How one of gaming’s brightest stars ultimately became nothing more than a gas giant
While we at Hey Poor Player, much like the rest of the gaming press, try to look at things with a more critical eye, sometimes we too can’t help but put down our shields of jaded cynicism and buy into the hype that some games garner. We are only human, after all. And despite our best judgement, games that show flashes of unique promise or aim to take gaming in a direction we’ve yet to experience always manage to set our imaginations aflutter as we marvel at the possibilities these titles seem to provide. And when discussing games that bring with them a monsoon of marketing hype and intrigue, few games in the history of this industry have managed to cause as much of a ballyhoo as developer Hello Games’ hugely anticipated game of interstellar exploration, No Man’s Sky.
After what felt like an eternity, the game is now upon us. Over the past week millions of players have set off on their journeys towards the center of the universe. Unfortunately, if most are anything like me, I can’t imagine the majority of them will be completing their mission to chart No Man’s Sky’s vast cosmos. There simply isn’t much there to hold the interest of even the most intrepid interplanetary explorers.
It pains me to feel so ambivalent about a game that once seemed to hold so much promise. However, after charting countless planets and weird examples of alien wildlife, I simply can’t find the desire to go any further. Maybe it’s the generic architecture that makes even the most distant planets feel strangely similar to their furthest neighbors, killing any feeling of exploring uncharted alien worlds. Or maybe it’s the rinse-and-repeat nature of the game’s shocking shallow survival mechanics that makes each trek feel like an exercise in tedium. Or maybe it’s the lack of features that were promised throughout the game’s development period that make No Man’s Sky feel like an empty husk that once teemed with the promise of something much greater than its final form.
While it was never meant to be the star of the show, Hello Games’ own Sean Murray promised on numerous occasions that the game would feature some form of multiplayer component. Even though he assured players they likely wouldn’t see one another with any sort of frequency due to the nature of the game’s massive universe, he made it abundantly clear that players would share the game’s massive galaxy, and that the possibility of crossing paths with other travelers could indeed happen. Unfortunately, within the first day of the game’s release two players who were conducting a Twitch live stream of the game did in fact attempt to meet on the same planet, only to discover they could not see or interact with one another. Since then, players have obviously grown concerned that this feature was left on the cutting room floor, and Murray’s answers regarding the issue have been less than forthcoming. Though some players have been willing to give the studio a free pass or chalk it up to server issues, others are fearing that they’ve been mislead in recent months regarding the game’s online features, and are understandably frustrated. I have to say that I feel myself closely aligned with the latter, as I feel what we’ve been left with is nothing more than a lonely experience where the only interaction with fellow players comes from a shared encyclopedia of star systems cleverly named after genitalia. And while I appreciate soaring into the Gonad system as much as the next armchair astronaut, I can’t help but feel the massive hype for the game would have been lessened if Hello Games were forthright about the game’s multiplayer component.
Now before you get your spacesuit in a bunch and accuse me of being bitter about a feature that was never promised, here’s some references to the multiplayer component straight from the creator’s mouth:
“People keep saying to us, “Yeah, but what if I knew where [my friends] were? Would I go there?” And it’s like, yeah, but they are going to have to stay there for quite a while while you get over there. And then once you get over there you might land on the same planet and then you will say, “I’m on a planet the size of Earth and I am on a mountain. Where are you?” Which is, I know, a weird thing and it’s a daunting thing.” – Game Informer, 2014
To be clear – I don’t feel that having any sort of traditional multiplayer experience baked into No Man’s Sky would change things that greatly, but it’s never acceptable for studios to mislead their consumers. After all, we all remember the fallout that Ubisoft faced when Watch Dogs released with its substantial visual downgrade and uninspired hacking mechanics, and such issues have been far from uncommon in the past generation of consoles. Even still, we refuse to treat this as business as usual, and I can’t help but feel developers should be taken to task when they remove or scale back features that they’ve touted for the duration of a project’s development. In the end, the developers and publishers end up looking dishonest, and gamers are left pre-ordering games that pale in comparison to what’s been promised at press events and during interviews without knowing what they’re going into. Simply put, that sucks for all parties involved, and a lack of transparency from the developer only further fuels the distrust many have felt towards even the most ambitious AAA projects in recent years.
Multiplayer woes aside, what really feels like a kick in the teeth is the sobering realization that No Man’s Sky is simply a very basic, middling experience. In fact, it’s hard to understand why Sony themselves decided to promote the game so raggedly ahead of its release. With so many incredible experiences destined for the PlayStation 4 over the course of the next year, No Man’s Sky, at least in its current state, feels like a mere blip on the radar; an experience as forgettable and lonely as the sea of haphazardly formed planetscapes and dead stars you’ll find yourself exploring, at least as long as your heavy eyelids will allow you to.
It’s my sincere hope that one day in the future, No Man’s Sky receives the updates necessary to make it ultimately live up to the stratospheric hype it was given. As it stands I can’t help but feel the day that happens is as far off as the center of the universe, and that’s a crying shame. One thing’s for sure – I think I’m done pre-ordering games for the foreseeable future.
For our full postmortem on No Man’s Sky, check out Adam’s review of the game here.