No Man’s Sky is a nice little game made by a tiny studio. It gives players the opportunity to live out their wildest dreams and explore a massive, seemingly endless universe, full of strange creatures, aliens, and worlds. It is the stuff of childlike wonder and at the end of the day is a happy, carefree game.
Except, that’s not how my time with No Man’s Sky has gone. One of the things I like about the game is that it’s basically a build-your-own-adventure book. Each player draws something different and unique from the experience; everyone’s journey through the stars is special, and it just so happens that my journey is an unnerving, horror film.
The first world I started on saw me wake next to a crashed and broken ship with no help and very little idea of what to do next. The sky was an odd color and there were no other living creatures on the planet, at least none I could see. The planet was deathly quiet and the music in the background was faint and soft. All of those things are classic genre tropes for horror films. Not knowing where you are or how you got there. Being all alone with strong feelings of isolation and loneliness, strange sights and sounds all around. Without aiming to, Hello Games created something that could be a tense space thriller.
From the strange creaks and groans I described above, to its total and near complete isolation from other characters, to its dark and depressing worlds, the game has perfectly, if without meaning to, created a tense and dire feel. One where I could never be comfortable or at peace. The spaceship serving as the only refuge, even then it’s just a tiny tin can, that never feels totally secure.
This feeling of being alone and insecure was the very first gut reaction I got from the game, back during that opening section. As I wandered away from my ship down into a valley where all of a sudden a loud boom cracked overhead and storm clouds came out of nowhere. Beyond my field of vision came a scream from some unseen animal. Five minutes into the game and I was stunned to discover that I was actually playing Slender Man in space.
That feeling carried over to the next world, which I enjoyed so much I named it Misery. Oppressing green skies that just sucked away at my life support system. A baren, totally desolate world with just rocks, rocks, and oh look more rocks to keep me company. I slipped out of my ship and trekked across the planet and never for one second felt safe. Finally I discovered a stunning lush area, tucked away. I could hardly believe my eyes, the place was incredible. For the first time I was seeing bright, vibrant colors, a beatiful, stunning to look at world.
Then something just flashed by the corner of my eye.
Startled, I turned around to see what it was. I couldn’t spot anything. Clearly, I must have simply imagined something. I probably just saw a tree and mistook it for something else. I continued to walk away from my ship and up a hill. When I reached the top I decided to take a look back, I’m a sucker for a good view, turning around I spotted my ship and then looking up I saw to my horror a terrifying giant eel like creature flying through the sky.
When I say giant I mean giant, the thing was massive and it wasn’t alone. A whole flock of them were all floating above me and they were getting closer. At this moment of horror I heard a bark somewhere near. Taking my eyes off for a split second I noticed a dog looking creature nearby sniffing a plant. Taking a step towards the alien dog I noticed it seemed friendly and decided to look back for the monster eels. In that second two things happened, the eels were gone and the dog wasn’t as friendly as I thought, lunging at me I was slammed by the force of the dog and like any good space adventurer, ran away as fast as I could. I went maybe 30 feet, turned around, couldn’t find the dog, and couldn’t believe my good luck. I decided maybe things were going to be ok and then I turned back around. Waiting for me were the giant eels and they had brought friends, and were now nearly right on top of me. The ensuing decision to haul ass back to my ship and get the heck out of this planet’s orbit was the easiest I have made.
No Man’s Sky is clearly a game where many different stories can be told. Where some might want to farm minerals and resources and become a galactic version of Steve Jobs or John Rockefeller, others might instead be pulled in the direction of being a space zoologist, of operating as if they were in a space version of the Crocodile Hunter. Still, others might find the games philosophical and promising tale of journeying to the center of the universe an inspired mission. Somehow I got stuck with living in a universe sized version of Ridley Scott’s Alien. Terrifying, haunting, unnerving, and truly unlike anything else I’ve played, No Man’s Sky is the scariest game I have played this year, and I loved it.