The first half of 2020 looked set to be the most exciting release window ever, but a new year and eight major delays later and things have changed drastically. But within chaos lies opportunity. Specifically, opportunity for small or independent developers whose releases were previously in danger of being ignored or lost to AAA hype to establish their games as unique and worthwhile replacements for frustrated gamers left in the lurch.
So, has the small team at Typhoon Studios made the most of this opportunity? Yes!… for the most part.
Adding a novel twist to a worn premise, Journey to the Savage Planet follows an intrepid astronaut who, in his mission to seek a viable planet for humankind, finds himself stranded on a strange world called AR-Y26 – not because of a crash landing or after following a strange distress beacon – but because his comically unscrupulous employer has only provided enough fuel and supplies for the one-way trip, assuming employees will figure the rest out for themselves. It’s now up to the player to explore their surroundings, catalogue the flora and fauna and find out whether the AR-Y26 can become humanity’s new home.
More so than anything else, the trait that makes this game feel so unique is its sense of humour. From the outset players are besieged with satirical advertisements that alternate between bizarrely hilarious and hilariously bizarre, with more subtle jokes like the often brilliant descriptions of newly scanned creatures littered throughout the adventure.
Without doubt, the most prized comedic gem on offer is E.K.O., your companion A.I. Think GlaDOS if she had spent a decade working in customer service and that’s E.K.O. – delivering barbs and smack talk with cheer and reassurance as if everything about your situation is perfectly normal. It doesn’t take long to realise who the true star of this game is.
After the initial introduction, the story takes a backseat as the player is let loose in this manic, colourful playground and exploration becomes king. Players travel the planet (either alone or in online co-op) in a game that mixes first person shooting, platforming and resource collecting and quickly gives players the chance to venture off the beaten path and ransack a variety of diverse environments.
This is one of the title’s biggest strengths, the sense of wonder and mystery surrounding not only the strange, imaginative creatures and unfamiliar scenery around you, but also what may be hiding just around the corner. For example, early on in the game you’ll find yourself running across a frozen lake only to have the ice beneath break and drop you into a verdant, rocky terrain where you’re immediately under attack from giant flying squids.
It’s the perfect game to wind down with after a long day when you don’t want to follow a grand story but just want to lose yourself in a lush, vibrant world, discover alien treasure in a hidden cave or backhand a Pufferbird so hard that it explodes into a shower of green goo.
That’s not to say that this game ignores those who like to follow the road well traveled. A series of ‘Primary Objectives’ serve as the campaign, but is more accurately a seven to eight hour guided tour through each of the world’s biomes. The aim here is to collect new elements which can be used in conjunction with other resources to craft new gear such as a grapple tether and jet thrusters. Many optional paths and secrets will not be fully explorable without obtaining this new gear, meaning that completion of the Primary Objectives is necessary to get the most out this world.
Aside from the gear previously mentioned, you can also use the skill tree to craft weapons and equipment upgrades but in order to unlock higher level upgrades, you must first raise your explorer level. To achieve this you must carry out feats such as ‘kill X ground based enemies while they are airborne’ or ‘kill X enemies in one Alpha Pufferbird explosion’. This can be a source of frustration because it means you are unable to upgrade your equipment past rank one through discoveries or advancing the story, rather you’ll need to orchestrate a series of unlikely and sometimes infuriating actions that feel more suited for quirky bronze trophies than player progression.
Platforming and traversal are fun and varied once gear upgrades are obtained and while many of the planet’s creatures are docile, others underline why it’s not called ‘Journey to the Planet of Colourful Punching Bags’ and provide some engaging, fast-paced encounters. However, it’s in the execution of its biggest battles that the game really falls flat.
All three of the game’s bosses seem to have graduated from Boss University with a specialty in giant glowing weak points and two of them will test your patience more than skill – one due to the tedium of trying to find all the weak points scattered around its colossal torso and the other just due to the sheer number of weak points that you need to hit, all while fighting off underlings and navigating treacherous platforms.
When playing to its strengths; the aspects that have been highlighted in previews – exploration, warmth, humour – this game delivers like an Amazon drone. However, when trying to crowbar in expected tropes – skill trees and showdowns against towering boss monsters – the cracks start to show. It may not be perfect but Journey to the Savage Planet is ambitious, hilarious and a whole lot of fun.
Journey to the Savage Planet is available on 28 January 2020 for PS4, Xbox One and PC.