Fans of science fiction and space exploration games got a few treats last year. Whether that comes in the form of The Outer Worlds skewering of capitalism, The Outer Wilds universe puzzle box approach, or any of the No Man’s Sky updates, there’s something out there for every fan. Announced at the Game Awards in 2018, Journey to the Savage Planet looks to continue that trend, and it does so beautifully.
Journey to the Savage Planet puts players in the shoes of a space-explorer for Kindred Aerospace, the fourth best space exploration company on Earth. Along with an AI companion and a blaster pistol, players set out to find a new home for humanity among the stars. Regular updates from Martin Tweed, CEO of Kindred Aerospace, let players know how their discoveries shake up their home as they try to uncover the secrets of a lost alien race that once called home of the planet.
With various tools to help the player back up and pop up environments to view, exploring the planet is an absolute joy. At its core, Journey to the Savage Planet is like a playground. There are things to bounce off, walls to climb, grapples to swing, and tons of obstacles to navigate. The game is at its best when all these elements are combined, letting players maneuver the planet in different ways with the hope of a reward at hand. It’s a love letter to some of the best movement mechanics of the generation, and the game blends them incredibly well, easily rivaling some of the best level design of the past year.
While they don’t have a ton of variety, there are plenty of rewards for players to discover scattered throughout the world, too. Orange Goo, a bright blob, will upgrade the player’s health and stamina. Those drops are stuffed into every nook and cranny, some of which are harder to collect than others. There are also Alien Alloys, a key ingredient in upgrading a player’s toolset. Alien alloys are more difficult to obtain, and usually require combat or environmental challenges to complete. Alien Tablets and Explorer’s Logs can help unravel more of the game’s narrative, which is relatively secondary to exploration. It’s not one of the best stories out there, although there is a sobering message at the end.
Finding these upgrades is the greatest joy of Journey to the Savage Planet. Progress happens quickly, with upgrades becoming readily available as players gather resources along their journey. The only barrier to that progress is the player’s Explorer Rank, which can be upgraded through challenges. The challenges are really fun to do, even if they can take some trial and error. It’s a nice distraction from constantly running between the three main zones of the planet, adding some nice variety to the adventure.
Journey to the Savage Planet is a game for explorers. Those who want to try it will not have any problem doing so, because the main part of the story of the game will not take long to finish once the players have acquired all the necessary upgrades. But Journey to the Savage Planet is a game worth taking the time to explore. Doubling back to find things that were previously out of reach often reveals a few more interesting things to discover, each of which is related to upgrading the player.
These upgrades, which range anywhere from extra jumps in the air to weapon damage, are key to the game. They allow players to explore previously inaccessible areas, almost Metroidvania-like, and offer better movement in the game’s various platforming challenges. That platforming isn’t always perfect, grabbing ledges doesn’t always work well and moving in mid-air can be a pain at times, but it’s not enough to ruin the experience.
With mixed success, Journey to the Savage Planet almost constantly delivers jokes. Not all of them come through – in fact, some are pretty awful – but there are a few that really do get a fair laugh. It’s in the same vein as what the Borderlands 3 humor was trying to do, albeit a little less PG in many cases. Creature descriptions and world events tend to have a better delivery, while the auto-playing videos on the player’s ship, the Javelin, are generally abysmal, with a few exceptions.
Combat, by far, is the weakest aspect of Journey to the Savage Planet. Many of the game’s enemies require a certain level of precision to defeat – precision that the blaster is not good at. Projectiles are relatively slow against fast creatures. Targets are usually small and hard to hit, but the aim-down-sight doesn’t help accuracy at all. Using some of the planet’s grenade-style resources can help stun enemies or lock them in place, but even that can be difficult to do at times. The blaster can be upgraded to deal more damage, hold more ammo, and reload faster, which helps a lot, but it’s still not perfect, leading to an overall lackluster combat system .
That said, Journey to the Savage Planet has some surprisingly fun boss battles, shooting aside. The big baddies at the end of each zone are surprisingly well designed, with a combination of platforming, shooting, and resource management happening simultaneously in face-offs. The only exception to this is the final boss, which emphasizes the worst elements of the game – precision shooting and confined spaces. Dodging and dashing makes fighting quick, but the final boss periodically restricts players to three small platforms in its third stage, making it very easy for the player to hit and kill.
Fortunately, not everything on the planet wants to kill the player. Many look like they could be added to the Pokedex with very little change. Finding new creatures, or variations of those creatures, is one of the better aspects of Journey to the Savage Planet. Of course, science experiments and the constant need for resources will result in slapping, exploding, and torturing some of the planet’s friendly inhabitants, so it’s best not to get too close to the little creatures.
As a sort of side goal, players are tasked with scanning and documenting these creatures, similar to what one would find in a game like No Man’s Sky. Each is memorable in its own way, often bringing their own quirks and quirks. Puffbirds, cute round creatures, have a variation that basically makes them a mindless zombie. Some minor boss enemies will have versions with outer layers of rock or amber that need to be blasted or melted before they are destroyed. These aren’t major differences, but it’s enough of a change to keep things interesting from encounter to encounter.
There is a deep sense of exploration and discovery in Journey to the Savage Planet. This constantly prompts the player to double back and look somewhere again without even explicitly telling them to. It’s like being let into an amusement park with no lines and no rules, giving players the freedom to make their own fun whenever they need a break from an incredibly vertical, and almost uninteresting wili, scavenger hunt for new resources and upgrades. It may not be an entire planet to explore, but it can easily fill one.
Journey to the Savage Planet releases on January 28, 2020, for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Today Technology was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.