Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC via Epic
Genre: A proper and fun No Man’s Sky, with actual co-op at launch!
Despite its backlash post-launch and its eventual “fix-er-upping”, the sci-fi exploration game No Man’s Sky had promise. It had players explore to the edges of the universe for new planets and places; it’s the excitement of discovering new creatures and locations that had players wanting for more.
Where No Man’s Sky got it wrong the first time, Journey To The Savage Earth developer Typhoon Studios nails it right out of the box with its debut title. The team streamlines its focus on a single planet and pack in a lot of fun, danger, and humour that stimulates both your mind & funny bone.
Terms and Conditions Apply
Some context first: what if one day, you were allowed to travel into space and land on foreign planets? One of the game’s sci-fi corporations Kindred Aerospace is willing to give you the opportunity, fully-paid trip and all.
So you sign up for the all-paid expense travel plan and now you’re on you’re way to an uncharted planet dubbed AR-Y 26 for the greatest and latest discoveries for mankind. Your task is to explore it to see if it’s viable as the next Planet Earth to be inhabited by earthlings.
Turns out that the titular Savage Planet is, surprise, filled with hostile aliens of shape and sizes, and a possible alien civilization to uncover. You’ll not only need to explore and scan the area to see if it’s viable for humans, but also survive and find suitable forms of fuel to fly back to Earth.
You won’t be feeling homesick because the Javelin is knee-deep with some vids of the company CEO, and a bunch of email and ads that remind you that the game’s Earth needs help. I suggest watching these whenever they pop up because they are totally hilarious and help set the quirky tone of your Savage journey.
You’re also not completely alone. You have your trust E.K.O companion who serves as a helper of sorts who narrates your surroundings and chastises you at inopportune moments. She sounds eerily similar to Failsafe in Destiny 2 in terms of sarcasm and mannerism and also gives off a whiff of GLaDOS from Portal.
That’s a good thing because you’ll be served dish after dish of slapstick humour which never gets boring, unlike the cringe-inducing dialogues your Ghost mutters in Destiny 2.
Journey To The Savage Planet’s narrative can get a bit on-the-nose, but it’s still written and told in numerous “show, don’t tell” methods that make it palatable while you explore.
The Outer Wilds In Space
This game is the perfect match for those who find joy in exploration as discovery. You have quite a world to explore, puzzles to solve, and things to scan for database-building.
Once you step into the alien world, you’ll be amazed by the variety of docile and hostile flora and fauna that are abundant on the planet. You have the option to scan the local flora and fauna for some elucidation, more than often the said elucidation is more than enough to get you bawling.
Players will also need to collect resources used for crafting tools and upgrades. Killing the native creatures gives you either Carbon, Silicon, or Aluminum. Don’t feel bad for killing some innocent creatures as it’s the bread and butter of colonisation. Before you can use your resources, you must visit your base, the Javelin, to bank in everything.
Traversing the treacherous terrain highly requires ingenuity and tools provided by the world’s 4th planet discovery company, but mostly the former as you will be spending hours trying to figure out how to get to one point across ravines and gaps and such.
For example, the game allows you to grapple onto certain points in the world, or you can also create your own grapple points when a suitable surface presents itself. A higher ledge requires players to jump higher and this needs another type of tool that increases your jump and bounce height and is obtained from the local flora.
There are numerous moments where you have to think and traverse on the fly, and those moments definitely made traversing more than just walking and jumping. The movement system in the game is liberating, a huge fresh breath that lets you go where ever you want, as long as you have the right tools and imagination to boot.
Speaking of which, Kindred Aerospace has also provided explorers with a 3D printer for you to craft upgrades and spelunking new equipment to traverse the wilderness. You’ll need to collect samples and resources on the planet, as well as rank up your explorer level, to print weapons and traversal equipment.
Need a double-jump to get out of high spots? Create a jump jet. Need to swing from one place to another through conveniently-placed grapples? Then print a grappling hook!
You can also bring another player into your adventures through the Co-Op mode, for double the exploration equalling to double the fun.
You’ll need to get to making tools because puzzles and blocked areas are in abundance. Following a “Metroidvania in 3D system” where you need the right item(s) to get past an obstacle, you start to see the game’s progression and level design unfold in a genius manner. You’ll have a blast navigating and doing a ton of 3D platforming, with a bunch of failsafe methods of getting off the ground, landing perfectly onto whatever you’re aiming at, and grappling.
Figuring out these secrets are treats in itself. Sometimes you have to figure out how to get to certain areas containing secrets. Other times, you have to work that noggin to figure out how to crack open a loot box (in the form of a plant). You’ll even have to make use of the native planet’s many seeds; some explode and spew out corrosive acid, while others create grappling hook points on certain plant pods.
