The quality gap between big-budget games and those made by smaller studios is constantly narrowing, and Typhoon Studios’ latest effort, Journey to the Savage Planet is a testament to that fact. The beautifully colourful adventure certainly isn’t perfect, but what it lacks in AAA sheen it more than makes up for in humorous tone and mildly unsettling parallels to the real world.
The initial story is nothing new – you’re stuck on an alien world with a busted up ship that needs repairing so you can get back to Earth, but the finer details are where things get a little more interesting. You’re there because you work for the fourth-best interstellar exploration company, Kindred Aerospace, which has tasked you with cataloguing the planet’s flora, fauna and structures to determine if it can sustain human life or whether it can be exploited by the company. In other words, you play as a nameless cog in the corporate machine, maaann.
Equipped with a scanner and a growing collection of upgradable tools, JTTSP thrusts you into a floating world teeming with environmental puzzles. Figuring out how to manipulate the planet and its inhabitants is how you’ll progress, either through gaining access to new areas or the ingredients required to craft a shiny new toy that’ll unlock doors elsewhere. It almost feels like one gigantic Zelda dungeon, only you have a gun instead of a sword.
While you’ll certainly need to use that gun to defend yourself against some of the planet’s more aggressive fauna (and harvest their juicy inners, of course), the experience doesn’t feel like a shooter in a traditional sense, and it’s all the better for it. It’s way more satisfying to finally get to an area outside of your reach than it is to smash a weird floating squid into 20 pieces of collectable goop.
JTTSP also feels a little like Valve’s first-person puzzle series, Portal, sometimes through the challenges it presents, but mostly because its humour is incredibly similar. Your journey is almost constantly accompanied by an AI assistant that doesn’t really care if you live or die, just like the company it was programmed by. Hell, Kindred could even be an offshoot of Portal‘s Aperture Science.
Every time you venture back to your ship to craft some new goodies, you’ll also be treated to a number of dizzyingly manic video advertisements for fake products, all of which feel kinda like the Interdimensional Cable episode of Rick & Morty. You can get a taste of what I’m talking about in the trailer below.
On the other side of the coin, your vibrant, aesthetically joyous journey is generously seasoned with underlying themes of destructive capitalism and the environmental damage it causes. How I perceived this wild juxtaposition constantly morphed – Sometimes it was hilarious, sometimes it cut just a little too close to the bone, and sometimes it was downright depressing.
The parallels to working life’s everyday grind are hard to miss, and if you’ve ever worked for a big hulking corporation in any kind of shit-kicking role, you’ll know what I’m talking about here. But you have to respect a piece of entertainment that can conjure these kinds of emotions all while keeping you engaged enough to see the whole experience through to the end.
Just like real life, you can absolutely ignore your employer and do whatever the hell you want, which means there are a couple of different endings to JTTSP depending on how you choose to play. Either way, you’ll get a chance to explore the entire planet and collect all of its valuables if you choose.
Our pals over at Kotaku Australia have some great gameplay footage online if you’re keen to see more of how it all works.
If you like exploring, puzzles, a good laugh and griefing cutesy animals in the name of corporate progress, give Journey to the Savage Planet a whirl. It’s out now for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.Image: 505 Games