Journey to the Savage Planet (Xbox One) REVIEW – A Charming Journey
PC, PS4, XB1
Despite the name, the first few experiences on the mysterious new planet known only as AR-Y 26 are not all that unpleasant. The world around you is colourful and enticing, while the initial creatures you meet are cute little bird-like animals that pose no threat. In fact, even as you kick and slap them around to gain much-needed resources, they will offer no resistance and simply allow you to mercilessly slaughter them. So, at least in the early parts of Journey to the Savage Planet, it seems like you are the only savage thing around.
This all begins to change as you venture further into the environment. Suddenly, there are far more living beings to contend with that not only block your path but can actively hurt you. Typhoon Studios lure you into thinking that AR-Y 26 is a wondrous planet to explore when it’s actually brimming with danger. That’s unfortunate considering you are marooned here with a damaged spaceship in need of all types of materials to give you any hope of escaping.
While repairing your craft is the primary objective, you’ll get lots of secondary missions and tasks to complete along the way as well. At its heart, this is a game about being a scientist and explorer rather than a soldier. Sent by space exploration company Kindred to see if the world is suitable for human life, your main tool is a scanner that you can use to find out information about practically everything you come across. You point it at the creature, plant, or strange object and discover information about it. For the most part, you will be avoiding perils, attempting instead to catalogue the world around you.
This scientific aspect of Journey to the Savage Planet is the most exciting part of the game. There are plenty of hidden areas to discover and although there are many objectives to complete, you are largely able to wander around at your own pace without having to worry too much about quests. The only exception to this is when you need a new tool to get access to an area that is currently out of reach. Before long, the need to scan everything in sight becomes almost compulsive. As you fill out your computer with more information, that desire to completely index everything on AR-Y 26 grows. It’s a great central gameplay mechanic that genuinely motivates you to squeeze yourself into every nook and cranny.
The need to explore is also combined with a degree of experimentation. As you find fresh materials or items, you aren’t told exactly how they can be used. Without clear explanations, the game makes you experiment with the various tools at your disposal to continue progressing. I wouldn’t be surprised if most puzzles and obstacles could be overcome with a variety of solutions as there is an element of freedom to how you can approach most problems in Journey to the Savage Planet. There is also a Metroidvania element to this. Once you have new gear, you can always go back and access places that you previously might not have been able to reach. Having to switch up your approach and work out how your different items can be used is constant fun as there is always some variety in what you are doing.
Outside of the main gameplay loop of exploring and experimenting, the most impressive thing is the visuals. The design of everything in this game oozes charm. Planet AR-Y 26 feels like a sort of cross between a Tim Burton movie and a Jackson Pollock painting. The sheer amount of colour on display is breathtaking, with each biome having its own unique look. In particular, climbing high into the mountains or up cliffs gives you a great appreciation of the delightful world and the environments in which you find yourself. Perhaps best of all, though, are the animals you come across. I think it’s fair to say that these are some of the most imaginative and distinctive looking creatures you’ll see in any video game.
Many parts of Journey to the Savage Planet are wonderfully funny, too. Humour is something that games often try to include but miss the mark with far too often but that is not the case with this title. Whether it’s the wacky live-action videos from advertisements or messages from your CEO, there are plenty of moments that will induce laughter. One little joke I enjoyed came right at the beginning. When designing your character, you choose from a selection of photographs. I decided to go with the solitary non-human choice of a German Shepherd, which meant that for the rest of the game my character made dog noises when panting or hurt.
Best of all is your AI assistant EKO who constantly provides self-deprecating commentary on your actions, especially if you do something stupid like eating a plant you know nothing about. The developers have also managed to ensure that EKO never becomes irritating like some game companions can when they regularly talk into your ear. Having someone like Navi around can get annoying very quickly. However, I found myself wanting to listen to everything that my virtual assistant had to say.
The only problems with the presentation come from performance issues. Occasional stuttering as the frame rate drops doesn’t harm the overall playing experience too drastically, although some bugs are very annoying. I found myself trapped in between rocks or frozen behind an invisible wall a few times and required a restart of the game to get back into the action. Thankfully, these were not common problems.
On the other hand, Journey to the Savage Planet does disappoint with its lack of story. There are hints of a narrative buried within and it does sometimes attempt to explore the dark aspects of colonisation but it fails to really address them in a meaningful way. Even the main mystery of what a huge, clearly non-natural tower is doing on a planet that should not have intelligent life is underwhelming. Without wanting to give anything away, it kind of just meanders to a conclusion that most will not find all that satisfying. Yet, I don’t feel like this is a huge problem. Although it is a bit of a missed opportunity, a strong plot is not something Journey to the Savage Planet is aiming for. Instead, it wants you to experience the world and search for your own answers rather than be given them in the form of a story.
What little backstory there is does set up some of the core gameplay mechanics as well as explain why you have been so incompetently sent to a planet that was not supposed to have any life. It turns out that Kindred is just the fourth-best intergalactic exploration company. As such, they don’t possess any of the best equipment and have precious little information to provide. Therefore, you have to go out and collect materials to print new gadgets and gear. It’s nice to have some justification for your predicament, even if it is only a cursory explanation.
Combat is similarly underwhelming. Anyone expecting tight gunplay and responsive melee fighting will be let down as Journey to the Savage Planet takes more of a Fallout-like approach but without a VATS system. As such, everything feels a little clunky and imprecise. Shooting at creatures can seem like a bit of a lottery as to whether you will actually hit them and the dodging mechanic is incredibly simple. Fortunately, combat is not something you have to focus on too much and the few boss encounters are just as much about platforming as they are fighting the enemy.
Despite this, Journey to the Savage Planet never feels like a difficult game. You’ll die plenty of times either in combat or by falling off a platform, yet this is never a major problem. You simply respawn back at your ship and from there teleport to the nearest fast travel station to collect your belongings. This takes away much of the frustration from dying and puts you in a mindset where you are more likely to take risks and try to reach areas, knowing the penalty for failure is not so bad.
Journey to the Savage Planet gets an awful lot right. The addictive main gameplay loop never becomes stale, while the imaginative world and beautiful visuals keep you enthralled in the experience. So while the game only lasts a dozen or so hours, it feels full of quality and has a special kind of wackiness to it. Of course, there are some issues when it comes to the simplified combat and lack of narrative though, they are simply not big enough problems to warrant switching to another game. By the time you have to leave this strange planet, there’s a real sense of disappointment as it’s a world that you want to keep exploring for as long as possible.
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Despite a few problems, Journey to the Savage Planet offers a world that is charming and easy to become engrossed in as you explore at your whim.
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