Developer: Typhoon Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC
Reviewing Journey to the Savage Planet has made me feel like a right spoiled brat. This open-world, sci-fi adventure has been made with obvious love and care by developers Typhoon Studios. It looks splendid, it feels nice beneath the fingers, it has jokes that made me laugh, and the whole thing amounts to a relatively pleasant experience. And yet my overriding thought when I came away from it was “Well, what was all that about, then?”
It’s one of those games that’s just…there. It has places to go and stuff to do and things to collect and powers to upgrade. But none of it ever feels especially meaningful. It’s an innocuous game. There’s nothing wrong with it exactly, but there’s also little about it that’s either challenging or original.
You play an interstellar explorer who has crash-landed on a distant planet. Your job is to explore the landscape and assess its potential for colonisation on behalf of Kindred Technologies, the company that’s always got your back. No seriously, they own your back. And they’ve got a majority stake in your front too.
Being something of a two-bit outfit, Kindred has dispatched you with only minimal equipment. Hence you need to scavenge what you can from the environment to upgrade your gear, which will enable you to venture deeper into the wilderness. It’s basically No Man’s Sky meets Zelda, but also with a little bit of Bioshock. And a little bit of Metroid. And a little bit of Fallout.
This is part of the problem. Nearly everything Savage Planet does is borrowed from other games that did it slightly better. For example, it adopts the scanning system of No Man’s Sky, but has nowhere near the breadth of No Man’s Sky flora or fauna (and also you can’t name things that you find). Mostly you use it to identify quest objectives, which is useful but not especially engaging.
The combat, meanwhile, is straight out of the Bioshock playbook. You shoot enemies using a pistol in your right hand, while your left hand is used to throw various types of useful items. These range from grenade-plants called “Bombegrantes” to a sticky substance that traps enemies in place. With the exception of the handful of bosses, the combat isn’t particularly challenging or exciting. Your enemy types are split into two groups, annoying floating enemies, and annoying miniboss enemies that are only vulnerable at their weak-spots.
The game admittedly fares better when it comes to exploration. Its hyper-colourful biomes are fun to poke around, and filled with fun little details that add a lot to the general atmosphere. I love the slide-whistle noise that the floating jellyfish creatures make, and the trees with blue leaves that reveal themselves to be butterflies when you get up close. That being said, developers, please stop using floating islands as shorthand for a strange environment. Avatar was twelve years ago. Half-Life was twenty-two years ago. It’s not weird. It’s boring. Stop it.
As you might have gleaned from a couple of things I have mentioned, Journey to the Savage Planet leans much harder toward comedy than many of the titles its inspired by. This is really the element that’s supposed to make it stand out, to give it open-world exploro-crafting that little twist of originality.
The problem is the comedy also borrows heavily from other sources. Basically, your character is from a society where capitalism has gone HAYWIRE and treats its workers as EXPENDABLE, giving them crummy wages and appalling work conditions while selling them products like BRAIN WIPES and forcing them to eat synthetic foodstuffs like GROB. It takes the capitalist satire of Robocop and that brainwashed upbeat tone of Fallout and slaps them together into a big joke sandwich. It even boasts an unnervingly chipper and potentially psychopathic female AI who forms your main companion through the game. I can’t imagine where that idea might have come from, but I sure am GLAD that Savage Planet runs on my OS.
I’m not saying Savage Planet isn’t funny. It can be quite amusing, although many of the jokes aren’t as funny as the developers seem to think they are. Certainly, they must find fart-noises funnier than I do, because every other alien you encounter seems to make them. Nonetheless, the fake adverts really do look like crappy 80s TV ads from another dimension, and I always enjoyed the videos from Kindred’s hare-brained CEO.
Beyond the jokes, though, Savage Planet’s parodying really doesn’t have a lot to say other than “Capitalism is BAD”. I always find this somewhat rich coming from multi-million-dollar video-game companies, like a workhouse owner lamenting how thin all the poor people look. I’m not necessarily having a go at Savage Planet specifically; Fallout and The Outer Worlds are equally culpable here. Nonetheless, Savage Planet’s satirical element doesn’t really have a clear objective. If the games industry wants to make valid critiques of capitalism, it could start with examining how it treats its designers as disposable assets that can be worked to the bone and then offloaded once a project is finished.
In the end, there were two elements amongst Savage Planet’s jumble of themes and features that I thought significant. The first is how it respects your time. Savage Planet manages to condense the sense of freedom and exploration of much bigger open world games into a much more digestible package. You can complete the story in under 10 hours, and see everything in maybe 20. It a healthy length, but it knows not to outstay its welcome. And I respect it for that.
Secondly, I love the expressiveness in the game’s animations. These are most evident in your character’s own hands. Typhoon Studio squeeze so much personality out of your movements and gestures. But it's also visible in the planet’s wildlife. I particularly enjoyed the sticky grenades, watching hostile creatures trying to yank and pull themselves out of the quagmire you’ve just thrown at their feet.
Out of everything the game contains, this is the one element that Savage Planet truly makes its own. Sadly, it’s not quite enough for me to recommend the game outright. It’s a pleasant enough distraction, but at no point did I feel especially gripped or intrigued by it. If you’re stuck for something to play after the driest of Januarys, you could certainly do worse. Just don’t expect to come away feeling bowled over.
April 7 2020 | 14:00