Video games do exploration better than any other medium. It’s awe-inspiring to roam the sand-covered dunes in Assassin’s Creed Origins or the alien planets in No Man’s Sky. But exploration, as showcased by those two examples, often comes with an intimidating amount of scale. JOURNEY TO THE SAVAGE PLANET?is keen on evoking that same sense of wonder yet in a play space that isn’t measured in square miles or the amount of planets it houses. And, through a well-paced upgrade loop and interesting world, it manages to bottle that adventuring spirit in a more digestible package.
As the title suggests, Journey to the Savage Planet takes place on a singular planet with three decently sized zones and has the vague overarching goal of cataloging its flora and fauna. There’s no map or oppressive waypoint system that leads you by the nose from mission to mission; it’s just up to you to make your way about.
While that would be daunting in many other games, Journey to the Savage Planet is sized to where players will naturally stumble upon their goals without getting too lost. “Too” is the operative word there because the game’s waypoints don’t give a direct path to your goal.
It’s up to you to find that path for yourself, which takes some light trial and error as you piece together what ledges lead to where. Getting sidetracked and eating orange alien goo (don’t ask) or completing side missions is part of the fun and that fluidity to go between objectives also helps maintain the game’s spontaneous and adventurous atmosphere. Comparatively smaller environments ensure you don’t ever get truly disoriented either and point out how well the game balances exploration and linear design.
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And because the game organically gives you missions once you hit a roadblock and then tasks you with figuring out the solution with only slight nudges, it’s inherently satisfying to play. You’re doing a lot of the heavy legwork and plenty of video games don’t usually give that gift to the player. It fits the title’s themes, too, since no one knows what this planet is like so you’re all discovering it together as you catalog each and every bit of the world with your trusty scanner.
Scanning both teaches you about the various bits of life floating around on the titular savage planet and is one of the core gameplay pillars that supplements the more active aspects of the game. Exploring, scanning, and upgrading all work in tandem together to create a cohesive experience where each element benefits from the last. Exploring lets you scan which, in turn, opens up more upgrades so you can get to more places and scan more efficiently while also being more effective in combat.
Upgrades run the gamut from stat increases to new abilities and the game paces all of them out evenly through its 10-hour runtime. From gobbling alien goo to increase your health and stamina to building (and upgrading) your jump pack, there’s always a rewarding sense of growth, especially given how all of the systems are tied together. While not overstuffed, the world is dense with valuable resources, which means that your curiosity is almost always compensated as paths almost always contain goodies.
Although these upgrades don’t quite ever make the shooting the best part of the experience as the default pistol remains rather inaccurate despite the resources you dump into it. The game isn’t a twitch shooter and is built with that in mind, but the jerky reticle can occasionally make blasting some of the smaller targets overly difficult. Upgrades aren’t as vital for the jump pack and grappling hook as they start out from a better place and only get stronger as the game progresses, further enhancing the moment to moment systems since movement just feels good.
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Journey to the Savage Planet encourages that players use these various tools in ways that react with the sandbox it presents. Common sense dictates what happens when you stick a bombegranate on an innocent pufferbird and kick it into a crowd, but it’s still satisfying to come up with a plan like that and execute it. Just be sure to not open up the pause menu after you carry out your twisted plans because none of the menus actually pause the game, which is a bizarre oversight.
Many poor and clueless pufferbirds will die because of these purposeful and accidental experiments because the world bites back. Unexpected chain reactions (which happen more in co-op) can cause mayhem that can throw your plans askew in result in some player-driven comedy that video games do so well. More options would have been welcome but it works well enough since the game doesn’t drag on long enough for its bag of tricks to lose their surprise.
Unscripted chaos can be silly but the game also has some scripted comedy that works well, too. Codex descriptions are written with wit, your sarcastic companion robot’s judgmental quips are often worth a chuckle, and the live action videos that skewer consumerism and crappy corporate practices are mostly dumb enough to work in spite of a few mediocre bits. The physical comedy of kicking a dorky space bird into orbit as it chirps can’t be topped, but the game’s script does a commendable job of complementing that more spontaneous sense of humor. Journey to the Savage Planet?is a funny game that manages to succeed without trying too hard and suffocating the player with an endless barrage of bad poop jokes or lazy meme humor. There are poop jokes but, like the experience as a whole, they’re well paced and done well enough.
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Both styles of comedy also don’t get in the way of the story, which is thankfully light and unobtrusive. Your mission to scout out a planet devoid of intelligent life gets a bit more complicated as it becomes apparent that some alien race has been there before you. Uncovering the mystery is compelling enough to read about in the occasional collectible or text log but never asks you to or mandates it from you aside from the slight info dump around the last encounter. It’s all opt-in storytelling and that is a good move for a game that’s all about the exploration.
The exploration serves as the centerpiece of Journey to the Savage Planet and almost all of its other parts enhance it or are enhanced by it. It is usually some symbiotic fusion of the two as exploring opens the doors for more upgrades which unlocks more places to explore. And it does this all within a modest runtime that doesn’t beg for your every hour for months on end in order to yield a satisfying amount of adventuring. Such an outlook is refreshing that we should see more often from this style of game. It makes it clear that for every No Man’s Sky, there should also be a Journey to the Savage Planet. The universe is big enough for the both of them, which is ironic, given how the latter’s insistence that scale isn’t everything.
GameRevolution reviewed Journey to the Savage Planet on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.