Every atom procedural. Every leaf procedural. Every tree procedural. Every bird procedural. Every fish, rock, ocean, cloud, ruin, star, sun, galaxy and planet procedural, also. And every planet unique, every planet unexplored. If the near-unfathomable vastness of upcoming space exploration game No Man’s Sky has somehow passed you by, the intro text to the game’s most recent trailer will surely have hammered home the startling scale of your next favourite PS4 game.
In the year of our lord Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it seems preposterous that the biggest space-based entertainment product of the year doesn’t feature lightsabers or wookies, but is instead a journey through the universe created by the Joe Danger developer. No Man’s Sky has been trailblazing a unique path through the tops of almost everybody’s Most Wanted lists for over a year now, and watching creative director Sean Murray play a new build of the game in front of us only further cements its position in our personal charts.
The goal in No Man’s Sky is to reach the centre of the universe. It’s an ever-present feature in the game’s star map: a bright spot you can try to move towards, but one that never seems to get any closer if you just manually scroll through the stars, such is the space between you and it. Instead, you move towards the middle of No Man’s Sky’s sci-fi setting by hopping between galaxies, the strength of your ship’s hyperdrive determining the limits of any one jump. Better ships capable of larger jumps cost resources though, which is where the game’s exploration systems factor in. Finding new planets and species will grant you some rewards, but in order to rack up the resources you’ll need to get your hands dirty, one way or another.
Red-hued stars signify resource-rich areas. In actions that will be familiar to Minecraft fans, touching down on a planet and exploring on foot enables you to dig for resources. And by dig, we mean blast. With a grin Sean starts chipping away at rock with a laser gun and then switches to a plasma ball to blow a large deposit of resources out of the planet’s crust. “Resource gathering in games is really boring, generally,” Murray explains. “So a big thing is that we wanted this to be quite fun. The terrain is all destructible.”
Spades aren’t for spacemen, it seems, but jetpacks are. Pack away your fears about falling down a deep pit and never emerging, becoming a lonely voice lost on a planet nobody else will even see, let alone explore – you can get yourself out of any hole with your pack’s thrusters. That’s not to say No Man’s Sky is free of peril. One of the fastest ways to gain resources is to try and gun down cargo ships making their way through space. A word of warning to all who try: they’re heavily defended, and if your ship isn’t strong enough, you’ll likely be creating a debris field with your body parts.
There are still mysteries to be solved. The trading mechanic remains largely unseen (“We didn’t want to show the UI and stuff, partly because it looks a bit sh*t at the moment but that’s where we are in development, and partly because I hate that in a demo – it’s a very ‘PC thing’ to do,” confesses Murray), for instance. But the base thrills of grabbing a DualShock 4, lifting off from a planet’s surface, flying all the way to another and then touching down, all without a single load screen, are unlike anything else we’ve experienced in the history of PlayStation.
Never has a videogame been so humbling. As Murray himself describes while coasting through the star map featuring galaxy upon galaxy no player will ever see, “it makes you think about how small and insignificant you are in all of this.”