No Man’s Sky has soared a long way since its initial launch back in 2016 and after much controversy and improvements made to the game, the space-exploring epic is held in a different light in the eyes of players. Their latest Beyond update (which is free for owners of the game to download) improved on their multiplayer integration (a highly requested feature) and, miraculously, introduced full virtual reality support for the game. As an avid VR evangelist and someone who has never played No Man’s Sky to begin with, I wanted to provide my impressions while I fly around, build some stuff, pilot some vehicles, fall through a planet and embarrass myself while trying to master my flight control. No Man’s Sky VR is in many ways a remarkable achievement, but there are a couple of glaring sacrifices Hello Games had to make to get it there.
If you’ve already played No Man’s Sky, I won’t go into the detail of how the game plays and operates. For those who don’t, there are a multitude of great reviews out there for the game as well as those on its previous updates that detail the additions of elaborate base-building and co-operative play. I wanted to specifically focus on the VR implementation of this latest update.
A whole new world to explore
In many ways No Man’s Sky feels like it was made for VR. Even before both No Man’s Sky and PSVR released, I (very wrongly) predicted that the device would launch with the game because it made so much sense. A few years and updates later and we can finally jump into a spacecraft and fly to a distant planet and do whatever we please. The foundational design of Hello Game’s randomly generated universe is reason enough to strap on a PSVR head set and discover what it has to offer. In many VR titles I’ve played, it’s the most mundane or minute action that makes the experience memorable and the fact of just being in another pocket universe with almost limitless planets to explore, claim, research, build upon or destroy is pretty exciting to think about.
The first cool thing to note is that this is the full No Man’s Sky experience playable in VR; the main progression path, base building and the multiplayer components – it’s all here. Firstly, this means that VR owners will have access to a sprawling game with tons of content, longevity and gameplay styles for you to dig into. I chose to mess around in the creation mode, which allows me to enjoy the game’s features without worrying about the survival and grindy aspects of the game. I could play around with the base-building mechanics and pilot multiple vehicles just to get a feel for everything, which I recommend new players do before they dive straight into the meat. At the end of the day, the game can still be overwhelming to newcomers. The second great thing about full VR support is that PSVR players will be able to play alongside other PS4 players, giving the game stronger legs to stand on when compared to other multiplayer-centric VR games.
Just a casual joyride
One of the most memorable things about No Man’s Sky is its simplistic but colourful art direction, painting amazing vistas that stick in your mind for months on end. However, as simplistic and as effective as the art direction is, huge concessions were clearly made in the visual department to get the game running in VR and maintaining the 60fps benchmark required for VR games. As soon as the world loaded, I noticed that surfaces are noticeably bare to the point I had thought the textures were just loading slow. Draw distances look very blurry and other assets like asteroids and foliage load metres away from your proximity to the point where you’re seeing them pop up in front of you. There are still moments of awe and beauty depending on whether or not a certain sun hits a certain hill just right, but ultimately the downgrade stands out enough to distract. It’s certainly not a deal breaker and a visual sacrifice is to be expected given the game and platform, but I did not expect the downgrade to be this significant. Perhaps a PS4 Pro patch is in the works that alleviates some of these graphical hitches and cleans it up a bit.
The game itself plays surprisingly well with motion controls, which are a new control scheme on top of the standard DualShock 4 setup. The DualShock 4 operates exactly how you expect and players with experience in the game should be very familiar with the setup. The Move controls also surprisingly work well for the most part and is recommended for those wanting a more immersive experience. The Move controllers support full locomotion (though teleportation is selected at default) as well as multiple turning options and comfort settings. The integration of the Move controllers means you now have two independently controllable hands. Players can easily reach over their shoulder and pull out their multi-tool, which allows you to effortlessly aim and shoot. Players can also point to their opposite hand to bring up quick-menus allowing you to craft, build and manage your inventory conveniently using the clever flick system. For a game that has huge detailed menus, Hello Games did a good job at making it easy to access and navigate within VR.
Noticeable visual sacrifices had to be made to fit the whole game in VR
The VR update for No Man’s Sky VR is truly impressive in many astounding ways. Packaging the whole No Man’s Sky experience without any sacrifice to content is an impressive achievement, giving PSVR owners a huge universe to explore, sophisticated bases to build, ecosystems to research, discover and mine, and other players to share it with. Its Move implementation is also surprisingly intuitive and helps build that immersion. Unfortunately, visuals take a noticeable hit and flight controls using the Moves are a little too sensitive for my liking, but as an overall package, I am quite surprised at what has been achieved. Those who have tried No Man’s Sky and could never get into it will probably not be sold on this iteration purely because of its VR integration. On the other hand, VR enthusiasts may give this a go for the sole fact that this is the new kid on the block and they may be pleasantly surprised by what they find. Either way, if you have No Man’s Sky lying around and itching for something fresh within PSVR, the update is free so give it a spin. For me, it provides a nice relaxing distraction exploring exotic planets and messing around.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro | Game purchased for review purposes