I’m Not Buying It
HIGH Getting the double jump and realizing there’s a triple jump available.
LOW There’s no map.
WTF There’s no map!?
Journey to the Savage Planet proposes a spacefaring future of corporate dystopia — it’s essentially an off-kilter Metroid Prime where an astronaut working for an interstellar corporation crash-lands her cut-rate spaceship on a “planet” consisting of a giant tower and the floating rocks that surround it. The only way home is to explore, find enough fuel to get home, and maybe find enough resources to make herself rich.
Basically, the main character is a jerk slaving away for an even bigger jerk. Unfortunately, it goes nowhere with this idea, and the rest of the experience is uneven.
It’s easy on the eyes at least. The planet is a bright and colorful world where the player shoots cute creatures until they die and then sucks up all the resources that fall out of them. This sets up a clumsy thrust at satire, articulated further by weird live-action commercials and chipper messages from the CEO of the corporation that sent out the ship.
Fundamentally, though, the core activities of Savage Planet fit a relatively common template: explore the environment, scan objects to learn more about them, and grab all the resources you can see. Savage Planet doesn’t hold out any alternative to underline the emptiness of these pursuits, nor does it make the exploitation the player carries out extreme enough to become absurd. As a result, the anti-capitalist satire feels like window dressing, even when a disembodied voice harangues the player about the evils of consumerism on the way to the final boss.
In the pursuit of more stuff, the player can meet her end repeatedly. On death, the player gets “reprinted” all the way back at the ship, and must venture back to the vicinity of her body in order to retrieve lost resources. The reprinting sequence is funny the first few times, but not funny enough to make up for the annoyance of trudging all the way back to where I was, and especially not when I died before activating the nearest of the game’s sparsely distributed teleportation platforms.
Death, when it came, most often came in combat. Savage Planet offers the player a single gun, an almost useless piece of equipment possessing the offensive firepower of a kindergarten-variety spitball. It can be upgraded, of course, but this solves almost none of its problems. Almost every dangerous creature in the world is effectively immune to it, except when shot in the ever-boring Glowing Weak Point.
The GWPs in Savage Planet are finicky and often require more precise aim than the controls can deliver, particularly on console. Beyond that, they simply don’t always work, and on several occasions I pumped a whole clip of ammunition into an exposed GWP to no effect. As such, combat becomes a process of maneuvering around or using various tools to gain a chance to shoot an enemy in a too-small and possibly immune GWP. Unsurprisingly, this becomes drudgery long before the game ends.
The gun is supplemented by an array of tools that the astronaut carries in her left hand. Some of these come from the ship, including bait that can lure animals and a tool for analyzing them. Most, however, are found in the environment by shooting large pods hanging all over the place, or by plucking them off of alien plants. Some of these add offensive capabilities such as explosive and electrical attacks. Others expand mobility, like quick-sprouting bounce pads and seeds that sprout grapple points.
As one might expect from a world made up of a bunch of big rocks floating in space, much of a player’s progress through Savage Planet relies on platforming. I rarely love doing that from a first-person perspective (and I didn’t here) but Savage Planet did an excellent job in this regard. It certainly didn’t hurt that the game unlocks a double-jump early (and a triple- and quadruple- jump are available if the player works at it) and that both this and the game’s grappling hook had excellent feel.
Savage Planet has some metroidvania characteristics, in that certain tools and abilities gate major areas and secrets. This results in revisiting previous areas, but even though the game is about mapping out an alien planet there is no in-game map, making much of the backtracking prohibitively tedious. This lack of a map interferes with the main journey, too — after not playing for a few days, it took me an almost hour to get my bearings back.
Journey to the Savage Planet is the definition of a mixed bag. The goofy live-action bits, cute creatures and overall aesthetic have a ton of charm, but the satire feels oafishly delivered and underdone. The first-person platforming is a cut above, but the combat is tedious and unpleasant, and the exploration is hamstrung by an unwieldy teleporter system and the absurd absence of a map. There’s a lot to like about Savage Planet, but I was also more than ready to be done with it long before it asked me to shoot dozens of GWPs on its engagingly ugly final boss.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Typhoon Studios and published by 505 Games. It is currently available on PS4, PC, and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 12 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed with the good ending. No time was devoted to the co-op mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood and Gore, Crude Humor, Language, Use of Drugs, and Violence. While I don’t disagree with any of that, it’s all presented in a very cartoony and cutesy way, and the light tone obscures how disturbing some of it would be if taken seriously. Any kid who has reached middle school can probably handle this just fine.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Sound is not a strictly necessary adjunct to play, but various sounds do serve as very helpful warnings about what nearby monsters are doing, and they do not come with visual cues.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.