- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gamers looking to spend a lifetime investigating the stars now have a chance in the endless first-person journey No Man’s Sky (Hello Games, rated Teen, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $59.99).

With an objective to explore, collect, trade, fight and survive within a universe consisting of 18 quintillion planets, a player slowly upgrades a starship, space suit and tools, travels to exotic destinations and interacts with a variety of ecosystems.

As a solo astronaut, it’s up to him to completely decide his path while mining or bartering for the rarest of elements and resources most needed to survive.

A bare thread of a story has him learn about the mysterious Atlas object and a trio of humanoid species as he attempts to travel to the center of the universe.

Mind you, none of the plot lines are really important. The game first acts as a simulation experiment in which developers used a computer’s algorithms and simplest of directions to procedurally generate life forms, terrain, flora and fauna, weather and atmosphere on each planet.

Those planets will keep a player’s eyes very busy and resource-management skills tested as he marvels at their beauty and complexity.

For example, early on, I landed upon and renamed a planet (ZadzooksX) that reminded me of a coral reef, sans being underwater.

A surface speckled with deep purple, reds and yellows with numerous floating rock formations passed by me as I flew around looking for a suitable place to land.

Once on the ground, and away from the ship, I quickly ran into a large creature, looking like a finned Amargasaurus dinosaur, not concerned with me. I slowly walked up to him, fed him, and he grunted with pleasure as he lumbered away.

Next, I used a couple of jetpack bursts to jump over and appreciate some shallow wetlands of reddish goo with mushroom-like foliage sprouting about. Then I got close to a cliff to admire a pinkish-red sky, which was peppered with an occasional white cloud mass.

I next worked on mining (blasting apart) a massive aluminum deposit shaped as a cylinder and groups of glowing red platinum crystals bursting from the ground.

After literally a few hours just looking around for new things to catalog and visiting an occasional base to trade with a beaked humanoid of the Gek species, I stored my mined loot and took off, exploding out of the planet’s atmosphere, shifting my warp drive in motion for a trip to another galaxy.

That’s a typical planetary encounter that may be repeated ad nauseum across galaxies. I’ve spent over 20 hours, conquering the stars and have barely scratched the surface of this enormous universe.

“No Man’s Sky” offers a few twists to that formula, but basically, survival on the ground is key.

That requires keeping an exosuit’s life support as well as your multifunctional tool meters filled up by replenishing inventory slots through mining and crafting, and disseminating those resources when needed.

A mildly annoying twist, though necessary, finds that if an explorer gets too greedy with mining or starts killing animals indiscriminately, a floating sentinel robot and his pals show up, with lasers blazing to eliminate the hostile threat.

A player can engage with this interplanetary police force or simply hide until they stop pursuit.

My major frustration with the game involves the precious few inventory slots available to store resources or tech upgrades on the exosuit or spaceship.

To gain more slots, it requires amassing major amounts of credits to buy larger ships, mainly collected by selling large quantities of precious metals to traders, or encountering drop pods (with expensive slots to purchase) or crashed ships to repair and take over.

For those smitten with the late Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” tenants to over and over again “boldy go where no man has gone before,” one cannot help but admire the simplicity of “No Man’s Land.”

However, for gamers looking for a purposeful or linear reason to invest massive amounts of time and toil, well, let’s hope Hello Games will add a series of more focused updates (i.e. building colonies or adding more expansive combat encounters) to the action in its future.

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