No Man's Sky's recently released Next update radically improves content and visuals and we've had a lot of fun playing it in its new Xbox One X incarnation - but we've got to say that the PC version still needs a lot of work. Performance doesn't seem to be where it should be, even on higher-end GPUs while basics like v-sync don't seem to work properly. On top of that, right from the off, basic user-friendliness comforts and presentation create a genuinely poor introduction to the game. For a title that has improved so dramatically since launch, we genuinely hope to see Hello Games make one last push to make life easier for PC users.
What a trip it's been. Back in 2013, when a little team that was working out of a busted-up old studio they shared with a taxi rank on a small street in Guildford revealed its follow-up to a series of cute cartoon racing games, it was one of those moments. No Man's Sky captured the world's attention like few other games have before it. And for three years No Man's Sky was given the world's stage, making headline appearances at E3 conferences and with creator Sean Murray guesting on big-name US talk shows. "I thought Morgan Freeman was God!" quipped Stephen Colbert as Murray appeared on The Late Show and showed off his procedurally generated universe. "You're actually the second God I've had on the show."
No Man's Sky ambitious NEXT update is out next week, coming to PC, PS4 and, for the first time, Xbox One. It's been a year in the making and is, it's fair to say, big.
Right now, I've only had around 30 minutes with this latest version, so it's impossible to fully appreciate its scope - but, speaking as someone that's accrued hundreds of hours with the game and its three previous updates, it's already clear that NEXT marks a significant new chapter for No Man's Sky.
The first, most striking aspect of NEXT is, unsurprisingly, its visual overhaul - and, as the recent trailer will attest, it's genuinely remarkable just how different No Man's Sky looks. Its massively improved lighting, better atmospheric effects, and increased draw distances, alongside a gorgeous new cloud rendering system, improved textures, better water, an optional new third-person camera, and more, combine to create a much more subtle aesthetic.
He has seen things you wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. C-beams glittering in the dark near the Tannhäuser gate. Roy Batty's dying monologue is a key scene of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, its pathos buttressed by a sense of wonder in the face of things no ordinary human being will ever see.
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When I fired up No Man's Sky last week, with an eye on today's anniversary of its release, my save file showed that the last time I played the game was in late August last year. I had reviewed it and kept playing for a couple of weeks afterwards; despite the storm of controversy and disappointment that raged around the release of Hello Games' sci-fi exploration game, some of it justified, I had enjoyed myself. It struck me as a hypnotic curio, built on moonshot technology, that deserved neither the slating it got nor the outsized hype that had raised expectations of it to the realm of fantasy.
The ID@Xbox self-publishing program might be Xbox One's crowning glory at the time of writing, boasting 450 titles that have notched up well over a billion hours of play, but it could do with a crown jewel. The service has seen its share of critical darlings, from Superhot to Inside, but many of its best games are multiplatform, and many of its "exclusives" appear on PCs as well - part of a much-vaunted push towards device agnosticism that often feels like it's more in the service of Windows 10 than Xbox.
No Man's Sky's latest 1.20 patch - the Path Finder update - is the biggest update the game has seen so far, and its new PS4 Pro feature set is getting a lot of positive attention. And rightly so: couple your console to a full HD display and Hello Games' space epic delivers a nigh-on locked 60fps at native resolution, representing an extraordinary upgrade over the base PlayStation 4 code, which in turn has received some welcome optimisation too. It's not a complete success though, and the Pro's 4K resolution mode isn't anything like as accomplished.
2016 was an exhausting year, wasn't it?
2016 was a strange year for video games. Recent memory is dominated by a handful of high quality blockbusters that failed to excite people. But let's not forget earlier this year, when a handful of superb blockbusters definitely did excite people. And I'm not just talking about Street Fighter, either (don't @ me).
In researching 2016, I was surprised to find it jam-packed with video game stuff. Lots of things happened. Lots of people left developers. Lots of people joined developers. Some developers closed down. Some developers sprang into life. Lots and lots and lots of video games came out, mostly on Valve's ever-bulging Steam. Most were crap. Some were good. But in the pursuit of some kind of meaning, some kind of trend, I was left frustrated. Video games continue to be very good, even though 2016, at its close, feels a little less groundbreaking than I'd liked it to have been.
January, typically a quiet month for video games, saw a number of high-profile developers move on. Marc Laidlaw, lead writer of the Half-Life series, retired from Valve. The move was seen as further evidence, not that it's needed at this point, that Half-Life 3 is just not happening. Then we learnt Leslie Benzies, long-time leader of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North, had left the company after a 16-month sabbatical. He later sued Take-Two for $150m in a move that's already aired a basket full of dirty laundry. Will the parties settle? I kind of hope not.
Love it or hate it, No Man's Sky was the most important, influential video game of 2016.
Hello! It's time for another Eurogamer podcast with two of the three Eurogamer Chrises! And oh man, the games we have been playing.
Let's get the awkward bit out of the way first.
I liked No Man's Sky. For the two weeks just after launch when I was firmly under its spell, I really liked No Man's Sky, and was happily lost to its lulling loop of exploration and adventure. There's something soothing about the gentle brand of sci-fi that fuelled Hello Games and No Man's Sky's infectiously sanguine artwork, all hazy purples and pinks swirling together like the Chris Foss artwork that inspired it. If you've ever spent long lazy evenings leafing through dog-eared Panther paperbacks, No Man's Sky could feel pretty special; having been sucked in by the sci-fi splendour of those early trailers, it was every inch the game I wanted to play.
For many others it wasn't, though. Maybe it was the air of well-engineered enigma that lingered throughout the pre-launch process, the half-truths or, in one oft-cited example, the outright lies, but for many No Man's Sky fell well short of their expectations. Its more polite critics called it a husk, its more vitriolic an absolute sham and Hello Games' mute approach didn't help silence the almighty din that met the release. Until, eventually, it did. The subreddit slowed to a halt, charting only the number of days since Hello Games' had spoken about the game. Players moved on, and it seemed for a while that No Man's Sky was happy to be finally forgotten.
