No Man's Sky's survival mode makes planetary exploration a brutal nightmare

12 units of zinc. That's all I need to repair my busted spaceship and blast off this crummy, baking hot, godforsaken planet forever. 12 measly units of zinc. I've gathered tons of iron to repair my launch thrusters, and tons more iron—plus an acre of heridium—to get my pulse drive back online. All I need now is 12 more units of zinc. And, after nearly an hour of wandering, I still can't find them.

No Man's Sky's Foundation update provided a couple new ways to play the space exploration game. As I said when I experimented with base-building, I appreciate what Foundation adds though it's not what I was looking for. This is doubly true of survival mode, which I've been struggling with the past few days. I'm glad it's here, because I know people enjoy the challenges it presents. I do not enjoy the challenges it presents. I do not enjoy anything about it. I'm completely miserable.

When you begin a new game of Survival, you don't wake up next to your broken ship. I've started survival over four different times now, and each time the ship has been a good 10 to 15 minute walk away from where I spawn. Starter planets are always disagreeable—one was bitterly cold, one suffered a constant downpour of toxic rain, and the one I'm on now is dangerously hot, though at nighttime it cools off to safe levels. This means that long walk to reach my ship also requires spending a lot of time recuperating in caves or any shelters I'm lucky enough to come across. I haven't been very lucky in either case.

To fend off the nasty environments, you need to keep your suit and life support charged, which means harvesting resources while you make the trip to your ship. Spending hours scouring for resources is nothing new to No Man's Sky, though in the base game it's typically spent hunting for rare metals or exotic metals. Now, everything except for iron and carbon is rare. Often, scans only show one or two resources in the vicinity. I've hit the scan button several times and found absolutely nothing.

As you're baked or frozen or eaten away by acid rain, all you have with you is the nagging electronic voice telling you just how screwed you are. "Thermal protection falling," it harps. I know. "Shields down." Yes, I can see that. "Critical damage taken." You don't say! "Life support system at 25%." No shit. "Thermal protection offline." It's like spending a weekend on Mars with a dying iPhone and Debbie Downer.

Amidst the helpful voice constantly telling you you're doomed, you get the standard journey milestones, which I supposed are intended to be uplifting. It's hard to take them that way, though. Lost and trudging through a cave with my life support below 10% and still stinging from the attack of one of those angry whip-like plants, my screen letterboxes and the music swells and I get a celebratory notice that I've traveled 5,000u on foot. Fuck you, I whisper.

The side effect of all this is that I've become completely disinterested in scanning alien critters, something I tended to enjoy in the game. I have zero time for it now, and even when they're waddling right in front of me I couldn't care less. Unless you're made of zinc, get out of my way, you undiscovered six-legged goat-dog.

Zinc. Zinc! Where are you? Zinc, like everything else is now precious. I'm mainly looking for it visually, desperately trying to spot the telltale yellow flower, because my suit's scanner takes ages to recharge, along with my jetpack and sprint meter and pretty much everything else. I reach my ship at last and climb in, grateful to use it as a save point but irritated because I have to leave it immediately and continue walking around looking for zinc. Possibly for the rest of my life.

Finally, having tramped in ever-widening circles, I scan and see a notification that zinc is nearby. One stinking zinc plant in over an hour of walking. Thank god. I nab it just as I'm told my suit's protection is dangerously low. I can charge it—but I'd need to use my precious zinc. My life support is also dwindling, and I can't spend time looking for the resource I need to recharge it without then having to use zinc to recharge my environmental protection. The ship is four minutes away, and I've got maybe four minutes left of life. I just barely make it back, climbing in just as everything reaches 0% at the same time.

I admit, it is damn satisfying to blast off this horrible planet, but not quite satisfying enough to make the long, slow, painful slog I just undertook worth it. I'm in such bad shape that even when I reach the space station and talk to a couple aliens—milestone!—my vision is still red and murky. I buy enough resources to put myself back together, leave the station, and am immediately shot down by space pirates.

Respawning, I leave the station again and find there's one other planet in this system. I land to find it atmospherically safe—no freezing or boiling temperatures, and no toxic rain—but the sentinels here are listed as high security. So, once again, I can only walk for a bit without taking damage, this time from angry hovering robots instead of the sun. I also can't take off again: in addition to plutonium being rare, it doesn't provide much fuel for thrusters. In fact, a single lift-off completely depletes the supply.

More wandering in circles, more scanning for elements that aren't there, more slowly dying while a voice constantly nags me. Maybe there's something satisfying about overcoming this kind of torture, but I don't think I'm going to last long enough to find out.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.