The Paradox Behind Journey To The Savage Planet

The Paradox Behind Journey To The Savage Planet
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Journey to the Savage Planet is built on a promise. Explore a strange world, and you’ll eventually be able to glide, erode, slam and boost your way through any challenge. But it’s without these tools where the game really shines.

Out now on PS4, Xbox and PC through the Epic Game Store, Journey to the Savage Planet is a chilled exploration game in space. The game’s punctuated with a strong anti-capitalist, anti-consumerism bent that’s reminiscent of The Outer Worlds. But for the most part, the moment to moment exploration is more a chance to throw some light jumping puzzles at the player, with the occasional enemy and boss fight to overcome.

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This week marks the launch of Journey to the Savage Planet, which we've been enjoying so far. The game is the first title from Typhoon Studios, a Montreal-based developer founded by Aussie ex-pat and Far Cry 4 creative director Alex Hutchinson and Reid Schneider. But according to Hutchinson, it'll probably be the last game the studio ever ships on a disc.

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For the most part, the challenge in Journey is working out how to climb the disparate, disconnected islands of AR-Y 26. It’s a little like Skyrim when you’re trying to force your way up a mountain, jumping on every ledge and crevice the game will let you stand on without sliding off or hitting an invisible wall.

Traversal starts on foot, and before long you come across a resource that can be mined – it’s closer in character to strip mining, really – for a double jump. That gives you the means to start trying to find your way up to The Tower, your primary mission from Kindred Aerospace, your comically greedy employers.

The level design isn’t always explicit about what you can and can’t climb without certain upgrades. You’ll get the odd prompt from your AI assistant, and from time to time your quest log will be updated to directly tell you to find another resource first. But occasionally, the game lets you flail your way to areas where you don’t belong. One case of this happened about four or five hours in, not long after I’d unlocked vertical thrusters. The extra height boost allowed me to access an area revealing a set of magnetic rails, which – with the right upgrade – you can ride like a monorail.

But I didn’t have the booster upgrade. Still, a mix of the vertical boost and some well timed double jumps got me across a gap and towards what felt like a secret area. It wasn’t secret, of course – I just wasn’t supposed to access it yet, not until I had the right tools for the job. But the fact that the game let me do it anyway was a neat reward, and helped encourage more mindless wandering, which is where the real fun lies.

These moments of discovery are necessary, because the game doesn’t pose much of a challenge. There’s a few boss fights throughout the course of the game, and they’re all repetitive, uninspired fights that could have been ripped straight out of a late ’90s or early ’00s shooter: shoot the glowing weak point, dodge the enemies that get slightly more difficult with each wave, and go through that three times.

All the fights take place in encapsulated, tiny areas, which is really the antithesis of what Journey to the Savage Planet is about. The game shines when you’re calculating when your double jump gets you just in range of that one grappling hold, or when a decision to wander somewhere unveils a whole new area with alien goo, the essential resource for upgrading your stamina and health.

When you finally get through most of the level two upgrades, the maximum you’ll need for completing the story and finding the fuel to return home (but not enough if you want to find all the collectibles), Journey to the Savage Planet runs out of steam. The game’s beauty is in these massive vibrant levels that are too big for you to fully explore, and when you’re capable of seeing it all, the game’s only option is to force you into levels that strip that wonder away.

Don’t get me wrong: Journey to the Savage Planet is a enjoyable adventure, albeit one with low stakes. It’s not mechanically difficult and it’s not long, with my playthrough running just under 12 hours. The credits roll as soon as the final boss fight finishes, but I spent an extra hour running around the world finding the last bits of fuel I needed to fly home, since I’d not found enough on my quest to the tower.

It’s the kind of game you’d fire up on a Saturday and be done with by Sunday night. It’s popcorn entertainment, a visually engaging journey with enough occasional laughs from your AI assistants jibes to the fake corporate commercials and the occasional employee surveys. There’s nothing savage or especially threatening in Journey to the Savage Planet‘s environment, but provided you have the right expectations and don’t mind an easy romp, Typhoon’s debut game is entertaining enough.

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