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No Man's Sky is absolutely stellar in VR

The sky's the limit.

It's amazing, of course. There are few games better suited to the full immersion of virtual reality, and I'm delighted to say that, from my short experience playing on a Vive Pro, Hello Games has knocked it out of the park. A sense of immersion has always been a key part of No Man's Sky's fantasy, and of course that's amplified immeasurably when wearing a headset - there's that thrilling sense of being there, feet planted on some alien planet, scanning the horizons and getting drunk on the endless possibilities out there.

I'm playing seated, with two Vive controllers helping me teleport from point to point - that's just one of the options when it comes to on-foot movement, though for comfort's sake it's the one I opt for - as I explore the surface, and a little beneath it too. Bringing the terrain manipulator to hand with a simple gesture that's like dipping into a backpack, I sculpt a small cavern and marvel at the sense of presence as I teeter over its depths. Later, while exploring, I come across a more natural cave, gargantuan in size, and feel a sense of isolation and wonder washing over me. Later still, my VR legs back under me, I give a thrust of the jetpack and perform a woozy, stomach-turning leap across a ravine.

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This VR update gives No Man's Sky a tactile edge, too. The inventory, always a bit fussy in the base game, suddenly makes a lot more sense when it's a 3D presence before you and you're swiping through screens, picking up items by hand and then dropping them in place. You step out of the ship by gesturing lifting the cockpit shield up, while the cockpits themselves are now fully rendered places more distinct to each ship, the throttle control in one hand while the flight stick is in the other. Naturally, ascending to the heavens and then into the stars beyond feels absolutely majestic.

VR comes as part of Beyond - a three-pronged update that introduces new online functionality, support for VR headsets and an as-yet-undisclosed feature - though it's tempting to think it's been a part of the No Man's Sky plan for a while. "It is something we always wanted to do," Hello Games' Sean Murray tells us. "But I'll be honest and say there was maybe two people in the studio who really, really wanted to work on it, and they powered forward with it. I was excited about it. We felt like it would be a reasonably small thing, like we'd do a very direct port, we wouldn't really change the game that much, and then it just felt better than I was expecting, you know."

"It's made us want to add more and more of the kind of things you saw where we try and make it feel intuitive, to make it feel different for VR. I'd love someone to say that the inventory works better in VR - that it feels more intuitive - or you get a better sense of that planet. You want, ideally, VR to be the ultimate version."

That's certainly the case when playing on a premium headset such as the Vive VR, so it'll be interesting to see how it scales down when played on a base PlayStation 4 running PSVR. It's an experience we've had a small taste of - at a recent event, Eurogamer's VR expert played on a PS4 Pro and saw a visual downgrade from the base game when playing with a headset, but not sizeable enough to balance out the positives when playing in VR - and it highlights another facet of the Beyond update.

"That's one of the big changes that makes us want to ship all these updates together - we've had to focus a lot on optimisation really heavily," says Murray. "That means the base game will run a lot better as well - that's been a big thing for us. We've learnt lessons - I'm not going to say months before we ship exactly what frame-rate it'll be, what specs we'll be hitting! I can definitely say, when we release Beyond, it'll be an optimised game for everyone. If you look at our feedback and problems people have on PC, PS4, Xbox, that's a really big deal for everyone. We've kept adding and adding stuff, and it's a technically challenging game - it's creaking around the seams in places - and this has allowed us to double down and go through everything. VR is not a compromised version of the game."

It should all help make Beyond another remarkable chapter in the No Man's Sky story - a journey that's been as fantastical as any taken by its planet-hopping players. The question, then, is what's next after that - and how long does Hello Games imagine it'll be supporting No Man's Sky for.

"We're obviously very committed to it," says Murray, who's had some hard-earned lessons throughout the game's development (and who is now speaking to the press only under insistence from his partners - after the furore that surrounded the launch of No Man's Sky, Hello Games' preferred approach is only showing something when it's ready to ship). "I don't think it would do us any good for us to say we're going to commit to it for x amount of time. We try to avoid those things now!

"It constantly surprises us how interested people are in it - the kind of numbers that Next sold last year, a triple-A game would have been happy with those numbers. It's been very successful for us. I don't know how many more big exciting things we can think of - I thought when we did Next that was kind of all of them, then you talk to the team and one person's working on VR, one's working on this crazy online thing, and you're like, okay, we're still excited about this. And I think that's the metric for it. We're doing Last Campfire as well, that's an exciting thing, and we're starting on something new as well - which is like a big, ambitious, silly thing. We won't be talking about that for a long, long time - there's a lot going on in the studio. And No Man's Sky is a big part of it."

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