Hands-On: No Man’s Sky VR Is A World Of Limitless Possibilities

by David Jagneaux • April 2nd, 2019

No Man’s Sky was first released for PlayStation 4 in August of 2016. A few months later the PSVR headset came out and ever since then it has felt like only a matter of time before Hello Games’ ambitious space exploration epic gets support for the immersive realm of VR. Now finally, over two and a half years later after ports to PC and Xbox, multiple big updates and lots of rumors, it’s finally happening.

VR support for No Man’s Sky was announced last week. It’s not only coming to PSVR, but also PC VR headsets like Rift and Vive via SteamVR this summer along with the rest of the Beyond update. VR support is coming as a free patch to the base game and will function right alongside all non-VR players in the exact same universe complete with base building, terraforming, multiplayer, and all of the other updates it’s gotten over the years. That’s huge.

I’ve decided to break down this preview a bit more granularly than I usually do because this is such a highly requested game people seem to wonder about the port implementation more so than the game itself. I’ll cover content a bit at the end, but first let’s focus on visuals and controls.

No Man’s Sky VR Visuals: PSVR vs. PC VR

Last week I got the chance to play No Man’s Sky on PSVR and the week before that I played it on an HTC Vive Pro at GDC in San Francisco, CA. Visually both versions of the game look great. The draw distance is fantastic and the sense of scale just walking around a planet’s surface is pretty remarkable. And I can honestly say that the exhilaration I felt when lifting off in my ship, exiting the atmosphere, and turning around to watch the planet fade away behind me — all without a single loading screen — was nothing short of pure magic.

But there are definitely some differences visually. Now, to be clear, the game is still several months away from finalizing VR support on either platform so take this all with a hefty grain of salt, but it does look noticeably worse on PSVR as expected. In the far distance the horizon is quite blurry, for example. This wasn’t really a fair comparison in terms of visuals (Vive Pro is a premium piece of kit), but it’s still important to note the differences. Everything is much crisper on PC for sure.

However, despite the lack of horsepower and lower resolution, the PSVR version actually ran very smoothly. I don’t recall noticing any framerate drops and I moved around the world just fine. It was snappy and responsive from top to bottom. Even though it didn’t look as good, the mere fact that it ran as well as it did left me more just as optimistic about the PSVR version as the Vive Pro version. I honestly didn’t think the PS4 had the ability to run a game like this in VR, let alone one that is also online at the same time.

Neither Sony nor Hello Games were permitted to disclose the type of hardware it was running on at the demo and I didn’t ask about the PC I was playing on at GDC, but since it was at the Valve meeting area I assume it was a very powerful PC rig and I’d imagine it was a a PS4 Pro dev kit at the Sony event. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my assumption. There was no word of what kind of PS4 Pro support there will be when the game gets PSVR support this summer, but I’d imagine it will get a slight bump there in most typical ways.

Comfort and Controls

Other than those obvious visual differences and playing with PS Move controllers vs. HTC Vive wands, the game is identical on both platforms in terms of features. Both the PSVR and PC VR versions will support either teleport movement or smooth movement, for example. There will be lots of comfort options for those that need them, or you can turn all that off and go full-speed exploring the galaxy.

I played seated for both of my demos, which felt very natural (especially when flying my ship or driving ground vehicles) but in a home setting I’ll undoubtedly stand up for exploration and building things just for the added benefit of being able to lean around more easily. Plus on PC headsets I can walk around the room in real-time to get a better look at animals, objects, or inspect my vehicles. I’ve kind of always wanted to really take a look at the underside of my ship.

One of my favorite bits about how they ported No Man’s Sky to VR is that they’ve done a wonderful job of maintaining immersion. In games like Skyrim VR, which were very obviously not designed for VR at all, there are tons of things that feel super awkward or uncomfortable since it wasn’t originally a VR game. For example, talking to NPCs is handled by flicking through options with your thumbstick and all menus are just flat 2D windows that pop up in front of you and clip through the environment. To be blunt it’s awful, despite the scope and immersion of the world itself.

But in No Man’s Sky all of that feels much more thoughtful. You point at your left wrist with your right hand to make little holographic icons pop up to access your inventory, which then becomes a floating hologram attached to your wrist. When you summon your ship you actually drag the 3D outline of it off of your wrist and place it in the world to spawn. Building things is handled the same way with a really intuitive drag, point, and drop system. It feels like the sort of thing you’ve see in a sci-fi film a thousand times. At no point did I feel like I was playing a game that was obviously ported from a non-VR format and at the end of the day that’s just about the highest compliment I can pay No Man’s Sky considering it was released almost three years ago without VR support at all.

The Biggest VR Game Yet?

 

No Man’s Sky in VR is, without question, poised to immediately become the largest and most expansive VR game to date once the Beyond update releases. And to be clear: when that happens this summer, the VR support is the entire game. If you have an existing save file you can jump right back into it with VR support. It’s not a separate purchase and is 100% free for anyone that owns that game. Plus, you’ll be playing with non-VR players too. If you pay attention while playing you’ll probably be able to tell who is in VR and who isn’t based on whether or not they’re moving their hands individually.

If you’re wondering why it’s such a big deal it’s because of the game’s scope. Plenty of games exist already that let you do vertical slices of what No Man’s Sky contains, but there is quite honestly no other game like it in terms of scale and features. Sure, I can get into a dogfight in EVE Valkyrie, fly around space and drive on planets in Elite: Dangerous, explore dangerous worlds with survival mechanics in The Solus Project, scan alien life in Farlands, build shelter in The Forest, terraform in Minecraft, or fight off enemies with my friends in Gunheart. But No Man’s Sky is a bit like all those games, or the major features of all those games, combined into one. And now it’s in VR with millions of active players.

No Man’s Sky is a game without loading screens and almost completely without boundaries. You can go from digging a hole into a planet to erecting a giant mountain instantly. You can make a home base from the resources you’ve gathered, invite people over, and then get in your spaceship and fly to another planet seamlessly. You can battle other ships in space and explore caves on the surface or underwater. Soon, you can do all of that in VR too.

Since there are more procedurally generated planets that we could ever hope to visit, this is a game that you can basically play forever. I know we’ll be in there day one of VR support picking a homeworld to call our own.

Make no mistake: No Man’s Sky hasn’t always been the thing of dreams. It launched to severe backlash and issues. In fact, it took multiple massive updates to finally live up to its promised potential, but now, in 2019, it’s very much a different game. Playing the current version of No Man’s Sky in VR was little more than a fantasy a few years ago and I’m here to say that, after trying it for myself, it’s becoming a reality.

No Man’s Sky gets VR support later this summer for both PSVR and SteamVR headsets. Let us know what you think (or if you want to come live on Planet Upload once it’s founded!) down in the comments below!

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