Late to the Party: Spider-Man review

Selfie courtesy of the game’s photo mode.

Late to the Party is a n infrequent feature when I review a game that has been out for a while but I haven’t been able to review it at launch. Today, I’m looking at Spider-Man, on the PlayStation 4, which arrived a day after I had left for vacation in Canada. I was gone for a month.

For me, the Peter Parker in Insomniac’s Spider-Man isn’t the youthful Tom Holland from the most recent Avengers movies (inexperienced and unsure of his abilities), nor Toby Maguire’s Peter Parker (new to the superhero lark), but Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, a superhero that is comfortable with his abilities and wearing the red-and-blue suit, but a little socially awkward at times.

In Insomniac’s Spider-Man, Peter Parker has been spinning the web for a while now, so he’s come to grips with his abilities and what he is capable of and the narrative features an ensemble cast of well-known villains and characters from Spider-Man lore, including Doctor Otto Octavius (Doc Oct), Martin Li (Mister Negative) Scorpion, Tombstone, Electro, (love interest) Mary Jane, Aunt May and Norman Osborn. The story has Peter defeating crime kingpin Wilson Fisk in the opening moments of the game,  putting him behind bars, only for another crime lord to rise in his place in the form of Martin Li, or Mister Negative.

As I write this, I’ve been back from  Canada for almost a week and have completed about 55 per cent of Spider-Man’s main campaign, collected 50 of the 55 backpacks and done about half a dozen research missions.I’ve also taken on thugs patrolling construction sites, tried to (unsuccessfully) capture wayward pigeons and had my arse kicked (a few times) by men armed with electric whips.

One of the first things that I noticed with Spider-Man is that Insomniac have nailed the swinging mechanic perfectly. Before too long, you’ll be performing acrobatics between skyscrapers towering above the traffic and pedestrian-filled streets and zipping through the air. In fact, the swinging mechanic is so good I didn’t feel the want (or need) to use the game’s fast travel system: It was more fun getting to the location using the old-fashioned Spidey way.

Melee combat is integral to Spider-Man and it’s top-notch, reminding me a lot of the combat in  Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, and once I’d got to grips with the plethora of moves and combos, combat was fast and fluid, with me being able to guide Spidey from foe to foe seamlessly, filling up my suit’s focus meter which then let me unleash brutal finishing moves on hapless foes.

I watched my son, who has completed the main story (yeah, yeah, it’ll ruin the story for me. I know), and there were some hallucination sequences that, again, reminded me a heck of a lot of Rocksteady’s Arkham series (you know the segments where a tiny Batman has to sneak around while a giant Scarecrow taunts him). I’m saying that as praise, not a criticism, by the way.

There’s a lot to do in Spider-Man when you’re not doing the main story mission, from collecting backpacks that Peter has left dotted around the city and doing research for Harry Osborn using laboratories he has left around the city to unlocking corrupted communications towers (which is a game mechanic that I think has been done to death in video games) and taking selfies at famous New York landmarks. While some of the busy work seems formulaic, a lot of it was a good break from the hectic moments of the main story.

There’s a benefit to that busywork, too: The more collectibles and side stuff  you complete, the more weapons, gadgets, skills and suit mods you can unlock so there’s a real incentive to do the busy work: The results are well worth it. I mean, what’s not to love about a bomb that explodes, showering all around it with web or electric web that shocks enemies.

One thing I wasn’t a fan of is the wave-based enemy system used when you want to take down construction sites under Fisk’s control and demon bases ruled by Li but defeating bases is essential to unlock in-game Spidey suits, so I tolled away at them, but it was  my least favourite aspect of the game.

Spider-Man doesn’t  invent the wheel when it comes to third-person action games – plenty of other games have done the same thing and Spider-Man does fall into the formulaic overused video game tropes at times  – but Insomniac’s Marvel superhero game is so much bloody fun, with an engaging narrative, well-fleshed out characters and great game mechanics that it’s another reason why, for me, PlayStation is simply owning this console generation hands down.

