You know that a video game is doing something right when it manages to elicit a genuine emotional response. Even if it’s only for the briefest of moments, feeling excited, scared, heartbroken or anywhere in between when playing a game is fantastic. Video games are unlike any other entertainment medium in that they put you in control of the events, giving you a sense of ownership for what you accomplish. Before I start sounding like a presenter at a gaming convention I’ll get to my point – video games are a brilliant in that they allow you to switch off for a while and enjoy a sense of wonder. I promise that my overdramatic intro will lead to something, and that something is the first-person adventure title Journey to the Savage Planet, a game that, while not perfect, captures the feeling of discovery in a charming and fairly humorous way.
The various biomes in the game are all distinct and equally beautiful
Kindred Aerospace, the fourth best space exploration company in existence, has set its sights on finding humankind’s next home amongst the stars, sending out explorers to distant planets in hopes of finding one that meets our needs. You fill the space suit of one said lucky explorer that has landed on the planet AR-Y 26, though land might be a generous term as the ship has seen better days after entry.
It becomes evident almost immediately what the tone will be as you are briefed by the…eccentric Kindred CEO Martin Tweed, followed quickly by a company survey that is set in place to ensure you aren’t crazy. This survey ends with you pointing out which from a number of photos of people you are, one of which being a dog. Obviously I chose the dog, but little did I know that this would change all of my character’s vocal reactions to that of a canine. Yep, the game absolutely has a unique identity and it is mint. TV adverts that play in your ship tempt you with over the top products like the meal replacement smile GROB, or the sea monkeys-like mini mall where you grow your own tiny human shoppers to have them battle it out in Black Friday sales. The game has a distinct humour that will either resonate with you or grate on you, luckily it was the former for me.
Zipping around using the proton tether never loses that satisfying feeling
With all of the paperwork out of the way it’s time for you to exit the ship and begin exploring. This truly is the biggest strength of Savage Planet. Within a few short minutes you will encounter endearing spherical birds, crystalline constructs that shatter satisfyingly when hit and trees that send you into a psychedelic high just to name a few. The main objective in the game is to explore and boy oh boy is it entertaining to do just that. The variety of the flora and fauna is enough to keep you interested, but similar enough that it feels like one cohesive ecosystem rather than a bunch of random assets thrown together. The world is bizarre, whimsical and creative and I absolutely love it.
Not long into your travels you will discover a tower that doesn’t appear to be natural, despite this planet being uninhabited by intelligent life. After getting word of this back to Kindred, it is now your prerogative to find out who or what built the tower. It is a simple set-up, but one that kept me intrigued and curious throughout the duration of the game.
The planet isn’t all sunshine and pufferbirds though, there are many dangers between you and the secrets of the world. Luckily, being the fourth best interstellar exploration company, Kindred has a bunch of equipment that can help you on with your mission…you just have to find the resources required and 3D print it yourself, helpful. First cab of the rank is a laser pistol for defence and resource collection (shooting shit). This comes in handy as not all of AR-Y 26’s inhabitants are pleased to see you trotting around. Most creatures are happy to just stroll on by, but others are a little less inviting and will attack you on sight. The gunplay is serviceable for the most part, but when fighting larger boss creatures, or some of the quicker regular enemies, the floaty targeting does get in the way a bit.
Though the story is fairly light, the trickling of info given about these structures and who built them kept me intrigued
As I said, exploration is the name of the game here and there are a few things in place that keep this side of things interesting. As you progress you will come across certain obstacles that at first seem insurmountable. At these junctures you will be guided by your AI companion (who provides a fairly constant commentary on events) to a substance that will allow you to create a new piece of equipment that will help with your predicament. These upgrades range from a simple double jump to a proton tether that allows you to hook onto and pull yourself towards certain ledges. These upgrades are not only pivotal to the specific issue at the time, but when you backtrack to previous locations you will often find that the new gear can widen those areas as well, further encouraging some Indian Jonesing.
Alongside suit upgrades, you will also find flora in the world that can be used as tools such as the cleverly named bombegranate, a fruit with explosive properties and the blight bomb, a caustic little sack that shoots from your grasp like a poorly tied baloon. These little tools are all visually varied and interesting, but some are more useful than other. I can’t help but think that it would have been more impactful to expand on the uses of a handful of the items rather than include a greater number of them.
Your mum: ‘Don’t forget to take your little brother with you’
The visual style of Savage Planet definitely adds to the enjoyment of exploring as well. All of the creatures, plants and environments are colourful and goofy, blending together science fiction with the stylings of a Sunday morning cartoon. Most of the bug-eyed critters are cute as hell and I let out my fair share of awws when discovering a new furry friend, before blasting it apart for their sweet, sweet resources.
The entire game can also be played in co-op, with player two entering the game as a meat buddy, an anthropomorphic pile of leftover meat scraps (again, the humour will either hit or miss). Visually you look the same, it’s just an in-game explanation for why player two has the exact same abilities and upgrades as the host. From what I played of the co-op with WellPlayed’s Kieron Verbrugge at the tail end of my sixish hour playthrough of the main story, it was fun but not game changing. It’s undeniably a good time exploring and messing around with a mate in this crazy landscape, but I would like to have seen something differentiate between playing alone or with a mate, even something as simple as challenges or specific team-based tasks.
Even on death’s door, I hate to see him leave, but I love to watch him walk away
Journey to the Savage Planet does a lot of things right. Its titular location is gorgeous, strange and interesting, the local wildlife is varied and diverse and the low key plot drives you forward without ever becoming overbearing. Where the game succeeds most is that it knows not to overstay its welcome. As soon as something is verging on becoming stale, it moves you on to something else, never becoming boring. That includes its overall length as well. Just as I found myself mastering all of the systems in the game, it began testing said skills all at once and wrapping up the experience. Regardless that the finish line is a pain in the arse boss fight and that gunplay is a little wonky, Journey to the Savage Planet is unique, bizarre and engaging in a wonderful way.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher