No Man’s Sky – Review
Follow Genre: Open world game, survival game
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Tested on: Switch

No Man’s Sky – Review

Site Score
8.3
Good: A compelling procedurally generated universe that is a joy to explore
Bad: Multiplayer was cut from the Switch port
User Score
0
(0 votes)
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Way back in 2016, when No Man’s Sky originally debuted, the game’s reception was lukewarm at best. It simply couldn’t live up to the hype and many believed it was dead in the water. Fortunately, developer Hello Games wasn’t ready to give up on their procedurally generated infinite space simulator just yet. Over the months -and years- after the game originally launched, the studio gradually improved No Man’s Sky, through a series of updates that turned the game from a flop into a much-beloved mainstay. Recently, No Man’s Sky reached a new milestone: its massive universe was crammed onto the Switch, six years after that catastrophic initial launch. The idea of carrying an entire procedurally generated universe in our pocket certainly seems appealing but does the Switch port of No Man’s Sky go where no man has gone before or is the sky -rather than space- the limit?

Story

Given the procedurally generated nature of No Man’s Sky, you’d expect there not to be a whole lot to the story, but that would make for a rather dull experience. Fortunately, Hello Games avoids the game feeling like an empty sandbox by having a fairly extensive -and rather mysterious- main storyline, titled Artemis Path. In this cinematic story, our protagonist, the Traveller, wakes up after having crash-landed on a remote planet. He is suffering from amnesia (of course) but after his AI system aids him in getting his ship operable again -which is No Man’s Sky’s thinly veiled but lengthy tutorial section- the plot really gets going. An unknown force compels our hero to travel to the center of the galaxy, but to do so, he’ll need the aid of the various alien races that inhabit this universe. This leads to a plethora of additional stories and side quests of course, and if you’re prone to distraction, there is a good chance that you’ll find dozens upon dozens of hours worth of content here even without focusing on the main plot. In this way, No Man’s Sky successfully captures that rare feeling where hours just fly by without feeling like they do, just like Skyrim did a decade ago.

Graphics

It’s clear that Hello Games made the most technical concessions in the visual department: draw distance is limited, pop-ins are frequent, and the game’s resolution also doesn’t quite feel up to par. It’s a matter of performance over prettiness as No Man’s Sky does run at a fairly stable 30 FPS on the platform, and given that No Man’s Sky’s specific aesthetics don’t particularly benefit from highly detailed visuals, we’re more than happy that this is the direction that was chosen here. The lack of detail translates to a game that actually looks better in handheld mode too, as blowing up the low-res visuals on a big TV hurts the overall appearance. It feels strange to say that such a massive universe is actually better enjoyed on a tiny screen, but if you want to explore No Man’s Sky on a screen that is fitting of the game’s sense of scale, you have better options available, fortunately.

Sound

One of the few things that No Man’s Sky actually nailed when it originally launched was its soundtrack. Even now, the music that accompanies the Traveller is fantastic and lends a cinematic feeling to your space adventures. While the OST is definitely the standout feature here in terms of audio, there isn’t anything to complain about with the remainder of No Man’s Sky’s soundscape either: sound effects as well as voice work are fantastic.

Gameplay

We’ve seen quite a few fantastic ports of older “big” titles make the jump to the Switch recently, ranging from the still mind-blowing port of The Witcher 3 to NieR: Automata’s recent arrival on the platform. Not every port is equal though and for every one of those good ports, there are multiple disasters of Darksiders III proportions. Given the sheer scope of No Man’s Sky, we were afraid that this port was going to end up in the latter category, but after having spent some time with the space simulator, we’re happy to say that this definitely is one of the better ports on the platform. Does it run as smoothly as it would on a high-end PC? Of course not. Technical compromises were made here, but the end result is more than serviceable and it definitely exceeded our expectations. The game is also presented as a nearly complete (we’ll get to that) and up-to-date version, and it includes all the different modes, including the relatively recent “relax” mode where players don’t have to worry about resource management and can simply focus on getting lost in the massive universe. There are even a handful of Switch exclusive rewards, including a unique spaceship, included here.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s quickly recap what No Man’s Sky’s gameplay is about: exploration and, to a lesser extent, base building. The universe that the game is set in is procedurally generated, and as a result, pretty much infinite. Your main driving force is the main storyline, of course, but the game is filled with tons of distractions and random events, from dog fights with mechs and space pirates to smuggling missions and even farming mechanics. The original version of No Man’s Sky felt very limited in this regard, but looking at the game now, six years later, it’s clear that a lot has gone into making the procedurally generated planets feel unique and logical, and taking your first few steps into new territories never fails to feel exciting. As a player, you have more options than we can reasonably list here, but what we can say is that the game is a joy to play on the Switch, with tight controls, HD rumble support, and an interface that is a breeze to navigate. That shouldn’t be surprising given that the game is available on other consoles, not just PC, but we’ve seen something this simple screwed up many times in the past, so it’s a relief that the game isn’t frustrating in this aspect. Granted, there are other points where we feel like this port could have been better.

Apart from the technical compromises, some gameplay compromises had to be made as well, preventing the Switch port of No Man’s Sky from feeling like the definitive version of the game. The main offender here is the absence of multiplayer, something that is present on the other platforms that the game is available on, with the other noticeably absent feature being large alien settlements. Given the sheer size and the number of hours that you could sink into this game, we would have also loved to have seen cross-platform saves, a feature that the Witcher 3 did support on the Switch. Given the absence of the two aforementioned “big” features, we understand that sharing data between the Switch port and other ones might have caused some issues, but even then we can’t imagine that a compromise would have been impossible. Finally, and perhaps the most likely to be resolved eventually, the Switch version of No Man’s Sky suffers from very long load times. Don’t get us wrong, the package that you’re getting here is incredibly impressive given the technical limitations of the hardware and the idea of being able to take No Man’s Sky on the go is incredibly enticing but if you’re looking to dip your toes into this universe, then this port is acceptable but not outstanding.

Conclusion

Even though No Man’s Sky on the Switch is missing out on some features and there are several technical compromises here -mostly in the visual department- the result is still an incredibly impressive package and definitely one of the best Switch ports out there. The main draw here is the portability factor, of course, and if you don’t care about that, then there is no real reason to pick this version over those available on the other platforms. That said, if you do decide to go for the Switch port, then you’re at least getting a quality product instead of a half-assed cash grab.

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SebastiaanRaats


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