

The core promise, at least, is unquestionably fulfilled. Every player starts on a different planet near the edge of effectively the same galaxy, generated in the same way from the same seed, but with apparently no substantial multiplayer overlap, no chance to meet. Because the galaxy is generated rather than designed, your starting planet might be hot or cold or toxic or radioactive, populated by trees or cacti or twisted vines, tinged red or yellow or green or brown or blue. But whatever the planet looks like, you’ll be able to journey across its surface and find plenty of the resources needed to fix your crashed spaceship.

Sometimes you can see this generation in action, the terrain seeming to fizzle into existence around you as you land your ship on a new planet, the occasional underlying grid flashing before your eyes before it becomes a block of silicate instead. But once you’ve settled on the surface, the results are inevitably astounding. The ability for the algorithm to generate astonishing landscapes is somewhat reminiscent of the wonders you can find in Minecraft, but No Man’s Sky is much more beautiful, smoothing the edges from mountains and rocky arches and sprawling cave networks alike. Flora and fauna too are surprising and delightful, as creatures as strange as user creations from Maxis’ Spore frolic in forests of giant flowers. No Man’s Sky is endless screenshot bait.

No Man

But, of course, Hello Games needed to add a game to their engine, to give the player plenty to do. And so, as well as the plants, animals and mineable resources, planets also feature discoverable locations, crates of supplies, ancient ruins and knowledge stones, which teach you new words in one of three alien tongues. These words help you understand the intelligent aliens you find holed up in outposts. Early discussions of No Man’s Sky suggested the galaxy would be relatively unpopulated, but in some ways this highly populated version seems lonelier. There are only two identifiable characters, who appear at intervals to help you on your path, and the rest of the aliens are necessarily nonspecific, there to tell a story in a few lines of text and award you some resource: a blueprint, an upgrade, some new words, an improved relationship with their species. And despite the evidence of a vast spacefaring civilisation with its reaches in every corner of the galaxy, they’re always alone.

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Still, there’s something charmingly human about the environments in which you find these aliens, with empty chairs at empty tables, lines of coffee cups, and even stairs with handrails. Like in pre-CGI Doctor Who, when the aliens were costumed actors, everything is reassuringly people-sized. In the name of playability, Hello Games has erred on the side of accessible fantasy.

No Man

It doesn’t take long to learn the rules of this universe. You mine with your multitool’s laser: rocks for iron, plants for carbon, red crystals for plutonium, giant obelisks for heridium, floating ovals for copper, and so on. You have only three pieces of equipment: your spaceship, your exosuit, and your multitool. Each has a limited number of slots to store resources, and upgrades that you craft from blueprints, but you can expand: aliens will sell or gift you bigger multitools, pointed pods contain a terminal that lets you pay for one extra slot in your Exosuit, and you can buy a replacement ship from an alien docked at a space station or repair one found crashed on a planet. You earn the “units” needed to buy things by selling resources or uploading data on the planets you’ve visited and the creatures, plants, and even rocks you’ve scanned. You interact with terminals in abandoned buildings by knowing enough words in an alien language to determine which button to press. You interpret distress signals by solving simple mathematical sequences. No Man’s Sky doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is obvious the first time you come across a planet whose climate is described as “emollient” or a creature whose gender is “radical”.

These interactions are comparatively shallow, but they’re enough for now. The developers have struck a difficult balance, providing reasons to keep playing without overcomplicating or distracting too much from the joy of exploration. To stave off boredom, they’ve made it so the hazard protection in your exosuit depletes over time, at different rates depending on the conditions of the current planet and what upgrades you’ve installed. They’ve populated the planets with sentinel drones of varying temperaments, and the space above with occasional pirates that will target ships carrying valuable cargo. Upgrades can help – an improved shield for your ship, a longer duration for the jetpack on your exosuit, a weapon attachment for your multitool that makes quick work of drones and lets you break into abandoned buildings – but since each one takes up an inventory slot that might otherwise be used to hoard valuable resources, you have to prioritise.

