Journey to the Savage Planet

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Typhoon Studios
Release Date: Jan. 28, 2020 (US), Jan. 31, 2020 (EU)


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PC Review - 'Journey to the Savage Planet'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 29, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Journey to the Savage Planet is an upbeat first-person adventure game set in a bright and colorful alien world filled with weird and wonderful creatures.

Buy Journey to the Savage Planet

When the trailer for Journey to the Savage Planet was first shown off at The Game Awards in 2018, no one really knew what it was going to be, aside from the trailer hinting at something humorous. Some speculated that it was going to be a shooter, while others thought it was going to be an RPG. It was later discovered that it was going to be more exploration-based, but other games announced during that time received more attention. With the release copy of Journey to the Savage Planet in our hands, we can safely say that while the game is a multitude of things, it ends up being a very good title overall.

Journey to the Savage Planet is set in the far future, with you taking on the role of the latest employee of Kindred Aerospace, a company rated as the fourth best in the world at interstellar exploration. As its latest pioneer, you've been tasked with visiting the planet AR-Y 26 to see if it can be hospitable for human life, while also chronicling the world's various new plant and life forms. With enough fuel for a one-way trip, you are forced to explore every nook and cranny to log everything about the planet to determine if it could be a new home for humans. You're also trying to see if you can find enough fuel to return home once you complete the mission — and determining if you really are the first form of intelligent life to set foot there.

The mystery behind the planet and its history may be the main driving factor for the game, but humor also plays a big part in your desire to progress. The opening video from the CEO is humorous in a "so bad it's good" way, and all of the other videos you see on your ship, from formal communications to the ads, carry a vibe that makes it feel like the live action stuff you'd see on the Adult Swim channel. The descriptions and your AI guidance system go for laughs. It's all silly, but it works rather well due to the measured pace at which the jokes appear.

While the game is done in a first-person perspective, it isn't necessarily a shooter. There is some combat, so you have a trusty laser pistol that's powerful enough to do away with a great deal of creatures. There are also plants that you can use as weapons due to their acidic and explosive qualities, and more than a few creatures will attack you on sight. Killed creatures grant crafting resources, and it also helps that the shooting feels rather good if you're fine with the pistol's somewhat weightless nature. Don't expect to play Journey like an action game where you get bigger and more powerful weapons to kill everything in your way.

The real focus of the game is exploration, both of the scientific and natural varieties. For the former, this means taking scans of creatures, plants, and any anything else of interest so you can record that data into your database. This is, after all, the reason you've been sent to the planet in the first place, and thankfully, the scanning process is as easy as aiming at something that's glowing on your visor and holding down a button until the short scan process completes. For some of the creatures, you'll also be tasked with gathering live samples of their DNA, which means getting close to them and sticking a big needle in them. This is where things can get tricky, as some creatures won't react at all, while others become hostile when you get close. In this regard, the game feels like No Man's Sky but on a smaller, more manageable scale since you're only visiting one planet and there's no randomization at play.

If you're a fan of what Hello Games did, you'll appreciate that the team at Typhoon Studios also did its part in creating a strange but compelling-looking bestiary. The Pufferbirds, for example, look like the birds from Rovio's Angry Birds but with bigger eyes and horns that love you until they see you kill one of their own; then they turn into a pecking fighting force. The carnivorous Meat Vortex is a plant that loves the taste of Pufferbirds. Baboushkas may be indescribable things that run around screaming for no reason, and Skippers may pay you no mind. Meanwhile, Jellywafts are essentially flying jellyfish that spit out ink, and Sproutlooks look like the cover creature from the old Monster Rancher games — except for the fact that they launch bombs when provoked. In short, everything you see here looks exotic and weird, which is what you don't normally get from sci-fi nowadays.

For natural exploration, Journey comes with a large variety of environments to explore. There are four distinct biomes to visit, but each has its own micro-climates. The first biome, for example, has you dealing with fields of snow and ice before that makes way for lush green fields, a giant cliff, and waterfalls. The second biome gets even more inventive, with lots of floating islands surrounding a larger chunk of land.

At the very least, the wide variety of places keeps things interesting from beginning to end, but the game does much more to keep exploration at the forefront. For starters, the game has no long load times between biomes and their environments. In some cases, you'll even see the environment changes from a distance, but traveling back and forth between each place is a seamless experience, especially when you throw in the transporters that quickly take you to each environment or your own ship. Some of the things you pick up in the world — e.g., seeds to create grapple points, slime to create bounce pads — come in handy and fit well with the game's theme.

