No Man’s Sky had a rocky launch, but frankly that’s not the story. Better said, No Man’s Sky has had a fantastic comeback. Every single update has been absolutely massive, bringing with it a huge list of incredibly impactful new gameplay features. I look back at what launched versus what we have right now, and frankly it’d be unfair to even compare them. No Man’s Sky started out as a very solitary affair with exploration at the fore, but very little to actually find. Sure, you could land on a planet, name it, and point to every creature and name those too, but so can a toddler. It wasn’t exactly exciting gameplay. Today, you can land on that planet, meet its residents, learn their language, study xenobiology, command a massive starship, build a base, drive ground vehicles, do it all with your friends, and frankly a list that extends to the horizon more. It’s baffling how far Hello Games has come, and now it returns home – to the PlayStation. What began as an ambitious but flawed flat-screen game has evolved into something great, but can VR make it what it was always meant to be?
Yes. Yes it can.
I’ve tinkered with No Man’s Sky on PC off and on for years at this point. I’d play obsessively for a while, create a massive base after I found the perfect planet and terraformed a section to my liking, and then put it down in favor of other things. I’d lug out the Vive and set up the lighthouses and other associated peripherals, and by the time I’d done so, end up playing in VR for about 15 minutes. The PlayStation VR2 changed all that.
The absolutely fantastic plug and play nature of Sony’s new headset stems from the fact that it’s a single wire to the front of the console. You plug in the one USB cable, pick up your Sense controllers, and you are immediately transported into the world of No Man’s Sky. After an initial load, you are completely immersed, and for as long as you want to be. To that end, I recorded the first 50 minutes of the game without commentary and all by myself so you can see just how much tutorialization improvement Hello Games has made to the game without interruption. Enjoy.
The first thing I noticed playing the game in VR was that the game has gotten a lot smoother than last I played. I have ridiculously overpowered PC hardware, but it never quite clicked for me. I’m not sure if that’s a limitation in other headsets, but the PSVR2 never wavered from its 90Hz refresh. As such, I was able to glide along the surface, jetpack at will, and otherwise navigate in VR using smooth motion. If you’ve read any of my VR reviews, you know I’m a nausea sufferer in virtual reality, so that’s a true feat indeed. I played No Man’s Sky without a problem for over an hour and a half, interrupted only by other commitments, not because I “needed a break”.
The next big step was to bring friends along for the ride. I enlisted the help of Lead Editor David Burdette and Editor Richard Allen to find the necessary materials to build a base. We decided to go hard-mode and do it on Richard’s tutorial planet. This place was very much out to kill us, with sentinels on patrol, pirates in the skies above, and temperatures over 100º C. Battling the elements, we pulled together as a team and managed to collect the materials needed to make a basic shelter, ensuring we could operate safely on this planet for our future adventures.
While I didn’t encounter any lag or issues with the game at all in terms of performance, you might notice from the video that there is no voice. Despite being able to hear one another, and despite having every setting on the system set to wide open and “capture all the things”, voice was just omitted entirely. I suspect there’s some nanny nonsense to “protect the children” at play here, but after three attempts I just gave up. For the 99.999% of you who don’t broadcast, I’m sure you’ll never notice, but I sure did.
Voice niggles aside, David and Richard both experienced some oddities with tracking on their mining lasers. Reaching over your right shoulder and gripping with the middle finger buttons is supposed to grab the gun. While I never once had an issue, they both did, David more often than either of us. VR relies heavily on lighting, so this could be as simple as having a reflective surface in the room that is confusing the cameras, or not enough light to allow for tracking, but that’s hard to troubleshoot.
The team has put a lot of effort into improving the VR UI experience, and with some effect. The flat screens are more like projections from your wrist. It doesn’t make the crafting less clunky (you still select an empty spot, then select what you want, then do a lot of dragging things in and out of menus), but it does make the screen less frustrating to manipulate. That said, I did run into a bug fairly frequently when using the refiner where the panel would spawn inside the device instead of over it or on top of it. It made it nearly impossible to read or use. Backing out and going back into the device usually fixed it.
Interactivity is the watchword of VR, and No Man’s Sky has no shortage of it. Flying means reaching out and gripping the throttle and stick. Opening the canopy on vehicles means reaching over to the handles and lifting. Yanking Sodium-rich flowers out of the ground means gripping them and then making a yanking motion. Nearly every aspect of the game has some sort of tactile feedback, and that’s reflected in the haptics of the PSVR2. Light buzzing when you are terraforming makes it feel like you are operating a laser drill. A thump to the head when your ship gets hit from the back lets you know you are in a firefight. It’s not over the top, but it’s enough to help further immerse you into the virtual world that No Man’s Sky brings to life.
The best part about No Man’s Sky is that it’s not purely a VR experience. Removing the headset and playing with a controller is not only viable but recommended. It’s a very different game (though frankly I prefer the virtual game) that was designed originally for flat screens. As such, the controls there feel more intuitive in places as it simply has more polish than its VR counterparts. Best of all, if there’s one aspect you enjoy in VR more than others, throwing on the headset without having to back out and reload the game. If you’d rather build with a controller, but fly with a VR helmet, go nuts.
The biggest hitch in No Man’s Sky seems to be another work-in-progress. Unless I’m mistaken, the foveated rendering that makes the PlayStation VR2 so powerful versus other headsets, is not working correctly. Foveated rendering has the engine render the game at its highest resolution where your eyes are currently focused. I believe the game currently renders the entire world at one level of detail, meaning that it has to do so at a lower resolution than it would with foveation. If I’m right, I suspect this is something that Hello Games will improve over time. Even so, unless you’ve got the PC version at full power to compare it to, it’s unlikely you’ll ever notice.
Ultimately, No Man’s Sky’s return home is a triumphant one. The game is worlds apart from where it started, and all for the better. Unlike many VR games, it’s not an experience, and it’s far from short. The world is what you make of it, and once you get into base building, operating a massive star ship, exploring the galaxy to uncover the origin of a mysterious signal (which alone will take you over 30 hours), or interacting with the thousands of other players on both PC and PSVR2, it’s nearly endless. Hello Games may have aimed for the stars and missed at launch, but it’s been strength after strength ever since.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
No Man's Sky
No Man’s Sky returns home to Sony’s newest platform, bringing with it more features, fun, and now virtual exploration than ever before. While a few bugs remain, No Man’s Sky stands out among a very strong launch lineup for the PlayStation VR2.