Release Date: January 28, 2020Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PCDeveloper: Typhoon StudiosPublisher: 505 GamesGenre: Action-adventure
The first game from Typhoon Studios is called Journey to the Savage Planet, and it’s a colorful sci-fi experience that is very easy to fall in love with. The game wins you over so hard in the first hours – despite the fact that it’s far from the first planet exploration game to hit the market, and it surely won’t be the last either – that you’ll find yourself forgiving any flaws that pop up later. That is quite an achievement for a new company on its first release.
The premise is a simple one, which will feel especially familiar to anyone who recently played The Outer Worlds: you’ve been sent to a far-off world in the hope of discovering a new home for mankind to colonize, but first you’ve got to explore the area, catalog its quirks, and determine if it’s suitable for habitation. Another easy game to compare it to would be No Man’s Sky. However, when you actually start playing it, you’ll soon realize that Journey to the Savage Planet isn’t quite the same as either of those rival titles.
It has a sense of joyous silliness that permeates almost everything: the creatures you meet look and sound ridiculous; the AI assistant in your ear is constantly roasting you; your boss sends you overzealous videos, which pop up on your ship’s TV alongside enthusiastic-yet-dystopian commercials, and all of these clips were filmed using retro Full-Motion Video techniques. You can also choose a picture of a dog as your character at the start of the game, which will leave you listening to barks and growls instead of a human voice whenever you exert yourself. There are loads of laugh-out-loud moments.
A game cannot survive on gags alone, however, and thankfully Journey to the Savage Planet offers an addictively enjoyable gameplay experience to boot. As you wander around this strange new world, you start picking up resources and crafting gear that will give you new abilities – there’s a jetpack, a grapple, and heaps of different throwable weapons. In a Metroidvania-style fashion that draws to mind Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, each newfound ability allows you to access different pathways and areas. There’s a real sense of achievement when you work out what you’re meant to be doing, and you can tell that the game is rewarding you for perseverance and problem-solving.
As you discover more of the planet, you’ll notice how diverse the environments are. Your ship lands in an icy area, but it’s not long before you’ve found luscious greenery, mountainous regions, floating islands, and big pits of lava. It all looks lovely in an almost cartoonish way. It’s hugely satisfying to feel the world unfolding around you, and each new area comes with its own creatures that will challenge you in unique ways. Some enemies can only be beaten with bombs or acid, while others require quick-dodging and targetted shots to their weak spots. Unfortunately, though, the combat is one of the weakest elements of the game – the gun you’re given is deliberately awful, requiring annoyingly-slow reloads at very regular intervals, which means that defeating creatures often feels like a chore.
Sadly, despite the fact that exploration is so fun and the combat really isn’t, the main campaign of Journey to the Savage Planet ends up really leaning into the shooty side of things. Although there are still puzzles to solve and tricky bits of traversal to master, later on, there is also a series of massive boss-fights that feel like they’ve ported in from a different game. And despite the fact that these battles allow the designers to show off some more of their off-the-wall creature designs, it’s hard to think of them as a positive element when they force you to spend what feels like ages struggling to do the right thing with your rubbish weapon. This means, depending on how good you are at shooter games, that there could be long stretches of your playtime where you end up being stuck in a battle for longer than you’d like and starting to miss the more lighthearted stuff.
It’s a relief that once that final boss is defeated, you can go back to simply wandering around the world and trying to discover everything that you can. Most players will probably be able to overcome the main missions in 12 hours or less, but there will still be plenty to do once you’ve vanquished the big beasties. For one thing, there is a mystery on this planet that won’t be fully solved until you’ve found all the relevant artifacts. There are heaps of different directions to go in, and loads of alternative orders in which to do things. The game also has an online two-player co-op mode, which we didn’t manage to sample for this review, but sounds like a fun way to explore the planet with a partner.
Journey to the Savage Planet is an impressive calling card for Typhoon Studios, which has already been snapped up by Google to work on Stadia projects. Exploring areas and unearthing secrets is always fun here, and there’s a catchy soundtrack of electric guitar riffs that will carry you through and have you humming for days. You may get a bit annoyed by the shooty bits, but your goodwill for everything else will hopefully outweigh that. And if your sense of humor aligns with that of the developers, you’ll also have a jolly good laugh with this one. This is a superbly silly piece of sci-fi, and we’d happily welcome a sequel (just as long as they make the combat more fun).