Now to see if I can complete it before Red Dead Redemption 2 drops this week (I’ve pre-ordered the game: I’m not getting review code). I don’t like my chances.

God of War: All hail to the king

At its heart, God of War on the PlayStation 4 is a road trip featuring an angry God trying to bond with his son and forget his past, and a son who wants to be a warrior like his father but doesn’t know how.

As road trips go, this is a helluva ride, as Kratos and his young son Atreus trek to a formidable mountain to bury the ashes of the warrior’s recently deceased wife, but as fathers go, Kratos has a bit to learn and is, quite frankly, a bit of a dick to Atreus.

During an early hunting trip when Atreus misses a shot at a deer and tells Kratos he’s sorry, the bearded God simply replies: “Don’t be sorry. Be better.” Several times, Atreus frequently calls Kratos “Sir”, rather than father or dad.

Not that Kratos doesn’t try to work on his relationship with Atreus: There are  moments when Kratos wants to connect with his son – a comforting hand on the boy’s shoulder, a word of encouragement – but Kratos is clearly unsure of what it means to be a good, caring father so those fleeting moments are brief and his gruffness returns.

As the journey to the highest mountain in the realm progresses, Kratos tries to be a father by telling (rather bad) stories to Atreus as they row a canoe across a giant lake and it’s clear that the relationship between the two evolves and ever changes (Kratos becomes a little softer at times, Atreus pushes back a little) .

Kratos and the relationship with Atreus isn’t the only major change here: The scenery, too, is different, moving from Ancient Greece to Midgard, home of Norse mythos and the mighty vikings. The change in location is welcome and it’s littered with lush forests, ice-covered mountains and deep caverns and, of course, it’s all steeped in Norse legend.

Combat is dramatically changed from previous games in the series but, in my opinion, for the better. Kratos no longer has the blades of chaos that he swings from chains wrapped around his bandaged forearms (although, as if a nod to the past, he still wears the bloodied bandages) , instead he has the leviathan axe, a mystical weapon forged by two dwarfs who also created the mighty hammer of Thor. The axe can be hurled at enemies  then snapped back to Kratos like a boomerang, adding a new dimension to the combat.

The combat is still as bloody as ever, with brutal finishing moves that will cleave an enemy in half, and Atreus is  on hand to unleashing a barrage of arrows on foes as well as choke them with his bow’s string.. The combat feels satisfying and visceral although, at times it seems like it takes cheap shots by throwing in smaller enemies to the mix as you battle larger foes.  I’m not really that keen on being attacked from behind while I’m trying to avoid the fiery breath of a soul eater!

Beginning its life on the PlayStation 2,  the God of War series has always been about spectacle and Kratos’ place in the world, and this new GOW has spectacle aplenty but in previous games, Kratos was often dwarfed by his surroundings (remember the opening fight in GOW3 on the earth mother Gaia? The camera pulls back and you see Kratos is miniscule compared to his surroundings), now, Kratos is given real stature in the world,  real gravitas.

He’s now no longer dwarfed by the world as dramatically. Shifting the camera to behind Kratos’ shoulders as he moves, too, helps with this scale and shows you just how big he is. He dwarfs Atreus, who is wiry and small.

Kratos can upgrade everything from his armour and skills  to his weapons  using items found in the game world and a currency called hacksilver, and you can also upgrade Atreus’ kit as well. Quick time button presses are here but they don’t overstay their welcome, and now when you open chests you do’t have to mash buttons furiously like you used to do. The environmental puzzles won’t have you scratching your head and have you stumped for ages, either, but are clever enough that you’ll murmur a quiet “Ahhh …” when you solve one.

If you’re playing on a PS4 Pro, like I am, you’re in for a treat: God of War looks fantastic, even on my 1080p HD 55-inch TV, with amazing attention to detail and jaw-dropping vistas, and the game is bursting with colour and vibrancy.

The game world is filled with small details: Glowing particles float in the air from fires, muscles twitch underneath Krato’s skin as he moves, his beard is flecked with grey hairs, bark hangs from tree trunks. This is the best looking God of War ever without a doubt.

