Journey To The Savage Planet – Review
A short trip worth taking
Journey To The Savage Planet is a weird game. Not because of its premise, or its game mechanics. No, it’s weird because It’s hard to pigeonhole it into something easy to describe. But it’s all familiar flavours from various video games.
That being said, Typhoon Studios’ first game is a splendid one. Short, sweet and surprisingly, funny.
The presentation and aesthetic choices alone will make you think of “oh it’s that video game again”. Yet, it’s how these choices amalgamated is how Journey To The Savage Planet stands out. The setting and writing are about a capitalist corporation exploiting untrained workers, sending them to survey unknown planets for colonisation- like The Outer Worlds but more blunt, silly and only serves as a backdrop.
The colourful landscape of the planet, and how the retro-style space suit your explorer dons bare semblance to No Man’s Sky in some ways. The laze plucks of a banjo colours most of the soundtrack, like The Outer Wilds.
The simple, colourful graphics are also pleasant in the eyes. Even when the locations are getting a bit grim and dark, the goofy flora and fauna you encounter more than makes up for it. And my god, does this game have some beautiful vistas and views.
Take all those elements and then mix it with a healthy dose of what this game’s very own flavour- juvenile jokes and writing. The aliens you discover has all sorts of bodily gases and fluids being splattered about- farts, poop, barf- gross but in a colourful way. Thank god video games don’t render smell yet.
On the writing, it’s pretty solid. Your character is a silent protagonist with the occasional simple reaction sounds and barks. Or even a literal one based on the character you choose. So most of the talking is via your chatty AI companion Eko.
Unlike your usual AI/robot navigator in video games, Eko is a sassy one. She’s always there giving snarky commentary at what you are supposed to do and the alien discovery you’ve made, bluntly explains the horrors of teleportation, make you dread your existence and give a pat in the back during your journey. For the most part, she’s wholesome and fun to hear.
The fake ads you see and hear during downtimes are also downright hilarious, and sometimes grotesque. Again, it’s the more juvenile humour the game leans to. One of them is a Black Friday joke the sounds rather familiar. Another silly gag is a long build-up to a punchline when you scan different variants of a certain creature.
The jokes do die down near the end of the game, but it resulted in a strong first impression.
Journey To The Savage Planet is being billed as a first-person exploration game, but actually this is one of the games that fit the now-nebulous “action-adventure” genre to a T. For Savage Planet, it leans more on the adventure side, but there is action, for better or worse.
You play as an explorer tasked to survey an alien planet on behalf of Kindred Corporation. That’s basically the setup. Eko guides you for the first few minutes to get your bearings, and then a plot will unfold. But for the most part, that’s basically the gameplay. Run around, collect materials, survey some rocks or animals, don’t get killed, uncover secrets, then return to the ship and deposit all the materials you carrying.
Journey To The Savage Planet has all the trappings of what you’d expect from a modern open-world game, but boiled down to its essence. No bloat- this is one mean, lean video game.
Yes, there is a crafting system and material gathering but the number of materials and things you can craft is just a few handfuls. Yes, there is a ranking/leveling system with a checkbox of actions you need to do to tick it but they don’t repeat and finite. The world is rich with detail, filled with areas to explore and secrets to discover, but it’s not a flat open-world. Yes, there are collectibles, but they are not collectibles that you collect for the sake of collecting.
Platformer In Disguise?
Speaking on the world, the levels in Journey To The Savage Planet is the star of the show. The game breaks down to essentially four locations, but it kind of feels more like a level. So it’s not an open world and there is a clear critical path to get to the main plot.
That being said, the level design here is immaculate. It takes a page from the design books of games like Dark Souls where the level layout spirals vertically, layered on top of each other. But you won’t notice that until you get to some high vantage point to admire the view. For the early 2 hours or so, it feels like a world where there’s something to discover every corner.
If you love platforming and platformer or Metroidvania games, Journey To The Savage Planet. Not only does the game lets you take different routes from the critical path to get to your objectives, but you are absolutely allowed to figure out which jumps you can make.
Exploring the side paths and brute force the jumps to see if you can make it to that one ledge is satisfying. Eventually, you’ll bump into progression blockers where you’ll need an upgrade to proceed. You’ll get access to a double-jump (and up to a quadruple-jump), high jumps, and a grappling hook that doubles as a short rail grind tool for your traversal needs.
There’s a lot of jumping in the game.
