Have you ever dreamed of being an astronaut? Well now you can live out those dreams as the latest recruit for the Pioneer Program at Kindred Aerospace, a low-budget version of SpaceX with a CEO that inspires a fraction of the confidence of Elon Musk. The game takes place in the very near future where Earth is starting to explore the galaxy by sending out one-man (two if you have a friend who wants to play co-op) probe ships. The adventure begins with you waking up just after your ship has crashed on planet ARY-26. After a brief pre-recorded message from your boss you quickly realize that you only had enough fuel to reach your destination and will need to search for a suitable substitute if you ever want to leave. But that is just the primary overarching mission that drives the entire narrative. There is so much more to do on ARY-26…like your job.
Journey to the Savage Planet is first and foremost an exploration and discovery game where you wander around wondrous and occasionally dangerous alien landscapes scanning every bit of flora and fauna you encounter to add it to your database. Leave no stone unturned and no crazy chicken creature un-scanned, as even the slightest variation in subspecies counts as a new entry for your database. You also get to collect all sorts of precious metals and materials that can be used in your handy 3D printer back on the ship. The 3D printer is the hub of your impressively large “skill tree” that provides for equipment upgrades to your weapons and other gadgets like your jetpack and even a cool grappling tether that will have you swinging around like Spider-Man in no time.
One of the more unique elements of Journey to the Savage Planet is the embedded humor whether you’re dealing with the sarcastic and occasionally passive-aggressive computer, EKO, who offers mission advice and color commentary, or the insane live-action commercials that play in rotation each time you return to your ship. Some of the best humor is cleverly embedded in the world design with crazy creatures, mysterious environments, and the unique ways in which they interact. For instance, one of the main creatures you encounter is this alien chicken; basically a giant feathered head with huge eyes, tiny legs and stubby wings. They are harmless enough until you happen to shoot one and then the entire flock will attack. Shoot them enough and they explode, often taking you with them. But there is also this other lifeform that grows on the rocks with a gapping maw full of razor-sharp teeth. If you can lure a chicken close enough the mouth spins up into this vacuum vortex and eats the chicken before retracting its roots to allow further progress.
But that is just how two species interact. There are several others including these screaming two-headed creatures that when shot will split down the middle and turn into two screaming creatures. There are these flying squids that shoot inky goo at you and another creature that will charge at you then fire projectiles from its tail. There is an eyestalk creature that can throw exploding pods at you if detected, but if you can avoid its laser-like vision and sneak up close you can poke it in the eye like one of the 3 Stooges. And there are even a few surprisingly good boss fights sprinkled throughout; perhaps not as many and not as challenging as I would have liked, but they are there nonetheless.
Normally games like this would use some sort of world-building code to generate the environments but it’s obvious that the landscape and the life that inhabits it were meticulously handcrafted for Journey to the Savage Planet. While there is an appearance of open-world design the missions and the way you approach them are quite linear. Exploration beyond the path from A to B is often rewarded by gated progress that requires some gadget or upgrades you yet to possess, and even when sticking to the scripted path you will encounter all sorts of “things” you’ll need to make a mental note for future visits. Journey to the Savage Planet is clearly designed around the Metroidvania concept of backtracking to previous areas once you acquire new abilities. It’s built right into the game the first time you reach a gap that requires a double-jump with a jetpack you don’t have or a ledge that requires a grapple gun yet to be crafted in the 3D printer.
All of the mechanics in Journey to the Savage Planet are totally derivative from countless games that have come before yet somehow weave together to craft something wholly unique and incredibly fun. There are plenty of quality of life features like hints and tips and even secondary missions that auto-load when you need something new to progress. There is even a fun fast-travel system that requires you to visit a portal the first time on foot before unlocking it for future use. Visual cues are built right into the world design, so it’s easy to know when/where you need to grapple or maybe use a seed to create a grapple point. You are even alerted when there is a nearby secret. There are fun gadgets, some you craft and some you collect like food to lure the chickens, sticky stuff to make them stay put, or even this jelly that makes things bounce. There are large mushrooms where you can collect grenade pods to throw and smaller mushrooms that you can kick like exploding soccer balls. There is so much to discover and once you do you then have to learn how to exploit those discoveries to achieve your objectives.
I played Journey to the Savage Planet on both the PC and the PS4. For the first two weeks the PC version was unplayable with sound and control issues that have since been resolved with a mid-February patch. During that time I played the game on the PS4 and I have to say there are no substantial differences between the two. This is partly due to the artistic design that isn’t pushing photo-realism or high-res textures. This is a very simple and eloquent design that takes that charming Borderlands vibe and ramps up the detail and color saturation to create a smooth and highly playable game on both systems. Obviously the PC offers some boosts if you have the power to back them. My RTX 2080ti was able to run this game at 60fps at 1440p with everything set to epic quality. You can also achieve 60fps at 4K resolution if you tweak a few settings down to high or medium, but given the nature of the art style I saw no difference between 1440 and 2160. Load times were obviously faster on the PC; maybe half of the PS4 version, which does add up with all the fast-traveling. Any differences between the two versions are purely superficial and unless you were making side-by-side comparisons (like me) you would never know, so just enjoy the game on whatever system you have.
It’s also worth calling out the fantastic sound package with a great Borderlands-style soundtrack, or at least that one song that keeps repeating with the twangy guitar (or banjo). The underlying music is perfect for exploration and puzzle-solving, and the score always kicks up during major encounters or the rare boss fight. The production levels for the Kindred videos and those wacky commercials are fantastic and the voice of EKO is perfect – I love sarcastic computers and this is the best since GLaDOS. The overall surround mix was fantastic with great spatial audio that puts the player right in the middle of this alien planet with all sorts of eerily wonderful sounds of life coming at you from all directions.
I had a blast with Journey to the Savage Planet on both the PS4 and the PC. I never had the opportunity to try the co-op play – I don’t really see the need for it other than to simply share the experience, as there were no situations or shared-puzzle solutions required, but it’s there if you want to share. The game is relatively short and could be beaten in around eight hours, but those who want to 100% complete the game can expect 12+ hours to scan and collect every last bit of alien info. Considering the game is only $30 you are getting a great value for the sheer amount of blissful entertainment you’ll experience as you explore this wonderful savage planet. This is one journey you don’t want to miss.