PlayStation 4 Pro can also chose either performance mode, which will give a better frame rate, or resolution mode, which will output at a resolution of 2160p checkerboarded. I played most of the game on the resolution mode as I like things to look purdy and the frame rate stays pretty rock solid. You’ll can also select a less intrusive UI (user interface), which means less screen clutter but personally, I like to see how much health my enemies have left.

The PS4 might not be the most powerful console in the world, but you know what? God of War is proof of what can be done when a publisher establishes a development studio like Santa Monica Studio then backs it and allows it the creative freedom to go wild and do what it does best. God of War is the result.

Ultimately, Santa Monica Studio has brought us a tale featuring a boy and a man trying to get to know each other in some pretty trying circumstances but, my word, what an adventure it is.

Simply put, God of War is one of the best games I’ve played this generation. Pure and simple.

Thanks to PlayStation NZ for an advanced copy of God of War, which is out on PlayStation 4 on April 20.

 

Yakuza: Heaps of cools stuff in a small area

This blog post is inspired by the great video that Jim Sterling did recently titled Yakuza’s Open World is the Biggest and Bestest. I felt myself nodding to everything he said so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the Yakuza series

The PlayStation 4-only Yakuza series’ Kamurocho district – loosely based on the city of Tokyo’s red-light district  Shinjuku  – might be small in size but it’s so densely packed with content that it puts to shame some of video games’ big, open world adventures.

I was first introduced to the action adventure  Yakuza series with Yakuza 2 on the PlayStation 2 and I was instantly captured by the craziness of the game world and the rich, deep narrative centred around main character, rising Yakuza (japanese gangster)  Kazuma Kiryu.

I love the Yakuza series’ open-world exploration mixed with almost over-the-top combat – Kiryu can switch between four fighting styles – but I think for me much of the charm comes from the Japanese audio with english subtitles and sheer craziness. Kiryu is voiced by Japanese actor Takada Kuroda (the original Yakuza had an english voice over actor but I can imagine the game would lose some of its charm) and the voice acting is just full of passion and really adds to the atmosphere.

Years passed and Yakuza fell to the wayside. I played games (a lot of games)  but  in the back of my mind, Yakuza was always there, waiting for me to come back. Last year, I decided it was time to get back into Yakuza and bought Yakuza Kiwami, and on booting it up, I instantly felt like I was home in a gaming world that I was familiar with. A few weeks ago, I bought Yakuza Zero, which takes the story back to the 1980s when Kiryu was a young, up-and-coming Yakuza.

Yakuza’s Kamurocho might be tiny compared to GTA’s Liberty City or Assassin’s Creed’s Egypt, but there’s so much content packed in that small collection of streets that I’m not sure I can go back to an open-world game that takes ages to traverse and has side quests that are just there to extend the lifespan of the game. I’ve visited Japan and visited the famed Akihibara district and Yakuza’s Japan felt familiar and warming, with  locations that seemed like they belonged in the world:  karaoke clubs, bars, noodle joints, convenience stores – and even a Sega arcade.

Yakuza’s side quests also feel as if they belong in the narrative, often quirky, light-hearted diversions from the main story. As he explores Kamurocho, Kiryu might have to pretend he’s a movie producer helping out two film crew workers who have found themselves in a spot of trouble, take a famous fighter around a few restaurants to show him a good time, or chase a variety of hooligans who stole a recently released video game from a small boy.

Even the people Kiryu interacts with have names that will bring a smile to your face: Man with Big Head,  Mr Shakedown (a giant of a man who fights Kiryu then steals his money), Bearded Homeless Man, (wait for it) Hatted Homeless Man and Mystery Man. You save your game at phone boxes, too, you can buy noodles from convenience stores, you can sing karaoke, you can race slot cars. The amount of stuff to do in a tiny world map is incredible. Just incredible.

I’m making my way through Yakuza 0 in anticipation for Yakuza 6, which was released in Japan in December, but is only coming to Western audiences next month. I’ll be trying my darndest to get it completed before I tackle the latest adventure of Kiryu.

