Sci-fi exploration titles have — if you pardon the pun — lifted off recently. No Man’s Sky, The Outer Wilds, and even genre fare like Stellaris and The Outer Worlds have amassed legions of fans with their range of gameplay mechanics, original creatures, and stunning worlds.
Such is the growing appeal of sci-fi that encourages exploration. There’s a risk here, of getting lost in the expanse. Thanks to its charm, satire, fun mechanics, and overarching mystery, Typhoon Studios’ debut Journey to the Savage Planet manages to stand out beautifully.
Savage by Name, Savage by Nature
Journey to the Savage Planet puts you in the boots of an unnamed planetary explorer. Tasked by Kindred Aerospace — the fourth-best interstellar exploration company — with scouting new worlds for humanity to populate, you land on an uncharted planet called AR-Y 26. With no equipment, you have to craft items from collected resources, catalog its flora and fauna, report back to Kindred HQ with your findings, and somehow find your way back home. That would be the plan anyway, if it wasn’t for the fact that [mild spoiler] AR-Y 26 might not be the unexplored planet you’re led to believe it is.
If crafting really isn’t your bag, don’t worry. With only four elements to gather in the entire game, you won’t be aimlessly wandering around for materials. Resources are plentiful and you can carry as many of each type as you want. It’s a nice change of pace from other craft-centric titles that force you to juggle inventory space.
You’ll want to acquire new abilities and upgrade your weapon as soon as you can. There are plenty of nasty, colorful creatures that want to kill you, platforming areas you can’t access without certain upgrades, and hidden locations full of secrets. Journey to the Savage Planet wants you to explore, and it readily hands out gifts to those who head off the beaten track. Sure, you’ll encounter animals that want to beat you up, peck you to death or, in the case of AR-Y 26’s minibosses, just stand in your way of progress. Dealing with these foes provides a sense of accomplishment, however, and you’ll be able to craft new loot providing you win.
Sometimes you won’t and you’ll die. Again, this isn’t something you should be concerned with. Your Javelin spaceship comes equipped with a handy Bio-Replication Chamber that, like Bioshock’s Vita Chambers, revives you at your home base. There’s no “Game Over” screen or punishment for putting a foot wrong.
Seeing the Funny Side
Journey to the Savage Planet is also pretty funny. From the first video you see upon your arrival — courtesy of aloof Kindred CEO Martin Tweed — the game isn’t shy with its wackiness. Its satirical attacks on capitalism are consistently excellent, with its 80s-inspired Kindred adverts and a sarcastic AI companion named E.K.O. (that does threaten some tiresome repetition, in fairness).
Scanning AR-Y 26’s variety of plants, animals, and habitats also provides funny moments. E.K.O’s derisive comments shine here, and plenty of inspiration has been taken from internet culture and memes in their Kindred journal descriptions. Sure, this type of humor won’t be for everyone, but I enjoyed the odd comment and goofy action.
Traversal and combat both feel slick, and ducking out of a foe’s way before unleashing a powerful charge shot into their back feels satisfying. Add in plenty of puzzle solving, platforming and adventure, and Journey to the Savage Planet doesn’t slip up too often.
While they aren’t any major issues, a few glitches showed up in my playthrough. Phasing through objects — and enemies while using melee attacks — was an occasional problem that led to frustrating moments. Sidequests, even when they’d been completed, would remain on my “missions” tab unless I exited and reloaded the game.
Certain game elements, including Photo Mode, aren’t yet available, but they still show up on the pause menu. Finding a co-op partner to journey with, via the game’s servers, was hit and miss. All of these complications should be fixed with the game’s day one patch, though, and finding someone to traverse AR-Y 26 will be easier with more players post-release.
There’s something quintessentially Metroid Prime about Journey to the Savage Planet. Sure, Journey to the Savage Planet looks and feels like a Metroid title, but Metroid Prime was the first in its franchise to introduce 3D graphics and a first-person perspective. There are more similarities than that. Do you collect items to upgrade your inventory and suit? Yes. Can you explore an alien world with an ever-expanding mystery at its heart? You bet. Are there puzzles to solve that reveal secrets? Certainly. Will you encounter some of the craziest, funniest 1980s-esque adverts you’ll see in gaming? Alright, maybe not that one.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Journey to the Savage Planet is superb. After all, Typhoon Studios is made of industry veterans from Ubisoft, EA, and WB Games’ Montreal division. Forming a new studio and making a great game off the bat, however, is never an easy thing to do.
Thanks to its excellent blend of genres, unique mystery, and gently goofy charm, Journey to the Savage Planet is a delightful title to play. It might not have the lasting appeal of its sci-fi exploration siblings, but it holds its own and deserves to have its secrets uncovered. Just don’t feed the Pufferbirds. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, using a code provided by publisher 505 Games.