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Screengrab of galaxy scene from cockpit

No Man’s Sky is an unimaginably huge sandbox to be approached however you choose, but there are light paths a player in need of guidance can follow. Those wanting to speed towards some kind of “ending” can do so by repeating a core loop, harvesting resources and crafting warp cells, warping closer and closer to their goal, and then repeating, perhaps halting occasionally to buy a few upgrades to make their journey easier. But in a game where these overarching goals were so obviously an afterthought, that’s clearly not the best way to play.

The game that Hello Games has laid atop their incredible engine won’t be enough for some people. Fortunately, the developers have already said that they’ll add new features in future (free) updates, and presumably they’ll also fix the bugs, further tweak the balance, and hopefully adapt the UI for things like inventory management and location markers. But what’s there in the game as it exists today, the procedurally generated galaxy at its core, is incredible, and definitely worth exploring.

This is the kind of game that you’ll see screenshotted all over Twitter, an experience made to be shared not in the direct way that some apparently envisaged, but in postcard-style snaps of places your friends will probably never go. No Man’s Sky is a way to experience the kinds of cool moments you read about in old sci-fi novels – shoot a hole through an asteroid and fly through it, shelter in a cave to watch a deadly storm tear across an alien landscape, or make friends with a dinosaur (obviously) – all to an evocative procedural post-rock soundtrack from 65daysofstatic. The planets you, and probably only you, will discover can be so lovely that it feels bittersweet to know that you’ll leave them behind when you jump to the next star. But then, in an essentially infinite galaxy, there’s always something new to discover.

Jordan tested No Man’s Sky on a PS4

PS4/Steam (Windows only); £50; Pegi rating: 7+

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Games That I Play

Because Steam reviews should be more than just «Funny line 10/10»


Transcendence Desura Review

Transcendence is a top down inter galactic game of exploration as you pilot your space ship from randomly generated galaxy to the next on your way to the core. You have full control over your ship and you’ll dock with space stations, loot destroyed vessels, upgrade and survive space battles against dozens of enemies. Like most space travel games, it fits a place in a certain tranquility and relaxation even with the battles here and there. While this is a game with good screen filling action, I’d say its a balanced harmony between action, exploration and questing.

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If I was forced to simplify the gameplay, I’d say its a kin to the old arcade classic Asteroids. You pilot a space ship that uses the up arrow to thrust forward and left or right to rotate. Tank controls, but with momentum. Your momentum can propel you forever. Space and Ctrl fire your primary weapon, Shift fires a missile. Tab changes the missile type and W changes the primary weapon. Its a simple play mechanic or what is a simple game that goes so deep. I would have preferred a dual stick shooter to these keyboard only controls.

In battle, there are all sorts of lasers, bullets and rockets flying. Not just between you and hostile enemies, but there are neutral or good ships too that will jump into a fight with you. It makes the universe feel alive. When I’m getting chased by a dozen ships because I’ve run out of ammunition, it feels good to know I can make it to an outpost and three or so docked ships will jump to my rescue. Another way the game feels alive is there is no pause. Even if you’re docked with a base, reading descriptive text or learning about a mission, the game doesn’t stop. Enemies don’t just shoot at you, they’re smart enough to shoot at where you’ll be!Its a brilliant touch that adds to the difficulty that other games overlook. Your only chance to not get hit is to change course, which is tough to do when momentum pushes you forward. There are asteroids and planets that will block projectiles. You can still fly through them of course, but the projectiles can’t. If your ship takes too much damage, what I can only describe as your shields will give way and leave your hull vulnerable. Your ship has four hull plates, forward, aft, port and starboard. Each type of plate its own perks like some are good against lasers, other can take explosive damage, but all plates have limited amount of damage that they can take before you’re dead. Luckily you can always load up an auto save! I’m really thankful for auto save. With a game this big of size and scope, I just don’t want to have to start all over again. My universe has become my universe, I’ve played in three others, but I just don’t want to go to another universe until I’ve completed “my universe.”