Tragically, the Yakuza series hasn’t captured the attention of Western games like I think it should have. I think it’s probably been overlooked by a lot of Western gamers and that’s a shame. It’s a series that has a strong narrative with a likeable main character but not one that has been promoted heavily in our part of the world.

Have you got any games that you just adore but aren’t as popular as you think they should be?

 

 

Monster Hunter World diary Part 1: Where I have no idea what I’m doing

Part 1

While not a complete Monster Hunter newbie (I played a Japanese version on the PSP that I bought in Akihibara in 2008) but I’d be foolish to say that I went into Monster Hunter World having a clue on what I was supposed to be doing. That said, I thought I’d chronicle my adventures in MHW with a diary of sorts that describes how as a newbie I found things. I’ve also included a 15 minute video of me hunting a Kula-Ya-Ku bird. The video also features me climbing vines, opening my map a bit, swinging a giant broadsword, possibly eating some mushrooms and then, true to form, fainting and being carted back to my campsite. OK, here we go …

It’s me with my Palicoe buddy. Isn’t he cute?

I’ve only played about two hours of Monster Hunter World but this place is massive. I stuck with a fairly standard looking character, trying to get him to look a little like me, although I don’t have the rugged stubble on the chin that my hero does. I’ve got a cat companion called a Palicoe. I called him (I’m assuming he’s a he) Drew, after my dog. He’s a good companion so it seemed a good fit.

After completing the opening tutorial-like mission, I got to the hub world, and just like the environments, this place seems to sprawl on for ever and ever, another surprise around every corner. I followed the tutorial so I’ve learned how to (I think) upgrade my weapons and armour by going to the smithy and, importantly, how to fuel up before a big quest by gorging my face with food. I just love going to the canteen, ordering a vegetarian meal (I’m not vegetarian) and being served up a huge platter of cheese, drink and a whole fish! Cooked by Palicoes! This place is crazy.

On my first quest, which was really just exploring the world, I took down some low-level dinosaurs (I can’t even remember what they were) and hit in some undergrowth. I stumbled across some footprints that my scoutflies (is that right?) discovered. Apparently there is a big Jagras in the forest somewhere that I need to take down, if I’m up for it. Well, I decided I was up for it, despite not really knowing how combat works and still struggling with my great sword and its slow swing rate.

I followed the Jagras footprints till I eventually came him and what followed was a three-stage battle, with me mashing wildly at the action buttons on the controller, every now and then accidentally sheathing my sword when I thought I was swinging it. The Jagras puffed his chest out a lot and he reminded me a lizardy bullfrog. After a bit, he ran off, leaving me lying on the ground, having to eat mushrooms and smack flying bugs that replenished my vitality. What is this madness?

I still had to defeat the Jagras and the scoutflies lead me to his cave lair, where I found him sleeping – so I did what any good hunter in my position would likely dowould do: I whacked him in the back, hoping to injure him. It didn’t seem to work. Actually, I just seemed to make things worse. Long story short: After a lengthy battle that included hitting explosive flying things that stunned the Jagras, he was down. I was victorious!

I went back to hub world, fuelled up, upgraded my weapons (I still have no real idea what I’m doing but I’m not sporting a rather fetching outfit with armour fused with Jagras skin), chatted to my handler and was told I had to establish a hew camp deep in the forest. A flying monster picked me and Drew up, dropping us at the forward base camp. My handler tells me I have to establish another camp so off I head.

I stroll past some docile monsters, pick up some berries and other plants, and talk to a fisherman. I also collect some mucus, some dung and examine some piles of bones. I think the fisherman tells me he’s the best fisherman in all the land. Who am I to argue?  There’s a researcher woman standing a little bit further up the track. Doesn’t she know there are monsters roaming? I didn’t see if she had a weapon: I think she had a pen and clipboard, thought.

Suddenly, a Jagra appears so I hide in a bush. It walks past me then suddenly a tyrannasauraus-like monster appears. My handler tells me that I’m not to attack it as it is too strong for me. I don’t argue with her.

