Review copy provided by 505 Games. Reviewed on PS4.
Typhoon Studios is a Canadian games studio that’s comprised of talent from the AAA gaming industry. The 27 individuals who work at the studio have been involved with projects at Ubisoft and EA. Considering this, it isn’t a surprise that their premiere project Journey to the Savage Planet makes a strong first impression, with a few caveats.
In Journey to the Savage Planet, you play as a member of the space-exploration company, Kindred Aerospace. Your mission is to find out whether or not AR-Y 26 (the planet that you’ve crash-landed on) is able to be inhabited by human beings. As you explore the planet, scanning (and shooting) various wildlife, you begin to learn more about the planet’s rich history and attempt to uncover the mysteries of its previous inhabitants.
When you die in Journey to the Savage Planet you respawn as a clone. If you go back to the place where you died, you’re able to “shamefully bury your own body.” This is an example of the more subtle humor that’s present in the game. Yet, Journey to the Savage Planet mostly prides itself in-jokes that aren’t subtle. There’s more than enough fart jokes and crude humor to entertain younger players, but I particularly enjoyed the over-the-top Martin Tweed (the CEO of Kindred Aerospace) as a scathing satire on capitalism. There are also elaborate and well-edited videos that play in your ship, serving as in-universe commercials that parody paid product placement. Overall, it’s an interesting utilization of full-motion video and humor, one that contributes to Journey to the Savage Planet’s overall personality.
Another significant portion of the games’ personality comes from the design of AR-Y 26 and the creatures that call it home. They’re just as satisfying and silly to watch as they are to blow up with your pistol. It’s inherently more interesting than those of the randomly generated variety found in No Man’s Sky, and I found myself feeding and interacting with the wildlife just to view their behaviors.
There are elements from survival, exploratory, and shooting games that are present in Journey to the Savage Planet. On AR-Y 26 you are able to find and collect resources that are then used to upgrade different parts of your suit and your pistol. Every time you die, you lose all the resources that haven’t been already deposited on your ship. If you track down where you perished, you can do the whole “shamefully bury your body” to gain resources that were originally on your person with a few extras. There are some resources that you don’t grind out and are instead only attained through puzzle-solving or upgraded abilities. Alien Alloy is one of these materials and is used to unlock more abilities, with the various deposits of Orange Goo having the ability to increase your stamina and health. Essentially, think of them as the extraneous weapon and health upgrades that you can find in Super Metroid or any other Metroidvania title when you dig deeper into the map.
Combat is perhaps the weakest part of the overall experience in Journey to the Savage Planet. The standard pistol is largely uninteresting, and fighting enemies end up being a chore more than a fun addition to the overall gameplay experience. I found myself continuously frustrated that my shot wasn’t lining up with the obvious weak-point, or that I had my back turned when a boss was doing a critical attack. Typhoon Studios certainly tries to liven up combat with grenades that can bind enemies and the ability to do an aerial stomp. Yet. you can sense that overall, this pillar of the game design seems more out of obligation. I did have fun throwing food on a creature, and having various other creatures attack them as a result.
My most enjoyable moments with Journey to the Savage Planet, however, came from the moments of calm that the game allotted towards the beginning. Since there isn’t a lot of action nor harsh survival mechanics, I was able to soak in the warm colors and weird designs of the flora. I would toss a can of Grob to a group of Pufferbirds and watch them eat (of course kicking them like soccer balls immediately after). Typhoon Studios took the time to craft an atmosphere that’s more that feels extremely comfortable to exist in.
Journey to the Savage Planet finds greatness from the gameplay design in its DNA and its laid-back atmosphere, hitting the marks in these areas thanks to a smartly smaller scope. However, it can’t escape the need to try and be like other larger budget video games and largely falters as an action game. Still, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives if this unique type of game is something you think you would be into. Personally, I can’t wait to jump back into its brightly silly world with a co-op partner.