If you put No Man’s Sky, Portal and Mirror’s Edge into a meatgrinder, added in a heavy helping of satire and hit “MAX POWER”, you’d likely come up with something close to the surprisingly addictive experience that is Journey to the Savage Planet.
It’s a game full of rich colours, good humour and genuinely captivating exploration that will have you rocket jumping, alien goop devouring and creature punting your way into the early hours of the morning.
A simple description of this game is almost too difficult to put into words. Savage Planet isn’t one specific thing, rather it’s a satisfying combination of so many fantastical game elements that it feels like it could almost drown under the weight of the expectations. However, hours into the campaign you’ll still be working on that next upgrade to gain access an area that’s just beyond your reach. It’s equal parts platformer, puzzle solving, FPS and parkour, which becomes a healthy melange of awesome experiences.
Your character is essentially an astronaut-shaped pile of meat that’s been shot out into space on a speculative mission by Kindred Aerospace (the fourth best interstellar exploration company). Crash landing on Planet ARY-26, you’re tasked with surveying the planet as a potential new home for humanity, while also scavenging supplies to repair and refuel your ship for the journey home. The planet was supposed to be devoid of all intelligent life, although it becomes immediately apparent that there are larger things at work here. It’s here that your journey really begins, setting out as an explorer of an alien planet with the vaguest of instructions.
You’ll start out squashing Pufferbirds for carbon elements and you’ll end the game dodging Pikemanders with ease. The variety of creatures in the world is as diverse and interesting as the plant life. You’ll need to scan them all to find out just what makes them tick, which you’ll need to learn to turn them into less harmful piles of goop. The combat elements of this game are fun and, for the most part, take a back seat to the exploration of the world. Although occasionally they are part of the puzzle itself that you’ll need to unlock to progress to the next area.
Initially you’ll find yourself reaching areas which are impossible to pass, and all that means is you’ll have to work a little bit harder at being a space explorer to progress past them. To this end, there’s an interesting inventory management system where you need to collect resources from the flora and fauna of the planet to work towards upgrading your equipment. With the help of your ship’s 3D printer, you’ll be able to jump higher and shoot for longer to solve those previously unsolvable puzzles.
Upgrading equipment is tied into your rating as an explorer. By finishing up a series of very specific activities, such as collecting samples from progressively aggressive animals, you’ll gain points towards your explorer rating. Finish the tasks and you’re awarded with the next tier of gear. Fair warning, the first explorer level is easy to obtain, anything further than that is exceptionally difficult.
A great part about of Savage Planet is that you can finish it with nearly none of the extra upgrades beyond what you get from defeating the biome bosses. Still, while it’s possible to do the bare minimum to pass, the real magic of this game is in discovering all of the secrets that you can unlock if you really explore and experiment.
Once you’ve finally upgraded your equipment, you’ll be triple jumping around and laser-grappling onto ledges to unlock secrets like some sort of space Indiana Jones (which is technically a Flash Gordon, but that would be an incredibly dated reference that we wouldn’t dare admit to knowing in this review).
Savage Planet is a game that knows what it’s all about. You’ll see ads within the world for imaginary products which at first seem too silly to be real. Fans of the satirical genius Paul Verhoeven will find their home in this game, with sparkling, laugh-out-loud humour that instantly reminds you of the advertising in Robocop or Starship Troopers. It’s slightly whimsical, slightly self-deprecating and slightly scary in how accurate this could all potentially be. Where most games make this content dry and inaccessible for your average player, Savage Planet leans into it and makes it essential viewing that provides the game with its voice and personality.
“Fans of the satirical genius Paul Verhoeven will find their home in this game…”
If there’s one knock on this game, it’s that it’s a relatively short experience. We found that 12-15 hours will get you completely finished cover-to-cover – there’s even a trophy in place for anyone finishing the game in under four hours. We’ll be waiting with bated breath for the inevitable speed running videos on YouTube where someone finishes the game in 15 minutes… The game’s developer, Typhoon, has promised much more to come in the future, and the way the individual biomes have been set up means there are abundant opportunities for expansion.
Journey to the Savage Planet is an intoxicating experience that’s more than worth the price of admission. It’s charming, hilarious and an all-round fun experience that will have players smiling and laughing no matter what age they are. Typhoon should continue to support and develop the experience to make this an early, and incredibly strong, contender for best indie game of 2020.
There is but one mystery that had us scratching our heads at the end of this game though: Who the heck is Scott Norwood? If you find out, do let us know!
Journey to the Savage Planet is available January 30 on PS4 and Xbox One.