I eventually find the field leader who was waiting by some climbable vines that I missed completely. I think I walked past him a couple of times before realising I was supposed to talk to him. We climb up the vines, finding a flat piece of ground that will be suitable for a camp – but there’s a Kulu-Ya-Ku bird there, throwing pottery at us. I have to kill it as the camp won’t be safe if he’s wandering about.

I follow the Kulu-Ya-Ku’s phosphorous footprints, finding some doodles along the way, and eventually find him. I start swinging my giant sword at him. He picks up a bolder in his claws and throws it at me. I whack him with my giant sword, it clangs off his tail. What is is made of? Steel? The Kulu-Ya-Ku runs off but I lose track of him. I look at the map. Oh, he’s miles away. I eat some berries and carry on. Eventually, I find him, swinging my sword at him. He whacks me with his tail.

I hit some flying bug: It explodes, stunning the Kulu-Ya-Ku. I rush in for a charged swing but realise I’m facing the wrong was so watch my on-screen character swing wildly nowhere near the Kulu-Ya-Ku. My health is dropping so use the D-pad to scroll through my inventory. I find some raw meat, picking the button that I think will let me eat it. It doesn’t: The meat drops on the ground. I try again: The meat drops on the ground. The Kulu-Ya-Ku throws another rock at me.

Suddenly, a screen prompt tells me to waggle the left stick back and forth: I’ve been stunned. I frantically try but suddenly, I faint. That’s not very hero like, to be honest.

A cut scene suddnely appears, showing a palicoe tipping me off a cart back at the base camp. I decide I’m done for the day and quit the mission. I’ll try again tomorrow, once I’ve eaten a bit and licked my wounds. I’ll get you funny looking Kulu-Ya-Ku bird. I’ll get you yet.

To be continued …

Shadow of the Colossus review: An emotional rollercoaster

Thanks for PlayStation NZ for the review copy of Shadow of the Colossus. (The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro, mainly using the performance mode but sometimes I switched to the cinematic mode just to check it out. Please note, the two videos included in this review show how to take down two colossi, so if you don’t want to know, don’t watch them.)

If a game is considered a success because of the emotions it arouses in a player, then, for me, Shadow of the Colossus is one of the best games of all time.

Despite its simple premise of a boy on a horse, traversing a vast, empty wasteland in search of 16 giants that he must kill in order to bring back his dead love, Shadow of the Colossus struck an emotional chord with me, so much so much so that I felt guilty about slaughtering some of the colossi, especially the ones that seemed to be minding their own business.

I took no pleasure in hearing their painful moans as I plunged a sword into their skulls, black liquid shooting from the gaping wound (each colossus has one or two glowing marks that must be repeatedly stabbed to kill them).  These massive beasts had done nothing to me but here I was, snuffing out their existence for my own selfish desires. I was feeling guilty about killing virtual giants, most of them shaking the earth as they crashed to the ground, lifeless.

I played the original Shadow of the Colossus on the PlayStation 2 then the remaster on the PlayStation 3 but for some reason, the game didn’t capture me then like it has now. I think I defeated the first two colossi, maybe. It could have had something to do with the less than friendly control scheme, which made for frustrating times and has been remapped here and is a vast improvement (ie it uses the R2 button for grab/hold, which is a much more ideal situation than the original game’s R1). Make no mistake, this is a re-make not a remaster. Be clear on that.

Apart from Wander (our hero), his horse Agro (is this the most wonderfully animated horse in all of video games?) and the colossi, the world is devoid of other life (apart from the odd lizard scurrying about and an eagle that follows Wander): There are no NPCs to converse with, no enemies that jump out from behind a rock to attack you, no traders to upgrade weapons,  and I think the game is all the better for it: It is singularly focused on what you have to do: Kill the colossi and not be distracted by side missions.

I started the game full of vigour and bravado, searching out the lumbering first colossus, and by the mid-point, I was starting to question that perhaps I was the monster, and not the beasts wandering the land. It tugs at your heart-strings and continues plucking as each colossus falls. Most of the colossus aren’t even aggressive towards you.