I'm writing this a couple of days after the release of No Man's Sky. The incandescent vapour of Internet opinion is coalescing around a cooling core of critical consensus. I imagine that by the time you read this there will have been magmatic eruptions of violent dissent, an orbit of backlash and counter-backlash. The world's telescopes will have been trained on Sean Murray as he explains in defiant, melancholy interviews and blog posts why No Man's Sky is only exactly what everyone knew it would be: the world's most ambitious, expensive and beautiful walking simulator. Except you fly, of course. I'll come back to that.
No Man's Sky is a very pretty game. Its bold use of colour, surprising sentient life, and dynamic climate system offer vistas that stick in the mind for quite some time. While its procedurally-generated environments aren't quite as stunning as those shown in early trailers, it's not far off with each planet's terrain, skyline, flora and fauna offering a mesmerising sight for sore eyes. Some may be disappointed by its lack of thriving cities and lush forests, but for my money No Man's Sky still offers the most varied take on "barren alien wasteland" the gaming space has ever seen.
It's finally out, and so the mystery of what No Man's Sky is has been solved. Except there wasn't much mystery at all, it turns out - No Man's Sky, for all its soaring ambition, feels like it belongs to a long line of games that have taken the vast stretches of space as their canvas on which to work wonders. If anything, No Man's Sky feels like a game from another age, when you'd work through stacks of 3.5 inch floppy disks around a friend's house in search of something strange and new. The tension you get when a game built in the spirit of a more innocent time clashes with the suffocating hype, expectation and savage appetites of the modern age has made for a palpable tension of late, but hopefully it hasn't detracted from the marvellous achievement made by Hello Games. No Man's Sky may be on a different scale, and party to a very different audience, but it's more than worthy of rubbing shoulders with some of the following legends.
Five years in the making by indie developer Hello Games, No Man's Sky is a game of incredible scale from a relatively small team. Built on an in-house engine, the final product weighs in at a meagre 5GB on your hard drive - a tiny amount compared to any typical AAA release. This is far from ordinary, and with the game relying heavily on procedural generation, very little of the game's visual make-up uses pre-made textures or assets. Instead, the star of the show is the set of algorithms at its core - lines of code capable of generating terrain, plants and even unique wildlife on-the-fly.
We're into our first day with the highly anticipated No Man's Sky running on PlayStation 4 and by and large, in terms of performance, the game is holding up nicely. First impressions are striking: we haven't seen a game quite like this so far in this console generation - its engine relying on voxels and procedural generation to create an open-ended, unique journey for every player. And for a performance analysis, there's simply no telling what you'll find out there that we haven't. We'll continue to update with any further impressions but, we've played enough of No Man's Sky - on patch 1.03, of course - to get a flavour of how the game's mechanics all come together.
So let's kick off with the basics. The PS4 version runs at a native 1080p resolution, and commits itself to a 30 frames per second cap with v-sync engaged. And by and large, it holds up well. For any on-foot action across our very first randomly generated world, we struggled to find any drops at all. And this is really pushing the envelope here - our debut planet is high in flora and fauna, absolutely filled to the brim with tropical trees, hills and wildlife. But even with this immense density of detail, there wasn't much more than one single frame drop from 30fps across that initial hour of play.
Whether it's shooting chunks through the terrain, or sprinting around full-felt, that 30fps target doesn't waver. And from the first 12 planets we've discovered and put to the test, it doesn't appear to matter what climates or weather conditions are in play. Now the only slight downside to the frame-rate cap is the lack of motion blur to back it, in order to make panning motions appear a little smoother. But that's a nitpick: those after super-smooth motion are best advised to wait for the PC version, but for PS4 we're getting an evenly frame-paced delivery at a straight 30fps.
Contrary to popular belief, our jobs rarely consist of playing games all day. Mostly it's just a rushed 10 minutes or so here and there before we slink off back to our desks to write another thousand words of copy. I'm happy to report, however, that today we'll be bucking that trend with a mammoth No Man's Sky livestream that may well last the length of the working day and beyond. Will there be mammoths? You never know.
Well over two years after No Man's Sky was unveiled, Hello Games' Sean Murray is still fielding the same question that's been circling this game from the very start. And each and every time he's answered it patiently, diligently and, somewhat commendably, without displaying any frustration at having to repeat himself all over again. So, with No Man's Sky finally available in playable form during a press event, let's run through this one more time. Just for old time's sake. What is it you actually do in this game?
Science fiction has always been at the core of No Man's Sky. That might seem like a superfluous thing to say, given its scope, its fantasy and its attempt to realise the awe-inspiring spectacle of a life lived amidst a near-infinite sea of stars, but it's a very particular brand of science fiction that the team at Hello Games (they're a small team, I think I've heard) have taken to heart.
"Space is big", wrote Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. "You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space..."
There's a time and a place for subtlety, and the stage of a platform holder's conference very likely isn't it. Having just played a starring role in Sony's E3 show, Hello Games' Sean Murray watched the rest unfold in bemusement in the green room, puzzled as to why every grotesque fatality in the newly revealed Mortal Kombat 10 was met with a cheer. "What is that about?" he asks no-one in particular. "It all seems a bit brutal for us Europeans."
If you're on Mars next October you should probably be careful. There's a comet swinging past - comet Siding Spring - and while it's unlikely to connect with Big Red itself, it will bring glittering meteors spinning in its wake. Lots of meteors, actually - some of which - and I shivered when I read this line on the front page of the New Scientist website - "could pose a danger to orbiting spacecraft."