What happens when an extremely anticipated, likely over-hyped game, is released to widespread disdain, disappointment, and frustration? Enter the indie game developer Hello Games who released No Man’s Sky about three weeks ago. Billed as an open format, space exploration game, with a chill atmosphere, I bought into the hype (dammit) and though available on both PS4 and PC, I chose the PC (Steam) pre-purchase version.
In an interesting twist, the PS4 version was released on Tuesday, while the PC version was released on Friday of the same week. There was a lot of community head scratching over that nuance but having now played the game, I may have a thought which will bring clarity to that oddness.
About two weeks ago, I awoke Friday morning with some excitement. The release of a brand new game to the community, especially one as unique as No Man’s Sky, brings a buzz of anticipation. I’d avoided all the of early week reviews associated with the Tuesday PS4 release because I wanted to enjoy an untainted experience — without spoilers. Sure, I’d seen some articles claiming the game was running well and up to expectations (whatever that meant). Little did I know just how dissimilar the PC release would be.
I got home in the early Friday afternoon and fired up both some recording software and the game. As No Man’s Sky began, I drank in the initial presentation and was immediately underwhelmed. The graphics seemed unrefined and the UI somewhat clunky. I was puzzled. I thought this game was supposed to be all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips so surely I was missing something. Regardless, I settled in to discover what this new gaming experience had to offer.
Within 10 minutes I couldn’t help but notice the game was jittery and seemed to constantly stutter. Nothing pulls one out of a gaming experience like technical issues. I thought the problems were the result of running both the game and recording software — so I shut down the recording to test things out. Nope, the hiccups and frame-drops continued. I decided to deploy some Google-Fu to see if there was an obvious fix I was missing. Let me tell you, I was not prepared for the result.
The Internet was awash with negative commentary. The Steam community listed No Man’s Sky a paltry 57% positive user reviews. Continued research revealed Reddit, Twitter, and general Internet comments were frustrated, furious, and demanding a fix. Many people also complained about lag, hiccups, and jitter despite having machines far more powerful than my own. A friend told me he could not even start the game without an immediate crash. What the hell?!
I searched for PS4 reviews and found people mostly happy with performance but several complained about tedious game play with a healthy dose of boredom. A friend commented on his five hour experience saying, “This game is one mile wide but one foot deep,” adding it was a “repetitive,” and “unrewarding.” I was left with a decision: Stick or Twist?
With two official hours of frustration officially logged in No Man’s Sky, I request a refund from Steam. (On a side note, this experience revealed the Steam refund policy; something I knew nothing about.) The refund was granted promptly and I moved on.
In the two or three weeks since my exit, the game has continued to garner negative reviews and frustration. So much so, Steam, PS4, and other digital content providers have allowed users to request refunds well beyond the traditional refund window. I heard one stat where Steam recorded 250,000 initial persistent users but that number dropped to 15,000 (unconfirmed Internet blather). Probably not accurate but likely close to the truth.
Others have stripped away the procedural algorithm and found the 18-trillion planets claim isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The reality of unique planets is closer to 256 types with 256 varieties when you don’t include universe position and color spectrum. Certainly a large number but not quite the grand scope which generated the original buzz.
From where I sit, Hello Games became a victim of its own hype (not the first time in history) and is a good reminder to move with caution when considering a pre-purchase. No Man’s Sky could certainly evolve into something significant; however, with so much competition (specially from Star Citizen), the road forward may be a touch bumpy.