If you own a PlayStation 4 Pro, you’re in for a treat with Shadow of the Colossus, as the wizards at Bluepoint Games (longtime Sony collaborators) have given you a couple of nice options to play it in: A performance mode, which locks the framerate in at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second or a cinematic mode which pretties the graphics up but locks the frame rate at 30FPS. I played most of my play through using the performance mode: I mean, why wouldn’t you? With a game like this where jumps and perfect timing matters a lot,  a locked 60 frames per second is what you want, and guess what? The frame rate stays at that locked rate. I can’t say I noticed any hiccups or dips while playing. Sure, things look a little nicer in the cinematic mode but I don’t have a 4K TV yet, so I’ll save that mode for when I do have a newer panel.

The soundtrack deserves a mention, too. From the frantic orchestral pieces for each colossi to the quieter moments, the soundtrack is one that I could listen to time and time again. It’s fantastic. The game also has a pretty nifty photo mode, which I used to capture the images that accompany this review. Nice.

Shadow of the Colossus has faults: The camera goes wonky from time to time, obscuring your view of things and trying to climb onto Agro at times can be comical. I was also frustrated by a simple jumping puzzle against the third colossus, Gaius the Knight, for far longer than I should as Wander can’t sprint so I was forever missing the jump, plummeting to the cold water below, forcing me to try again and again and again until I got it.  Wander also can’t swim very well, which means the fight against the colossus that lives in water – Hydrus – extremely frustrating and more difficult than it should have been. I also felt that some colossi weren’t as impressive as others, for example, Gaius’ fight was awesome, Hydrus’ and Phaedra’s not so much.

Ultimately for me, Shadow of the Colossus is a game that evokes emotions –  whether that’s the intention or not by the game’s creators (I’m sure that is the intention) – both over what the player is doing throughout the course of the game and whether it’s all worth it. When a game makes you question what you are doing as a hero, as Shadow of the Colossus does, and makes you think whether you’re doing the right thing, it’s hitting all the right notes. Shadow of the Colossus hits all those notes for me.

 

 

Shadow of the Colossus: The Knight & the next one after that

I’m making my way through Shadow of the Colossus, the PlayStation 4 remake of the 2005 game which originally appeared on the PlayStation 2, but until my review appears, I thought I’d share a video of the game’s third colossi, the Knight, and the game’s fourth colossi, which I can’t remember the name of. Whatever its name is, it took far too long to defeat as I kept falling off (plus it took a long time to get into the right position). Review before the weekend, hopefully.

Enjoy the videos.

Shadow of the Colossus opening cinematics (PlayStation 4 Pro)

Thanks to PlayStation NZ, I’ve got an early review copy of the remake of Team Ico’s classic PlayStation 2 game Shadow of the Colossus, which I’m playing through at the moment (I’ve also played it on PS2 and PS3), so I thought I’d share the opening cinematics of the remake with you.

Captured on a PS4Pro, the game has been remade for Sony’s current generation console thanks to the remaster masters, Bluepoint Games, who have done other PlayStation games in the past. Look out for a review in the next week or so.

Enjoy the video.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy media kit

Uncharted 4 (PlayStation 4) was one of my favourite games of last year: I always like the action that Naughty Dog crafted into the games featuring the likeable rogue Nathan Drake and its Indiana Jones-style of adventuring.

One of the new characters introduced in Uncharted 2,  was Chloe Frazer, a fellow treasure hunter.

In The Lost Legacy, the standalone campaign (which, I’m guessing, means you don’t need Uncharted 4 to play it – but it’ll certainly help with back story), Chloe is on a quest for a famed Indian artifact: The Golden Tusk of Ganesh. In order to find it – and keep it out of the hands of a ruthless war profiteer – she enlist the help of former paramilitary leader turned gun-for-hire Nadine Ross. The pair venture deep into the mountains of India’s Western Ghats to find the ruins of the Hoysala Empire and recover the legendary Golden Tusk of Ganesh.

