GameCentral reviews the Fractal update for No Man’s Sky on PS5 and enjoys one of the best virtual reality experiences PSVR2 has to offer.
There must be many people playing No Man’s Sky today that aren’t even aware that when it first came out it was the 2016 equivalent of Cyberpunk 2077. Not so much in terms of bugs but in the fact that the game was nothing like the pre-release hype had seemed to promise. To their credit, developer Hello Games accepted their mistake and the last seven years has seen a steady supply of completely free updates that have helped to realise the original dream. Updates that, once again, include support for PlayStation VR.
Over the last week it’s become clear that Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil Village are easily the best PlayStation VR2 compatible games so far. Other games have been good, but they’re mostly titles, such as Rez Infinite and Moss, that already exist on other headsets, often including the original PlayStation VR. The only major disappointment has been Horizon Call Of The Mountain, which isn’t awful but is the quintessential tech demo, that VR gaming so desperately needs to escape from.
No Man’s Sky isn’t in quite the same situation as Gran Turismo and Resident Evil, not only because it has a much smaller budget but because it’s already been on PlayStation VR before. So, if you’ve played that, or the PC version, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into here. Even if, thanks to the new Fractal update, the game has changed once again.
We haven’t played this version anywhere near enough to give it a scored review, but Fractal is a smaller update than some of the others, since a lot of the work has gone into PlayStation VR2 support. However, it does include a Star Wars style speeder for sub-orbital flight, a robot drone companion, and various new missions and accessibility options – as well as optional motion controls.
Having never played the game on PlayStation 5 before we had to start a new save from scratch, which is always a thrill. For those not familiar with the game you start by waking up on a mysterious planet (procedurally generated at random, like everything else in the game universe) with a broken spaceship and nothing but a weak mining tool and a jetpack to help you make your repairs and work out where you are and what’s going on.
The nominal goal of the game is to reach the centre of the universe but, at least originally, you were really just exploring at random and trying to earn enough credits to buy newer and bigger ships and equipment. You still have that freedom, but the newer versions of the game have added a lot more hand-holding, that more clearly explains concepts, like crafting and using resources, that previously seemed very esoteric.
Not only that but the game starts dropping the breadcrumbs of a story right from the start, as you follow a mysterious beacon left by a previous explorer and retrieve the blueprints for devices like an ore refiner and a computer that lets you build ground bases – features that never existed in the original but are now a very welcome part of the default experience.
No Man’s Sky still has its flaws, as we’ll get into in a moment, but the ambition and mass of content cannot be faulted, and nor can the new VR mode. Although technically it’s just the old VR mode made to seem more impressive because it’s running on a PlayStation 5 and because the PlayStation VR2 is a much more capable headset. Between the two of them that means a much sharper image (the original PlayStation VR version was very blurry), longer draw distances on foot, and proper, reliable controllers.
The difference the Sense controllers is immense, as is the case for every PlayStation VR2 game, and the opening hours, when you have to fight for every achievement, are truly special. Just looking around, freely with your head, at the alien world you find yourself on is awe-inspiring, as strange creatures wander by, peculiar plants pump poison into the atmosphere, and giant spaceships (we’re still not clear if they’re other players or just window dressing) suddenly pop out of hyperspace in the skies above.
It’s a literal dream come true for science fiction fans and so much more immersive with the PlayStation VR2, thanks to a full VR body and the fact that, since you’re meant to be in a spacesuit anyway, the clunkiness of the headset actually adds to the realism. Whether you imagine yourself as a Mandalorian using their viewfinder or a Star Trek explorer activating a tricorder, touching the side of your helmet to switch on different visors is equally magical.
Motion controls are used quite a bit, including to open crates and collect plants, pull out your multitool from behind your back, and access menu options by turning your wrist and pointing at virtual buttons on your glove. There’s also an unexpected surprise in the cockpit of your ship where, by default at least, you have to use the virtual throttle and joystick to fly. This works very well, but although it looks immersive we have to admit we prefer the tactility of using the analogue sticks.
Occasionally, the larger inventory and menu screens get stuck in the terrain, where you can’t read them properly, but beyond that and a few other minor glitches, this is a fantastic VR experience where the use of the headset doesn’t feel like a tech demo or a gimmick but the ideal way to play the game.
The original flaws of No Man’s Sky are still present though, including the weird dithering effect that tries to make up for game’s short draw distance and makes flying close to planet surfaces much less fun than it could’ve been – and is no doubt precisely why the speeder has been added. Although, to be honest, the graphics in general are starting to show their age in more than a few places.
There’s also the niggling feeling that there still isn’t any real depth to the game. There’s a mountain of content now, to the point where it almost feels like a sci-fi version of Minecraft, but neither the exploration nor combat has any real weight to it, since you can all but ignore both if you really want to.
That’s technically not a criticism, since that’s how the game was always supposed to work, but now that there are proper missions and rewards you begin to glimpse what No Man’s Sky could’ve been, if it had been designed as the sort of next gen, Elite style space trading simulator that many assumed it was going to be back in 2016.
It’s unfair to criticise any game for being something it’s not, so instead we’ll say that this is another excellent implementation of VR technology by Hello Games and despite all the years that have passed No Man’s Sky has never been better, resulting in another must-have title for PlayStation VR2.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Hello Games
Developer: Hello Games
Release Date: 22nd February 2023 (Fractal update)
Age Rating: 7
*£29.99 until March 1
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