THERE’S an old military saying to the effect of “Remember: Your equipment was made by the lowest bidder”.
In the future, that philosophy may very well apply to interplanetary exploration – and is the backdrop for the colourful and quirky Journey To The Savage Planet.
Developed by Typhoon Studios and published by 505 Games for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the game’s premise is straightforward: You are an explorer who has been dispatched by corner-cutting company Kindred Aerospace (voted the fourth best interstellar exploration company) to the planet ARY-26 with the intent of sussing out if it’s suitable for human colonisation.
The game is delightfully wacky, taking cues from everything including No Man’s Sky, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! to name a few – and that’s without mentioning how your ships’ interior aesthetic is straight out of Red Dwarf and there’s just a pinch of Rick & Morty about the whole thing too.
The planet is not uninhabited – there are lots of strange and often dangerous creatures there, ranging from the wide-eyed Pufferbird to giant electric bugs to poisonous floating squids and something reminiscent of an Ankylosaur but with a Sonic The Hedgehog-style spin attack.
The environment is also plotting to kill you, notably the falls, the lava, and the exploding or acid spitting plants.
Thanks to advances in 3D printing technology, however, death is but a mild inconvenience – if you inadvertently become something’s lunch or fall into a pit of lava, you get bioprinted back at your spaceship, can go out and find your gear, and carry on as you were, hopefully without immediately dying embarrassingly again.
You essentially have two weapons in the game: A blaster pistol, and a melee attack – when, when you power it up, is a bitch-slap. There is something delightfully absurd about slapping a Pufferbird upside its head with your pimp-hand – and you can also drop-kick some of the creatures too.
You’ll also pick up various seeds from the local environment that will let you throw explosives or acid or lightning at enemies, as well as one that helps with your grappling abilities too.
The humour is well done – the video ads in particular are extremely clever, as is the commentary from your ship AI (named EKO) – but it started to run out of steam in the last third of the game or so for me.
There are some nice little touches throughout the game too – early on, your character is asked to establish their sanity by selecting a picture of themselves. One of the options is a dog – and if you select that option, your character will bark and woof and pant instead of making human noises.
Getting around the planet is made easier by teleporters which you activate as you explore – having clambered up cliffs or flung yourself across chasmic voids to floating landmasses to rech them first, of course.
In theory I should have loved Journey To The Savage Planet, but I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate it and it’s a well-made game, but it just didn’t grab me the way the lift pitch suggested it might. To be honest, I’m surprised too.
For starters, I don’t like jumping puzzles or frustrating mini-bosses that take multiple efforts to defeat and require shooting very specific weak spots while jumping all over the place to avoid swarm attacks from spawned minions or massive area of effect attacks from the boss themselves.
Secondly, I found the puzzles to be rather predictable – obviously the way to overcome this obstacle is on the other side of the region and requires jumping and timing, right? – so instead of feeling like I was exploring an odd alien planet, I found myself being very aware I was in a game that required a lot of platforming.
You’re asked to scan everything in the environment to learn more about it, but aside from getting some amusing descriptions of the local flora and fauna, it doesn’t really do much and I’d stopped bothering by the last quarter of the game.
Overall it’s fun and quirky and doesn’t take itself seriously, but I never felt like I was really getting into the game – even though it did make me laugh.
It’s not long, at maybe 10 hours – that’s a plus for those of us with families and/or jobs – but it just felt like it was missing something, coming across more as a lot of good ideas that hadn’t quite coalesced together.
You can play it in co-op with a friend too, although I honestly can’t see how that would change the experience much – indeed, you’d probably miss a lot of your ship AI’s amusing commentary while talking with your friend via chat.
What really disappointed me was the main quest’s apparent ending – the game just sort of dumps you back into the world with essentially “Well, if you want to go home, you’re going to have to go and find all the rocket fuel scattered all over the alien planet, with no markers or help unless you spend ages tracking down the resources to build a fuel scanner. Good luck!”, at which point I realised: That wasn’t fun at all, and I’d seen quite enough of the planet and just wanted to blast off out of there, and I didn’t even have EKO’s amusing commentary to keep me entertained now.
Journey To The Savage Planet is not a failure, but it’s also not boldly going where no game has gone before either.
It’d be good for something you could finish in a weekend but ultimately I like my space games to be a bit more ambitious – and to have more satisfying endings.