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You start by selecting your space ship from one of three available. Each ship has its own weapons, engines, reactor, armor, shields, cargo capacity and expansion slots. Everything can be modified, changed, tweaked, upgraded and repaired in space docks. So your freighter can have the shields of the gunship. Some ships have limited weapon slots, so your freighter can never be as weaponized as the gunship. That’s not a problem though since you can only use one weapon at a time. Sure the gunship can have five weapons, but it doesn’t mean much when you find yourself using only one. The freighter moves slower, turns better and starts out with an auto targeting laser that makes it pretty simple to use. The gunship turns wildly and only shoots forward, but again you can buy new weapons. The yacht feels like its the fastest and that can spin you out until you get the hang of it.

Once you’re in the game, you’re taken through the tutorial galaxy. Its just like every other galaxy, randomly generated, but with quests that spoon feed you things. You’re still free to do what you want, but in order to leave the galaxy you need to complete the missions. Things like destroying ships, then finding three friendly colonies and doing a mission for each. You need to find these colonies, so you’ll need your map with the M key. There are planets and asteroid belts circling a star. You’ll need to discover their locations. Its part of the game, traveling and finding things. Start with the big planets, then go to the asteroid belts. There’s a fast travel auto pilot that makes everything bearable. I wish that it was easier to get out of the map when my hands are working the A key for the auto pilot and the arrows for navigation, dropping back to the makes me vulnerable moving my hand off the arrows.

The quests are laid out easier, they guide you with flags on the side of your screen like a compass. These missions are things like protect a ship, escort a freighter safely, destroy a hostile outpost. In later galaxies, I encountered scenarios where I had to defend a base from waves of enemies. Other times I entered a galaxy to find I was in the middle of a massive battle between good and evil with giant hostile battleships pouring into the space gate. These space gates that I talk about are the galaxy exits.

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Once you make it through the tutorial galaxy, all other space gates are unlocked, but you’ll need to find them of course. Some times its pretty easy, other times I found myself stumbling upon them in a least expected place. One of the beauties of the game is that if you leave the galaxy, you can still go back. It makes for a living, breathing sort of universe. When one galaxy is vacant, I can always go back to a previous one for ammunition and fuel. Other galaxies have been over populated, where it was like flying through a city of space stations in orbit around a planet.

Speaking of fuel, you’ll need it. If you run out of fuel, you have 20 seconds or so to power your ship before life support fails and you die. You’re not just fighting space ships, but against space itself. There are refueling depots everywhere and even without them, several space bases have docks to refill your ship for a cost. You can also buy fuel and refill at your leisure. There’s a certain old school 90s PC game charm to Transcendence. Old school graphics, simple game play, keyboard only controls and a bit of flavor text to read. The music feels almost forgotten, like after a few tunes its non existent, but I guess this is space after all. The title theme sounds like a take on Star Trek and that only fits the vibe of the game.

I found some sort of online user feature, but I haven’t seen any sort of multi-player. Maybe it all ties in with some sort of leader board. When you start up the game there is either a demo playing or its a real player, playing live. I’ll go with the demo. You can use your online user name to download a free expansion or pay for premium expansions. I fear that this game goes so deep that I’ll never feel a need to download a new adventure, especially when this one is randomly generated. On the other hand, I think a lot of people will feel that because they had so much fun playing the game in general, they’ll pay money out of respect for the game.

In closing, I think that I’d prefer the controls to be better and not keyboard only. I’d just enjoy this type of game away from my keyboard. There’s a lot of game here for those willing to go down the rabbit hole. You’ll never know what’s in the next galaxy. While I don’t think this is a game for a casual player, I think there’s a specific type of person that will play this for days on end and love every second of it.

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