Defeating bosses are also puzzles in itself, either in the form of jumping, traversing, or figuring out where to shoot.
Later in the game, you will unlock more specialised tools that you can use to overcome obstacles and puzzles that hold you back from discovering certain secrets earlier on in the game.
As with all Metroidvania-esque titles, Journey to the Savage Planet requires you to backtrack a lot. Like, A LOT! But trust me when I say that the game rewards the curious, not to mention the fact that the entire game is pretty compact and contained. Be diligent enough, and you’ll uncover an extra fuel depot or another orange goo blob that increases your health and stamina. There’s a lot to uncover, but it’s not overwhelming to the point of repetition.
Yes, there’s a lot of orange goo in this game. There are even trees that shoot out orange goo. You’ll need these to keep yourself alive since you have no other way of regenerating health. Death can get you at any moment, be it a stray projectile from a spinning flying “octopus” thing or a mistimed jump on a bunch of floating platforms. You’ll have to be a bit resourceful and careful not to let the seemingly easy-going scenery go native on you.
While we’re on that, death in Journey to the Savage Planet is plentiful, but at least it’s handled with drizzles of humour. Basically, Kindred Aerospace “reprints” your body with 98% of your memories intact.
No need to stress out as you’ll only drop your gathered resources, which appears as a sidequest to fetch your dropped goodies. You can even find your corpse and bury it for extra resources, provided you find it within the vicinity.
I should also point out that the game doesn’t have a map of any kind. While that deters my pace of exploration slightly, I totally understand the developer’s choice here as it forces me to explore the area and charting out paths. I do play an explorer on a strange uncharted world, so I need to find my own way to remember pathways and such, as well as make use of landmarks in each of the game’s four main regions.
There are quite a number of them that you don’t really need a map in the first place. The landing spot has a cliff with some conveniently laid-out grapple points near the first teleporter you find.
Elsewhere, one section in the Itching Fields has a bunch of floating platforms arranged in a specific manner that tells you “oh, THAT teleporter and grapple spot is nearby”. You know, THAT spot with the flying space goldfish that poops on occasion.
Also, I accidentally discover a huge stash of goodies while taking the offbeat path. That’s always nice. Simply put, the game nails this part while not mollycoddling players. Just discovering new mechanics and areas by yourself is satisfying in its own right.
It’s not all sunshines and fresh air in this journey. Where exploration and traversal in Journey to the Savage Planet is the main meat that lingers on in the best way possible, the combat portions can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste.
The hostile creatures feature troves of shooty moments and to be honest it’s a great break of pace from walking around the map. The boss fights are a treat in which you have to take some time to figure out how the combat works. It is nothing too complex and defeating a boss fight is very much satisfying on its own accord.
However, most of the combat scenarios require the utmost precision from the user. For some, it might not be a huge issue, but to those who aren’t sharpshooters might face issues hitting the ever-so-small-and-moving-weak-spots and hitboxes.
The use of some tools might help you out here, and there’s an auto-aim option if you’re keen on using a controller instead of the keyboard & mouse. Still, it’s quite a challenge to hit enemy weak spots in intense situations. I wished the auto-aim acquisition worked better.
To add on further, the game is slightly marred by the presence of bugs in the game. Some audio bugs are totally forgivable as it doesn’t break the game, for example, you can hear your footsteps when you slide after sprinting.
Another bug that has been irking me during my playtime was that every time you log out of the game, it counts as death and I had to pick up my loot every time. Fortunately, this can be circumvented by logging out when you are at your base.
If it was not a bug and a feature, I wish they had explained it somewhere. Either way, it’s pretty annoying.
A New Frontier?
I was never quite a gamer who enjoys exploration in games. I just go from Point A to Point Z without stopping by Point B, C, D and sodding E.
With that said, Journey To The Savage Planet changed my viewpoint and made me appreciate the thrill of discovery. Walking off the beaten path often treats you with something. Just finding new pathways and using your new tools is a boon in itself.
Even if the whole experience takes about 8 hours or less to finish – a few more if you want to go 100% – there’s a lot to discover, uncover, and thrill. Co-op mode is something to look forward to as it certainly has its huge fun potential. I only played a bit of it, but if the solo experience is already this fun, I’m confident that having two people trying to work together to uncover the planet will be quite a fun riot.
Who knew that 2020 would start off with quite a charming sci-fi endeavour from a small studio like Typhoon? I certainly didn’t, and I don’t regret it one bit.
- Tons to discover & explore, before & after the game.
- Quirky graphics and music.
- Amusing narrative.
- Cleverly hidden secrets that require skill & patience to uncover.
- Some gameplay mechanics need explaining.
- A few annoying bugs.
- Jittery aiming during combat.
FINAL SCORE: 80/100