The constant flow of materials you get from creatures and natural deposits leads to being able to craft upgrades and, in a few cases, new tools for use in exploration, such as jump jets to boost leaps or break falls, tethers to let you swing toward high land masses, and new gloves to hold explosives. In this respect, it adopts one of the signature elements from the Metroid series in that all of the environments have something that feels out of reach, and once you get the tool you need, you'll suddenly want to go back to all of those previously visited areas to see if you can uncover new upgrades or secret areas. You'll always be aware of this due to a chime that plays when you're near something mysterious.

What you may appreciate the most about the exploration focus is how it wants to be. Journey resists the temptation to add survival elements, so despite having to traverse a variety of environments, there's no danger of freezing to death, starving, or worrying about gathering more resources than you can carry. The game always keeps track of the main quests you need to do, but your AI companion doesn't constantly nag you about hitting that objective goal. There are a number of side-quests that'll distract you, like trying to fall from more than 50 feet before using your thrusters to break your fall or locating all of the orange pods of goo so you can buff up your stamina and overall health. Even the act of dying isn't treated as a huge deal, as fireworks let you know where your last stash of goods was. Finding your dead body and burying it gives you resources — if you're fine with seeing a numerical marker of your death count.

If there's anything about the gameplay that can be considered disappointing, it would be the pace at which creatures are introduced. To be fair, there's a decent amount of creatures in the game; this is impressive when you remember that this is coming from a small development team. The first biome lets you encounter a large swath of the bestiary in a short amount of time, and the other biomes reveal a few new creatures. The rest are populated by variants of what you've encountered before. Having even more creatures would've resolved this issue, but it would've been ideal to have the existing roster spread out more, rather than concentrated in the first biome. As a whole, it isn't that big of a deal, but it is noticeable when you're aiming to log and take samples from everything you see instead of shooting them.

Journey can be comfortably played as a solo experience, but it does feature online play, where you and a friend can explore the planet together. There's an emphasis on friend, as the game only allows for you to start up a session with anyone on your friends list on the PC, preventing the potential for griefing from random players. Playing co-op is essentially like having a clone of you around to do extra things, since other players are working off a copy of your explorer's build, and the host gets all of the progress. People who want to do this aren't getting anything that they can take back to their own game, and they won't suddenly come in underpowered or overpowered.

Actual online performance is quite good (on the PS4, since the co-op wasn't enabled on the PC version at the time of this writing), and the word that the game is getting a day-one patch to tweak performance is welcome. We did notice an issue where using different grapple spots would result in a clunky travel between points, which was disorienting. Friendly fire is also on all of the time, so you have to be careful with your shots and melee attacks. Revival gives you full health and no loss of materials, though. One person can try to activate a switch to move to a completely different biome, and while the other person can confirm the move, the person who pressed the button sees nothing happening. Verbal communication gets around this issue, but it would be nice to see it fixed in a future patch.

The overall presentation is quite nice, especially since the art design leans away from modern sci-fi and into the classics of old comics and pulp novels. Every element is reminiscent of classic, cheesy sci-fi, and it's refreshing simply because the world appears more exciting after the dull rocks and gray skies of a majority of other sci-fi titles. The lighting also helps the environments stand out, since everything is bright and inviting, even when it's trying to kill you. Overall, this is a real looker of a title.

As for sound, the game goes for something far away from the classic sci-fi look of the graphics. This is mostly seen in the soundtrack, which leans toward something more folksy, like last year's The Outer Wilds. Subtle acoustic guitars and banjos are heard during the title screen and during battles; this keeps things rather calm even when everything around you is going wrong. Commercials aside, the only voices you'll hear from are the Kindred CEO and your AI partner, and while the former's performance is both earnest a bit aloof, the latter will remind you of Cayde-6's Ghost in Destiny 2, at least the always bubbly and optimistic side. Whether you're discovering something new or dying, her performance breeds encouragement even if you do something terrible.

Journey to the Savage Planet an unexpected pleasant surprise that you don't expect in the typically dead month of January. The humor can be an acquired taste for some, but the focus on levity doesn't feel forced and actually enhances the overall experience. The focus on exploration also helps make this a lighthearted jaunt, as the exploration is enjoyable and the combat is light but capable. Combined with the game's classically inspired art design, Journey to the Savage Planet is a title that adventure fans should pay attention to, especially with so many other higher-profile titles getting delayed recently.

Score: 8.0/10

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