Journey To The Savage Planet is at its best when it is an adventure game. Exploring the unknown, doing some platforming where a mistake can mean death, and figuring out how to traverse to the objective with only a waypoint (there’s no in-game map). It’s pure video game at its best. It’s exhilarating. You don’t get these experiences in mainstream video games these days.
You do have a pistol throughout the game. And it makes sense for combat and gunplay to not have an emphasis as you are a random, untrained person being sent to the fringes of outer space.
Unfortunately, combat is mandatory.
For a good hour, I was expecting if I can do a pacifist run and get away from any fights against the creatures. Until I realised that one of the progression blockers requires you to kick a cute little bird with eyes the size of its head into what is essentially a living meat grinder. And there are also boss fights later on.
Gunplay is serviceable in Journey To The Savage Planet. The pistol is upgradable with different modes of fire, sure, but there’s not really much to it. I find the ability to charge your shots a fickle to use and barely does the job at killing the creatures I gave up on it.
The items you pick up and the surroundings you are in don’t really change the combat that much which is a shame. You can sling a purple poop to have creatures (or yourself) be immobilised. But it doesn’t work on the toughest of creatures where you hope it would be the most useful. It’s definitely okay to have a very purposeful, limited toolset to use. I just wish the items serve more than just its one intended use.
Journey To The Savage Planet is really close to becoming an immersive sim, is what I’m saying. And I have only myself to blame for having that expectation.
At least death is not a big penalty as it may seem. You drop all your materials if you die, so you need to do a corpse run. But unlike Soulslike games, they won’t disappear if you die the second time. But once you reached your 10th “deathiversary”, you can see your corpses of past deaths and shamefully bury them. Which you’ll get more materials for doing so.
“Death can be rewarding” is one weird statement to make, but it’s true in Savage Planet.
How’s the PC version?
I am playing on the PC. The game runs well most of the time. But there are noticeable hitches now and then when a creature dies or you opened a progression blocker. The UI is not mouse-friendly in its current state at launch, though it’s fine when played on a controller, however.
The subtitles are fine, but I wish the subtitles for the ad video didn’t drown out the subtitle of Eko during some of the plot dumps.
This is a short game. In the first hour or so you should get your progression percentage up to 10%, and I got the credits to roll on hour 8. The post-game lets you go back and finish up your surveying job, enticing you to go for 100% completion before triggering another ending. Expect 12-15 hours tops from Journey To The Savage Planet.
Also, the game has online co-op. If you happen to have a friend who also has the game, you can venture into the world together. I didn’t try it, and I really don’t see the appeal to have one in this game, but it’s there for those who do. Still, a nice feature to see.
There is a photo mode, though a bit limited. Due to the online co-op feature the game never really pause the world state. No poses or emotes (though the developers say it’s coming), or options to hide the player. At least it’s here on launch.
I don’t see any reason anyone would do another playthrough, especially when you 100% it. Outside of co-op, you’ll be done with the game quickly. A bummer for some, but if your lifestyle means not much gaming time, this is perfect for you.
As you may notice the tone of the review so far, I really dig Journey To The Savage Planet. And most of it because it delivers that promise of a world that rewards the curious, something games from past generations excels at.
I love my time trying to Skyrim it- jumping on little patches of flat areas most likely not intended to be jumped on to find a cheeky shortcut or maybe a secret. I like using the photo mode drone camera not for taking pictures, but to peek underneath cliffs if there are secrets there (frequently, there is).
And I don’t mind back-tracking to past locations where I encounter a progression blocker, and then revisit it again now I have the tools to get past it.
But again, I wish the game embraced that philosophy when it comes to combat. Fighting some of the creatures are annoying more than it is hard. There’s a flying insect with a long Yoshi-style tongue that disappears after every attack. And the attacks seemingly can’t be dodged. It’s annoying when they keep respawning in one particular boss fight. And there are tougher creatures that need to be taken out via very specific weak points, your boring, run-of-the-mill combat encounters.
It’s a shame, but thankfully the moments of pure bliss traversing the world more than outweigh the mandatory combat portions. So I enjoyed the game oh-so-much thanks to this.
Journey To The Savage Planet is the first big surprise of 2020. Not really much hype around it (especially among the Gamer Matters crew) and the pitch doesn’t sound that interesting.
But it’s good! It’s a short trip worth taking. Especially if you adore platformers and Metroidvanias for the wonders of exploration.
The combat aspect is weak. But in a short run-time it won’t bother you much if you don’t like it.
Publisher 505 Games is on a good streak of hits. Also, from the looks of it, Google made a wise choice acquiring Typhoon Studios.
Reviewed on PC. Review copy provided by 505 Games