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Review

No Man’s Sky (Switch) Review

This is endless space, but don’t look too hard. When there are infinite permutations of planets, resources, flora, and fauna to explore, the limits of verisimilitude are laid bare whenever you keenly observe what is going on with any one planet in No Man’s Sky. Invariably, you’ll be impressed with the alien creatures that spawn, yet watching them for some time will reveal their aimlessness. They don’t do anything much apart from look like they are alive. You can feed them, or eventually tame one to be your companion/pet, but they don’t seem to hunt each other, or operate on any kind of sleep cycle, or any real behaviour aside from populating Planet 1300FG476XXX. They’ll mindlessly wander in front of your mining laser and generally be oblivious to the presence of other life forms.

In this 60 trillion-piece puzzle dumped out on the floor and gathered together into pieces that fit, buried chests will float in mid-air, building parts won’t quite align at times, and a Gek trader might spawn submerged into the floor, but such procedural errors are easy to forgive when there’s no real meaning behind it all apart from the pleasure of exploration itself. This is a very different game to the one I played on PS4 at launch. I remember enjoying that one, jumping into my ship and cruising through systems, discovering ancient alien bases and trying to make my way to the centre of the universe. I never got there, but I do remember wanting to.

Jumping in with this, years (and massive content updates) later, it’s a whole different game. New currencies, a guided tutorial, and a heavy focus on crafting will greet you upon your starting random planet. The crafting I can take or leave. I mean, I get it. Crafting games are popular and introducing checks and balances into your massive game helps to spread players out a bit, allowing for exploratory avenues should they wish to truly dig down (sometimes literally) into a particular gameplay corridor. It’s for those who are already a hundred hours in and want to create their own meaning in this boundless universe. The addition of portals means that you can spend time building something of a base, before hooning off and having the option to warp back if you wish. The larger settlements seen in the console versions of No Man’s Sky are, understandably, absent here, as is the hope of meeting any players online, as this mode has also been held back. While these would have added a sense of hustle and bustle to exploration, it’s a small price to pay for spacefaring on the go.

I guess we should get the looming topic out of the way: that of performance, or more specifically, sacrifice. Yes, the frame rate is locked at 30fps, with some noticeable dips below. And NPCs have this weird hitch to their animations, almost like stop-motion. Large vistas will always appear bare, with animals, plants and geography popping in at almost violent proximity. And when you do get to mining large deposits, there‚Äôs a distinct lag between your laser, the ground disappearing and then the substance being assigned to your inventory. I also witnessed many instances of trees morphing as I got close, their roots sinking down into the ground in what I can only guess is their more permanent spawn mode. I had one game crash while playing, but I think that was caused by an update going live and once I updated and reloaded I had not lost any progress. Visually, the game is rough, owing to the low resolution (1152×648 docked and 896×504 portable), which, frankly, is not ideal, but again understandable and adaptable.

All this aside ‚Äď all the spawn quirks and low-quality visuals ‚Äď I still think this is worth playing on the Switch, the biggest caveat being its full price when you can get it for cheaper, and at higher resolution, on other consoles. The art style evokes old sci-fi, always colourful, often awesome. Jumping into your ship, taking off, climbing up through the atmosphere, shooting asteroids, scanning for another planet to explore ‚Äď this is just as thrilling and seamless as it was way back at launch. I‚Äôve been playing at work and at home, and I‚Äôve been totally hooked, lounging in my chair at night while my wife watches TV, just working my way around a handful of planets, mining resources, finding buried caches, begrudgingly crafting extra lasers and equipment mods.

I love how you can make money just by scanning animals and plants. You don‚Äôt need to do anything else if you don‚Äôt want to ‚Äď apart from, of course, mining enough resources to keep your lasers, life support, launch thrusters and other fuel supplies stocked. I‚Äôve enjoyed landing on planets and hunting down all the language pillars for one alien race, coming to understand what those aliens are saying to me when I approach them at outposts. I look forward to discovering more species and doing the same. This is the thing about No Man‚Äôs Sky: I haven‚Äôt even scratched the surface for this review, and I don‚Äôt need to, because my way of playing No Man‚Äôs Sky will not be your way. You might beeline for the centre of the universe, which is the loose overarching goal here, or you might decide to trade in starships, amassing millions in credits to get bigger vessels with far more cargo capacity. You might find the perfect planet to build an entire settlement, which is theoretically possible here, though not advisable given the Switch‚Äôs clear limits.

As you venture into the unknown, in the corner of your screen is your current objective. For now, mine says something like, ‚ÄėExplore this planet, or return to space and search for a new planet‚Äô. I almost hope it never changes because I am super happy just following that advice. And I think you would be, too.

Rating: 4/5

The Good

+ An entire universe in your hands
+ Relaxing, compelling gameplay
+ Self-directed openness

The Bad

- Performance and visual downgrade from other versions
- Plenty of strange spawn quirks
- Planetary settlements would have been nice

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No Man’s Sky Switch may stumble occasionally, and the price point carries a sting, but portable feels like the perfect fit for this procedural universe of wonder.

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About The Author
Dylan Burns
Artist. Fiction writer. Primary teacher.

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