No Man's Sky and gaming perfection

What is it that makes certain games stand out as “perfect”?

   Fez   (Polytron Corporation)

Fez (Polytron Corporation)

Going through Fez last week made me realise just how damn good it remains years after its original release. Controlling the pixelated Gomez in multiple environments that are rich in colour and detail is an experience like no other. It made me think how everything the game does, it does it extremely well. Perfectly, even.

So you might have heard about a little thing called No Man’s Sky which was finally released last week. Everywhere you look the reviews are quite…sketchy, to say the least. Whilst most of the reception has been mildly positive, with some folks making the comparison of its (virtually) endless possibilities of exploration to those of Minecraft, others have been pretty brutal.

It was clear long before its release many gamers’ expectations weren’t going to be met. The gaming industry is always looking for the next big, original series which can act as an inspirational template for subsequent titles. Who would have thought the style of stealth gameplay from 1998’s entry of Metal Gear Solid would lead to a fantastic game about an art thief in the Marvellous Miss Take?

There are certain things that make No Man’s Sky standout as a significant milestone. The procedural generation where different plant, animal and environmental combinations from hundreds of pre-set options spring up on screen as you play the game is definitely ground-breaking. This endless variety means it could be enough “game” to last you many lifetimes or in other words, the last game you’ll ever need to play.

Sure, it might not be perfect but reviews and opinions are always subjective, especially in the gaming sphere. However, No Man’s Sky does an excellent job of hiding away its complexities inside an algorithm, theoretically leaving you with a simple adventure game. The main issue is that the game is a little more than simple, taking away time you could be spending exploring, instead making you fiddle with your inventory.

   Journey   (thatgamecompany)

Journey (thatgamecompany)

“Perfect” games, regardless of which specific titles you might include in your own list, usually focus on simple objectives and tight mechanics to help you reach your goal. Here’s my incomplete and ever-changing list:

  • Halo: Combat Evolved
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
  • Ico
  • Portal 2
  • Super Mario Galaxy
  • Fez
  • Journey
  • Shadow of the Colossus
  • Rez

They’re all truly memorable experiences, critically and commercially successful, and have changed the gaming landscape in their own unique way. This isn’t to say there are other, better games. Who would have thought sending Mario into space would have resulted in such a fresh experience for Nintendo’s chief mascot? Or that by adding Stephen Merchant’s chirpy voice, Portal 2’s famous layer of dark humour remains unforgettable?

Note that my examples, your own suggestions and others from big-name publications are mostly single-player. This also means simple, powerful narratives are what push the gameplay and artistic significance of the best games ever made. Doesn’t this show just how much more subjective and personal games are to us all, compared with any other medium?