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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews No Man's Sky.

Transcript Edit

Games with a theoretically infinite amount of content are all very well, but I don't think the developers ever consider what the fuck we're supposed to do with it all. I mean my kitchen sink can produce a theoretically infinite amount of water, but once I've stopped being thirsty and I'm as clean as I'm ever going to get and cooked all my spaghetti and filled all the condoms I intend to throw at the bailiffs, then what am I supposed to do with the rest of the stuff? A question worth considering as we take a look at No Man's Sky, a game about exploring a theoretically infinite universe of possibility, which is a shame because Elite: Dangerous is also about exploring a theoretically infinite universe of possibility and I don't really have room for two theoretically infinite universes in my house. I already sold most of the furniture to make room for all the cooked spaghetti. 

The setup is: You wake upon a mysterious planet next to a crashed space ship and after repairing with raw materials gathered from the surrounding wilderness you can begin an epic journey to nowhere in particular for no given reason. You gather the fuel to hyper drive to star system after star system, following a line that eventually leads to some kind of geometric ancient space wonder someone nicked out of a Bungie game that gives you a prize bag and another line to follow. 

The main question for me was: what the hell was I supposed to be progressing towards? The ancient space wonders were all shrugging their monolithic shoulders at me. Maybe I'm supposed to be gradually crafting and upgrading my to the best possible ship and equipment I could have. But the problem with that is: there doesn't seem to be any use for your ship and equipment except to find stuff to upgrade your ship and equipment with. Besides that, there is also a laundry list of developmental mile stones to reach, most of which are breathtakingly inane and I could really do without the fucking award ceremony every single time you get one. "Congratulations! You have scratched your arse twenty thousand times. Here is a prolongued jingle while this text selfishly hogs the interface for thirty seconds so you can't interact with anything. Congratulations! You have contracted radiation poisoning from a planet's toxic atmosphere. Here's another ji- Congratulations! You have died a total of one hundred times from radiation poisoning while inches from safety because you can't get inside your ship while I'm telling you about all the milestones you've achieved." 

"What are you, Yahtz? An emotionless, scotch egg-powered robot that shuts down when it hasn't had instructions on punch card pushed up its arse that morning? It's not about winning or reaching the end, it's about the exploration and appreciating the unique sides of the cosmos, man!" The thing about exploration, my little pubic louse, is that the appeal lies in the finding. You can explore a sheet of blank printer paper for an afternoon, but it wouldn't exactly stimulate. There is nothing to find in No Man's Sky you can't find in about five hundred million other places. If I ever find myself badly in need of a futuristic shed containing a bench with some christmas lights on the side, then I can land on literally any planet and start walking in any direction. Every planet is unique, strictly speaking, but every human being is unique and it's still hard to appreciate that when you're queueing up at the post office behind nine old people who all want to pay with luncheon vouchers. Oh look, this planet has a unique species of quadruped with three horns and nine armpits, but all that it's actually going to do is either wander aimlessly about or run up and knibble your bum. And the crafting system says it all: you kill this one-of-a-kind creature with its unique evolutionary history and are rewarded with some carbon which you stack on top of the identical carbon you got from the unique and complex creature you murdered in the star system next door. 

The crafting's not exactly intuitive either. In Minecraft, you put a long stone shape on the end of a bit of wood and one spool of implied duct tape later you have a sword, with the slightest rearrangement it can also be a pick or a shovel or a rather uncomfortable rectangular sex toy. Meanwhile in No Man's Sky you take your hard-earned carbon and turn it into a green thing that has no use, except it can be turned into a purple thing that also has no use, except that it can be turned into warp fuel. Why not have us bung a load of carbon in the gas tank and bang our kneecaps with a crowbar for a few minutes. When out of takeoff fuel on a planet, you might have a moment of drama from having to scavenge more, but then you find some stuck to your shoe after walking ten feet and there's no point exploring much further cause your inventory space is the size of a Virgin Airways carry-on baggage allotment. 

And I swear I probably found upgrades to my laser gun more often than I got into actual fucking combat with the thing. Not every planet has animals, not every planet with animals has hostile animals, and even when it does there's usually plenty of wasteland to go around. You need carbon that badly, just land near some trees and inhale a few times. 

In brief, I was having trouble finding the gameplay in this game. I understand the principle of making your own entertainment, but this isn't that. Elite: Dangerous is that because it's complex enough that you can choose the path of trader, fighter or explorer from one of hundreds of possible routes. And at every junction, you're extracting in-between challenges from having to land your ship inside a space station without banging into a control tower and knocking your pint of Guinness out of your cockpit's drink holder. No Man's Sky denies you even that. Press one button to take off or land and the game does it all for you, assuming it doesn't make you clip inside of an inexplicably hovering ore deposit that's totally meant to do that and not a bug, no really. When you're in flight, the game will even automatically pull up to stop you smashing into the ground, no matter how perfectly justified your urge to end your tedious existence. 

It's baby's first Elite: Dangerous is what it is. We're strapped into our fucking ultra-safe high chair of a space ship to stare at the huge, friendly typeface of a simplistic GUI that looks like a Windows 10 menu by way of the IKEA catalogue. 

"I feel like you still haven't learnt to appreciate the unique beauty of the cosmos, Yahtz". Hey, I'd appreciate it a lot more if it wasn't constantly popping in like your least favourite neighbour and making the game as immersive as a gravel pit. When I'm descending through the atmosphere of a planet, you could at least put up a few obscuring cloud effects so I don't notice the terrain below me switching blatantly to full 3D rendering from blurry 2D Google-Maps-ovision. 

No Man's Sky feels like one of those crafting survival games that keep popping up on Steam like boomtowns in the California gold rush. And they're just as likely to still be populated a few years down the line, but with a load of added pressure to perform that it can't live up to. Maybe if we'd been able to build things, complete the Minecraft comparison, give us a reason to go back to places rather than stampede through space hoovering up resources and space STDs. Not much creative fulfillment to be had renaming the things we discover. I discovered way too many interchangeable things and ran out of euphemisms for genitalia. 

Does the name Spore ring a bell? Remember what a big thing that was supposed to be before its big idea for galaxy-spanning gameplay turned out to be a bunch of little ideas strung together, none strong enough to sustain interest? You know they say: "He who forgets the past is condemned to resit history A-level."

Addenda Edit

  • Master of the universe: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • What you have to remember is that sometimes smashing at full speed into the ground is a cathartic way to round out a dull afternoon's surveying
  • Other washing up liquids are available
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
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2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2

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