Journey To The Savage Planet Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Being the fourth best at something might not seem so appealing, but it's where you find yourself at the outset of Journey To The Savage Planet. You've woken from a deep slumber in the depths of space, launched out there to find a new home for humanity by the self professed fourth best interstellar exploration company - Kindred Aerospace.
You're so important that the C.E.O. of the company himself has recorded a message for you that is most certainly not a generic message for all of his employees. So sir! You're being dumpe...um...crash lande...er...let's say you're arriving under difficult circumstances on a mysterious new world, but the company has faith in you. Enough so that you've got no fuel to get home and no resources apart from a 3d printer. You're okay though, you're the best! The fourth best!
Put simply, Journey To The Savage Planet is a first person, puzzle platformer with some light combat and the potential for co-operative gameplay with an online friend. To put it like that is to undersell the effort made across the whole game though, to say the least. There's a charm and level of polish to the whole thing that made this curiously presented game come together beautifully.
It's obvious from the outset that Journey To The Savage Planet is putting humour at the fore of it's effort and thankfully the jokes and overall tone landed wonderfully for me. Near future corporate dystopias aren't anything new or even fresh in the world of video games, but in this case it's a familiar idea executed near perfectly. It's akin to an Adult Swim show in it's tone, especially when it comes to that personalized message I alluded to already, follow up messages from the rather zany looking C.E.O. and a host of silly infomercial style adverts that play on your ship, all featuring real actors and absurd ideas.
The humour follows you as you play though, as a chirpy A.I. companion comments on your actions and progress, noting the way head office view your work and how, if you show willing and able, they might just give you some new toys to play with. Her comments about the world you're in, the things you find and how you solve problems gave me a few hard guffaws for sure. What's best of all for those out there looking for some solitary exploration is that you can adjust how much she has to say too so it never becomes overbearing.
The music is understated and fitting, swelling as combat begins and returning to an ambient mix that matches the level you're on. It makes a quick first impression with the twang of banjo strings and never feels anything less than perfectly in tune with the rest of the game. For some it's likely to evoke thoughts of Borderlands when the echo-y banjo strings sound off, but I suspect it might well have been inspired by a sci-fi comedy series far better regarded overall - The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
JTTSP's visuals are just plain lovely. Vivid colours blend and mix beautifully, never becoming too much on the eye but most certainly lending the game a distinct look. They're far from the most system taxing too, in spite of how lovely they look, with those capable of running modern AAA games at middling to high settings likely to find the game suggesting supersampling by default, as I did. It's all so smooth, vibrant and gloriously well designed. Even the simply animated, boggle eyed bird aliens impress with their big, glassy peepers.
Strange flora and fauna pervade the floating islands of this alien world. The host of creatures that wander the land, both enemies and potential tools to solve problems, are just diverse enough over the course of the game, with each having their gameplay mechanics pushed to their logical limits in the ways that the best designed games do. The concepts at work in Journey To The Savage Planet are demonstrated simply at first with puzzles that almost invite obvious answers, but later in the game you'll be expected to combine elements of what you've learned about the rules of this place and make a few satisfying logical leaps here and there.
The level design is such that there's a natural flow and order to the locations, even in spite of their utterly unnatural composition as floating islands. Lush plants constantly obscure hidden routes and collectibles, while waterfalls create clouds of dense mist to block views. Icy tundra makes way for vegetation before being burnt away by a volcanic region's influence. Even within just it's first level, JTTSP is more visually diverse than some games get to be by the time their end credits roll.
With only three true levels and a finale making up the entire experience, it has to be said that the team at Typhoon did incredible work in making the look, feel and challenge of each level distinct enough while escalating the difficulty at a friendly pace. With focus on gaining elevation, exploring nooks and crannies and getting new equipment to advance, it would have been so easy to pad the game out with duplicated challenges where instead the designers chose to remained focused. For an exploration based game, the pace of discovery and new game mechanics was high and very satisfying as a result.
You'll begin with nothing at all, but soon find yourself making a gun, gaining a double jump and eventually working up to more exciting equipment like grappling hooks and gloves that allow you to handle various useful plants like exploding fruit or acidic globs of green goo plucked from alien pitcher plants. Upgrades to mobility matter most early on, with the potential to unlock even more extra jumps and even launch high into the sky eventually coming together to allow you to leap, swing and hurl yourself huge distances across gaping chasms. Each time a new ability is unlocked, potential new solutions to problems you've already walked past present themselves, inviting a return to grab remaining collectibles and clear the level out.
What truly elevated the whole experience and made it special for me was the co-operative multiplayer. Unlike a lot of games that expect you to effectively do everything together when playing with a friend, Journey To The Savage Planet lets you do as you will, each collecting shared resources and items, free to explore alone or combine brainpower if a puzzle in a given location is proving too much. Combat is never too tough, but being able to have one more competent player carry another if need be might be what gets some otherwise unwilling partners and friends to give this game a swing, as well they should.
It must be noted that because it's a shorter game and one that's likely to draw the attention of streamers on that basis, that there may be temptation to simply watch someone play Journey To The Savage Planet, but I would highly advise against it. The simple, primal satisfaction of path finding, puzzle solving and progressing is powerful and the relatively short duration of the game is no mark against it - in fact it was a major positive for me.
Rather than outstay it's welcome, Journey To The Savage Planet arrives with an offering of spectacle, mystery and challenge and lasts only as long as it needs to for those ideas to play out and for any sense of wonder at the overall story to be satisfied. At the very end of the game, there's a tease of what your hapless explorer might have to do next time, should we see their return, and I certainly hope that this game gets the attention it deserves and the team at Typhoon get to work on a follow up, whether it's a direct sequel or something just as quirky and imaginative.