As you fire up Journey to the Savage Planet, its theme music begins to play. With plenty of banjo and slide guitar riffs, you'll get an idea of what to expect from this game before you even push a button. It's fair to say this sci-fi action adventure isn't taking itself very seriously, but don't expect to be bowled over by its attempts at comedy.
The game's best joke is that Kindred Aerospace, your employer, is the fourth best interstellar exploration company. The dubious nature of Kindred will be referred to several times, and it's a gag that doesn't really go anywhere. The company has sent you to some far-flung planet named AR-Y 26 in hopes it could serve as a new home for humanity. It's your job to scope the place out by exploring the land, getting acquainted with the local wildlife, and gathering local resources. Of course, things aren't quite as simple as that, and you'll become involved in a wider mystery about a previous civilisation and a huge tower off in the distance. Naturally, you're ill-equipped for the task at hand.
What unfolds is a fairly straightforward traipse through some sizeable open environments as you scan flora and fauna, defend yourself against hostile creatures, and hunt for materials and secrets. It doesn't take long for you to deviate from the main mission; your journal will quickly fill with a handful of secondary objectives. Yes, you could progress the main thread by going over there, but there's this whole other area right here with who knows what inside. This free roaming nature makes the game surprisingly compelling; there are lots of bits and bobs to discover in each location.
Because of this, you'll find yourself going off the beaten path a lot. Exploring is usually worth it, as you're likely to run into bright orange goo which upgrades your health and stamina, mineral veins that give you plenty of upgrade materials, or precious alien alloys needed for the better equipment. Upgrading is important and occasionally required. It isn't far into the game that you'll need to unlock the grapple hook, for example. You do this back at the Javelin, your wrecked spaceship, which acts as a hub. The game settles into a pretty addictive rhythm, turning into a Metroidvania of sorts. Exploring leads to upgrades, and upgrades lead to new areas and previously unreachable spots, and so it goes on.
There's obviously a little more to it than that. Part of your main mission is to document each plant and animal you come across, so you'll be hopping in and out of a No Man's Sky-esque scanner. Doing this gives you a little more information on each life form, but unless you're going for 100 per cent completion, it's not a necessity. What you will find necessary are the teleport points. There are a handful of these throughout each zone, and you'll become very reliant on these in order to quickly navigate the game -- although load times between different maps can take their sweet time.
You also have science experiments to complete. Doing so unlocks more upgrades for you to craft, so they're worth the hassle, but the experiments themselves aren't particularly imaginative. You need to collect live samples from specific creatures -- creep up to them and hit R1 -- and you'll usually have to kill specific wildlife in a specific way, which can be frustratingly tricky. It's a way of getting you to use the different tools at your disposal, but we doubt you'll come to rely on these techniques at any other point than to complete each experiment.
This leads fairly smoothly into combat. Unfortunately, it isn't anything to write home about. Near the start of the game, you'll unlock a blaster with which to defend yourself, and you'll be upgrading that little thing through the whole adventure. You don't unlock any new guns, but you will be able to make use of various alien grenade types; some enemies even require the use of these in order to defeat them. While tougher enemies are introduced as you progress (and there are even a couple of boss fights), fighting is super basic and doesn't really grow. There's some Far Cry randomness to encounters with wildlife, but dealing with them is more a nuisance than anything else.
Speaking of nuisances, every time you go back to the Javelin, an FMV will automatically play on the screen. Most of these are advertisements for bizarre products, and they're fairly well made, but the humour just doesn't hit home. What's more, these things get repetitive very quickly -- thank goodness you can turn them off the moment they start. You're also accompanied by an AI voice, and her sarcastic remarks will grow tiresome pretty sharpish too.
Even though the humour didn't click with us, we have to commend developer Typhoon Studios for sticking to a certain style. The world of AR-Y 26 is colourful and kooky, with some neat creature designs and a decent visual range across each region. There's a slapstick slant on many of your interactions with animals and the environment which definitely afford the game a unique presentation. Having said all this, graphically the game isn't particularly impressive, and we ran into a couple of odd bugs during our 15-hour playtime-- and we don't mean aliens.
Fortunately the core loop has just enough going on that those who enjoy explorative adventures like this will get some enjoyment out of it. Linking grapple points together, seeing if you can reach that far-off platform with your jet boosters, spotting a collectible and figuring out how the heck to get to it -- the game is definitely doing something right. The story unfortunately doesn't have a great payoff, but Journey to the Savage Planet is more about poking and prodding at the bizarre environment and seeing what happens. It should also be noted that the game can be played in online co-op with another player, but playing it pre-release meant we were unable to test it.
It might lack some polish, but Journey to the Savage Planet is an enjoyable jaunt across a strange, open-ended landscape. This is a game you play in order to explore its intriguing environment and interact with the wildlife -- combat is fairly dull, attempts at humour rarely land, and the story almost feels like an afterthought at times. If you're looking for an easy-going sci-fi action game, this just about does enough to satisfy.