Journey to the Savage Planet Review

Since the rise of action-filled open-worlds and narrative-driven walking simulators, pure exploration games have become harder to come by. Thankfully, there has been somewhat of a resurgence in the sub-genre with titles such as the recent Outer Wilds and the extensive updates to No Man’s Sky, but there’s still a lot of room for more games with a focus on discovery that’s inherent to the core game design. Enter Journey to the Savage Planet: a new first-person action-adventure title from Typhoon Studios that places exploration at the forefront. Though a little rough around the edges, the result is a charmingly funny and continually rewarding experience that combines elements from a number of past beloved series to great effect.

In Journey to the Savage Planet, you take on the role of a lone scientist/explorer/adventure sent to the uncharted world of AR-Y26 by the self-proclaimed “fourth best space exploration company,” Kindred Aerospace. Initially believed to be uninhabited by intelligent life, you soon find remnants of an alien civilization that suggest otherwise, and must make your way up an enormous, gravity-defying tower to learn the secrets of this new world and find supplies for your damaged ship. The setup is simple and effective, laying the narrative groundwork and giving your character a reason to seek out and investigate all the interesting flora, fauna, and whatever other secrets may be lurking on the planet across the 10-15 hours it takes to complete the main quest.

So Much To Do, So Much To See

Journey to the Savage Planet is mostly about exploring AR-Y26, but it relies on wit and snappy humor to keep your relatively lonely task from getting dull. With a distinct old-school science-fiction feel, it takes a page out of The Outer Worlds’ book and fits in numerous jabs at capitalism and consumerism through in-game ads played on your ship’s television, such as one for a goo-like food substitute called GROB with flavors like “Horse Biscuits” and “Buffalo Banana Wings.” These live-action ads are fun little distractions when you return to the in-game hub of your ship, but while you are out exploring, the majority of the humor and dialogue comes via EKO, your personal computer assistant. EKO’s digitally rendered sarcasm will become very familiar as she acts as your guide, provides information on things of note in the world, and quips about your mishaps. Her commentary is a consistent source of humor and the writing creates depth for a character that could have easily been a throwaway role in another game.

Though having EKO at your side adds some companionship to your adventure, it certainly doesn’t mean exploring the world is tedious or bothersome. Your first few tasks once you leave your ship are a bit plain, mostly requiring you to gather basic resources and return, but after about an hour, the game opens up markedly thanks to some interesting unlockable upgrades. There are tons of unique landmarks, plants, and creatures on the planet to discover, all of which play different roles on your journey. For instance, some creatures are docile while others will attack you on sight, and certain plants will drop useful fruits that can heal you, act as bombs, among other things. Nearly everything in the world has a specific function, which creates the feeling you are exploring an organic ecosystem with a myriad of ways to solve the problems given to you. These synergies and interactions work wonderfully and incentivize searching every nook and cranny of AR-Y26’s four distinctive biomes for new secrets, upgrades, or just to fill out your planetary “kindex.” There is also an online co-op mode that allows you and a friend to explore together. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test this feature since I was playing a pre-release copy, but it’s a welcome addition and I can imagine it would be a fantastic way to play through the campaign.

A Worthwhile First-Person Adventure

Besides scanning, documenting, and interacting with as much of the planet as possible, there is a combat system to fill out the rest of the gameplay loop. You only get one weapon to play with, and it starts out incredibly weak with a small magazine and long reload time. This, in combination with the imprecise gun controls, make enemy encounters in the first hour or two difficult and cumbersome. Fortunately, there are multiple upgrade options for your weapon that turn it from a pathetic peashooter to a formidable firearm by the end of the game. The upgrades do help keep combat from becoming overly tiresome, yet the first-person shooter mechanics can’t quite stand up to some of the bigger titles out there. Additionally, once you reach the end of each biome, you’ll face a boss fight. Though I enjoyed the first of these encounters, the unpolished combat causes some of the later ones to be more frustrating than exciting.

Upon first glance, it’s clear that games like No Man’s Sky were touchstones for the gameplay and visual style here, but as I advanced further, I was surprised just how many influences Journey to the Savage Planet pulls from. Specifically, Metroid Prime seems to be a heavy inspiration for the upgrade, scanning, and combat systems. The hand-drawn, comic book graphical style is reminiscent of the Borderlands series, and though at first, I wasn’t too keen on it, the look did grow on me as I continued playing. A few biomes, in particular, are striking in their design and visual execution. Sadly, Journey to the Savage Planet only runs at 30fps on PS4 Pro, and while this might bother some people, I can’t help but feel a buttery smooth frame rate would benefit both the combat and traversal.

Journey to the Savage Planet provides highly rewarding exploration and discovery bundled with a genuinely funny sense of humor to make for a worthwhile first-person adventure experience. The game is clearly a labor of love and is only hindered by a few unrefined elements that don’t significantly detract from the overall enjoyment. Though the planet is a savage one indeed, in this case, the risk is absolutely worth taking.

***PS4 code provided by the publisher.***