Unless you happen to be switched on to the gaming sphere, you might not be aware of the little indie title that could, which is poised to become the biggest hit of the summer. Where your annual Call of Duty, FIFA and Assassins Creed games arguably recycle the same basic gameplay concepts and ideas every year, No Man's Sky marks that rarest of things; a genuinely original concept that has taken root in the imaginations of gamers already heralding it as the best thing since the last best thing (in this case, I'm going to go with the similarly themed Destiny).
Taking the concept of procedural generation to its logical conclusion, the game is a space combat/trading simulator supposedly capable of generating over 18 quintillion (yep) individual, unique planets, all of which can be explored at the player's leisure. Of course, many players might baulk at the idea of a location created through an algorithm rather than through genuine creative effort, but that's missing the point here. It would take literally billions of years to see everything the game has to offer. That alone should be enough to sell it to you, but if not, let's dig a little deeper.
Technically at least, No Man's Sky is little more than an ambitious remake of the classic 80's game Elite, which also cast you as a rogue space pirate trading with other space pirates and occasionally engaging in some high-octane shoot-outs. What really sets the NMS apart though, is the attention to detail. The developers, Hello Games, are a small team led by the supremely talented Sean Murray and composed of various technical wizards who have spent time at other, larger, less characterful studios such as the much maligned EA. Whilst the basic gameplay involved mining planets for resources and trading them for ship upgrades so you can reach the literal centre of the universe, the planets themselves are the real draw. The team used lots of very complicated science that I won't even begin to pretend to understand in order to create a living, breathing ecosystem, where every minor change has a knock-on effect.
The studio's first games were the wonderfully quirky racing/platform hybrid Joe Danger and it's sequel. To fund the game, Murray reportedly sold his own house. That's ambition for you folks. Fast forward a few years and a few thousand column inches of daunting praise and hype, and Hello Games looks set to do what Bungie did at the start of the 21st century with Halo and completely rewrite the formula for what is expected of a triple A console release. Of course, the road was paved with more than a few blunders, including a few delays, a hilarious Kanye West shun and some legal issues surrounding the use of the word “Sky,” which is apparently trademarked by the broadcast company. Right now though, things are looking pretty good for the little game with the BIG reach.
The game leaked last week of course, but, rather ingeniously, Hello Games have included a day-one patch that dramatically increases the scope of the game. As such, any reviews you'll read online before the end of the week are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Whatever the game ends up being though, the idea of a game that allows you to create your own fun on an unprecedented level is surely too good for any self-respecting creative to turn down. Even video game sceptics should at least consider strapping in for a few hours and seeing where they land. The game has already dropped in the US and ships in the UK tomorrow (August 10) on PS4 and then later in the week on PC. I'll be waiting for the PC version, as much as it kills me.
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.