The Lost Legacy is out next Wednesday (August 23) and will set you back $NZ69.95 (It’s PlayStation 4 only). Any impressions of the game are embargoed until tomorrow but I’m allowed to share photos of the media kit that PlayStation NZ sent me. PlayStation have always excelled at media kits when it comes to its marquee titles – and the one for The Lost Legacy doesn’t disappoint.

Look out for some impressions on The Lost Legacy next week – and details on how to win a copy of the game, thanks to PlayStation NZ.

 

No Man’s Sky: Fly, land, gather

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*Apologies if this review seems a little disjointed in places. I just had so many thoughts and ideas about No Man’s Sky that I just jotted them down.
For the first time in a long time, I’m torn over what I think about a game.
The game in question is No Man’s Sky, the procedurally generated survival/exploration game from small British developers Hello Games. One moment I’d decided I’ve had enough because the relentless grind to farm more resources from another planet was getting too much or the game has crashed yet again while trying to warp between systems,  the next something wonderful happened and I’ll play for another hour.

My quandary is that while I don’t hate No Man’s Sky, neither am I in love with it and I can’t see myself playing it in a month’s time. Why? I think it’s because after visiting 20 or so planets, I think the grind has finally got to me.

No Man's Sky_20160810205655

No Man’s Sky starts with you on a uniquely named planed (every player starts on a unique planet), your spaceship a piece of wreckage and you having to hunt for the resources to get it working again so you can head into space. Simple.

 

You’re armed with a multi-tool – a mining tool that lets you blast rocks and minerals – and a survival suit, and not much else at this stage. After you’ve hoovered up enough plutonium, carbon or whatever other mineral is needed, an onscreen message will tell you to repair your ship’s busted launch jets and pulse unit, meaning you can head into space.

I couldn’t even pronounce the name on my starter planet: Subaiawag-quyli IE906. Sure, I could have renamed it to something more personal, more meaningful but was there any point?

I upgraded my multi-tool’s  scanner equipment which let me scan and catalogue fauna and flora that I came across. I found a weird dinosaur-like thing so renamed it Gerasauriis Bipodal. I scanned some more animals and some plants. I uploaded the data to some giant space database and got some galactic credits for my trouble.

I found crashed escape pods which offered blueprints for upgrades to my multi-tool or space ship, and I unlocked beacons at settlements that revealed the locations of things like alien ruins, distress transmissions or colonial outposts. It give me a reason to stay on a planet for a bit, exploring it rather than roaring off world after a few minutes.

No Man's Sky_20160811205707Then the grind set in. I had to constantly mine for things like plutonium and other isotopes that would keep my ship fuelled and my survival suit working. My son suggested No Man’s Sky is “Minecraft but in space” and I guess he isn’t far wrong, in some respects.

I landed on a planet that had water that was -75deg. I’d started to wish I’d packed my 7mm wetsuit in my spaceship’s boot. It didn’t matter: A large whale-like creature with a red icon floating above its head swam past. It looked hungry. I decided to stay out of the water and walked back to my spaceship. A creature walked up to me: It looked friendly – but then it head butted me, draining some of my health. I shot it with the weapon function of my multi-tool and  got  back into my space ship, took off and found somewhere else to land.

Settlements on planets often have alien lifeforms that speak to you and offer you things like blueprints but after a few encounters you realise that they’re trotting out the same type of dialogue and there is no real interaction with them.

Orbiting a new planet, I was alerted to a distress signal planet side. After traveling to what seemed almost the entire circumference of the planet, I discovered an abandoned space ship. I compared the stats of the new ship and my current one – and while on paper it was better, l was reluctant to repair it because a) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surround the space ship and b) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surrounding the space ship. I headed off world, happy with the decision I’d made.

I didn’t venture much into caves on planets as I’d heard that heard that because they’re procedurally generated, chances are they might not end – and if you can’t remember what direction you can from, you’re screwed as you can’t warp back to your ship from anywhere, either.

I headed back into space and coming out of a warp into a new system, I landed smack bang in the middle of a space battle. I took down one of the three enemy ships but, sadly, my ship was out gunned and I spiralled into a death role and blew up. I re-spawned on the nearest space station and my ship had lost the items in its storage slots but, thankfully, my grave was still floating in space the next time I fired up the game.

