PAX West 2019 Hands-on: Journey to the Savage Planet

It seems to be a trend recently in games to tell serious, “deep,” or dark stories. Something to try and grip your attention, affect your emotions, or just…you know, be violent and aggressive. I’m not complaining, I’m a sucker for games with melancholic tones. If a video game can create feeling in my cold dead heart, I consider it a success!

It’s not just games, really, but nearly every entertainment medium seems to be pushing “dark” or gritty stories right now. While that’s great and all, sometimes we need a comedy to lighten the load. Something more lighthearted to remind us that not everything is bad, right?

Enter Journey to the Savage Planet, a game that the developers are referring to as an “earnest comedy.” While the title definitely conjures up images of a gritty and violent game, the reality is anything but. Hell, before I had a chance to go hands on, a couple cursory glances at the game’s booth while walking around the PAX floor led me to believe that this was yet another serious first-person shooter.

Typhoon Studios, the studio behind Savage Planet, is made up of some serious talent. The founders of the studio cut their teeth on titles like the Batman Arkham series, Assassins Creed 3, and Far Cry 4. Like so many creators recently, though, they left the “AAA” world behind to form their own studio, with this game being their freshman release.

Savage Planet is a co-op focused game, although you can play solo. While the game is presented like an open-world first-person shooter, the actual premise is a bit different. You play as a scientist, dropped on to an alien planet to determine if it’s fit for human habitation.

While you do have an energy pistol to help protect you against some aggressive wildlife, much of the game is centered around exploration and discovery. My demo was done in co-op with one of the game’s developers, and he essentially took me on a guided tour of part of the world to show me some of the various things you can see in this game.

Right off the bat, he leads me through a segment that requires platforming…something that’s almost never done well in 3D first-person games. Unfortunately, the same is true here, as I found jumping between platforms to be slippery and unwieldy. I often found myself overshooting platforms as I struggled to get used to the momentum of my jumps.

Luckily that part didn’t last long, and I can’t say I had any other major complaints about my experience from there. I was given a tour of some of the world’s peaceful wildlife, including balloon-like bird creatures that I popped with my gun, because my gamer reflexes told me that if something moves it should be shot.

As I was guided around this admittedly impressive-looking colorful world Typhoon created, I found myself wishing I could’ve had the freedom to explore around on my own rather than having my hand guided. Having a dev with me did help in some moments, though; the portion of the game I played took place after the game’s demo, where some mechanics I would’ve never guessed on my own were explained.

One of these was a set of items that allowed me to create my own path to traverse up a giant canyon wall. Throwing these “grapple seeds,” as they were called, at certain materials created a point that I could use my grappling hook to reach. An interesting (and fun in action) concept, but one that wasn’t explained in the demo and I would’ve never found without help.

The dev then led me to an area with an aggressive tiger-like enemy to show that, yes, even this exploration-focused game does still have gunplay. The various systems in play are more simplified than dedicated action games, only giving me access to a quick dodge and pulling the trigger to fire off some shots. I did have some grenade-like items in my inventory that helped finish off the creature quickly.

From here my guided tour continued rather calmly as we attempted to reach a mission marker on the game’s map…only to fall off some platforms and die, respawning at the starting point. Unfortunately my time was limited with the demo due to other meetings, so I had to cut out at this point after about twenty minutes hands on.

The developers I spoke to mentioned that the keywords behind this game’s development were “optimistic” and “humorous.” While I can see the colorful environment and mostly peaceful aesthetic matching the “optimistic” quality, I didn’t see all that much humor during my demo. Sure, we had birds popping into goo and healing myself by eating random mysterious plants and creatures in the environment, but nothing in the demo really tickled my funny bone. Admittedly this was a short demo of what the developer says will be a twelve-hour game, so I’ll reserve my final critique on its humor until I can have the full experience.

As a co-op focused game, I had to ask the developer: does Savage Planet offer couch co-op? Unfortunately, that answer is a “no.” They did mention it’s something that may be on the horizon, but not at launch.

Overall, Journey to the Savage Planet seems like a solid title that’s a bit more relaxing compared to everything else going on at PAX. I’m not sure if it’s really my kind of game, but I also feel that my little taste didn’t really do the game justice. Maybe its humor will be more apparent in the full release?

Journey to the Savage Planet is set for release on January 28th, 2020, for PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Epic Games Store.

Screenshots courtesy of 505 Games.