No Man's Sky_20160810233958I found a space station and was sucked in by its tractor beam. On board was a solidary alien, sitting behind a desk. He spoke some language that I didn’t understand but the game told me he wanted me to handover my multi-tool. I refused, not sure what would happen. He applauded my stand, apparently, clapping. He gave me some more words of his language. I was still confused about things.

Hello Games have nailed the thrill of pointing your spaceship at a planet, engaging the pulse drive and racing to your destination. It’s seamless, too: You see your ship’s heat shield glowing pink as you enter the planet’s atmosphere, spreading pastel colours across the craft’s nose, then it’ll level out as it hits the planet’s atmosphere. It’s all automatic, though: You can’t crash your ship into the planet or objects and landing is as simple as pushing a button.

There is combat, but to be honest, it’s lacklustre and involves either shooting at the galactic police sentinels because they think you’ve mined too much stuff or at pirate spaceships that are after any precious cargo you’ve got onboard.

No Man’s Sky is a survival game as much as it is an exploration game but the grind is real, and after a handful of hours, I started to wonder whether the grind had got too much. I’m not even sure the carrot of reaching the end of the universe is enough for me to carry on.

One of No Man’s Sky’s biggest flaws  is the number of inventory slots you have in your ship and exosuit. You don’t have enough to space to start with – and your suit will constant nag at you about it “NO FREE SLOTS IN SUIT INVENTORY”” –  so you’re constantly having to transfer items between your suit and ship,  and eventually discarding stuff just to free up space. You even have to have a free slot in your suit inventory just to talk to another alien!! I find this mind-boggling that I must have free space in my inventory to talk to an alien. That’s like saying I can’t talk to a work colleague until I’ve taken something out of my jeans pockets first.  It’s madness!

 

After a few hours, though, plants that you saw three planets ago start looking similar to the plants on the planet you’re currently on, and the animals you saw four planets ago kind of look similar to the ones in front of you now.  That’s not surprising, as the animals are all generated from a finite pool of body parts so it’s inevitable that eventually similarities are going to happen. A lot of the plants look similar but are just named differently, too.

No Man's Sky_20160816000143

No Man’s Sky_20160816000143

On the technical side, No Man’s Sky crashed several times while I was either warping between star systems or preparing to warp. When it crashed the sixth time in six days, doing the same thing, I decided enough was enough and decided to call it quits until it’s more stable, even though I was having moments when I was enjoying it.

No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.

 

I really do think No Man’s Sky is a slow burner game if you have patience, and if you’re a gamer who gets satisfaction from resource gathering then more power to you but for me, I’m at the point now that the relentless grind of doing the same thing over and over again is just getting a little too much. Also, I don’t think it’s worth $NZ95. It’s been promoted as an indie game from a small study but it’s commanding a premium price.

I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see  to see what has changed, but for now, I’m done with No Man’s Sky. There just isn’t enough variety to keep me interested any more.

No Man’s Sky: Survive

PlayStation have released the last trailer in its four-part series: Explore, Fight, Trade, Survive in the lead up to No Man’s Sky coming out on August 10.

The new trailer, Survive, show you’ll face not only deadly creatures and toxins but extremes in temperature. Here it is here:

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about No Man’s Sky, a lot of questions about what do you actually do apart from just flying from planet to planet, scanning the world and discovering stuff. They’re valid questions and the universe is so big the chances of actually running into another player are slim. I’ve said it before: No Man’s Sky is either going to be amazing or people will play it for a few weeks then get bored with it and move on.

What are your thoughts?

I haven’t actually done a lot of gaming lately, apart from completing the Gary Busy elusive target mission in Hitman, which, to be honest, was far too easy and over far too quickly but I have been playing around with Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S, which is a hybrid tablet/notebook running Windows 10.

While it’s not a gaming device, it does let you stream Xbox One content to its HD screen which is nice if you can’t use the TV your Xbox Once console is connected to because someone is watching TV.  Look out for a review soon.