When you hear the title Journey to the Savage Planet, you might well think, Things are gonna get ugly here. After all, a qualifier like savage conjures up wary images of nasty, brutal beasties that are always lurking and ready to chomp off a leg.
But this deep-space game set on a distant, creature-filled planet is actually much more smiling than sharp toothed. It wants you to explore, not explode. And the whole adventure is more whimsical and, well, goofy than anything else.
You wear the first-person space helmet of an average Joe settler/scout sent to the planet AR-Y 26. It seems good ol’ planet Earth has become unlivable thanks to some unnamed plague or environmental disaster. A corporation called Kindred Aerospace is one of several space organizations (the fourth best of the lot, we’re told) trying to help resettle Earth’s refugees—while making a bit of cash in the process, of course.
Turns out Kindred’s a pretty rinky-dink operation, and we soon hit the new planet’s surface (and I do mean hit) with little more than a limping, patched-together ship and a 3D printer. Through a series of live-action videos that look like they were shot on somebody’s second-hand smartphone, we’re invited to venture forth.
Our job is to explore the planet and to bring back carbon deposits, plant byproducts and minerals so that the 3D printer can transform those things into usable tools and weapons. Oh, and along with the need to explore, players also make regular reports about the planet’s inhabitation potential, ponder how to repair our ship and look for potential sources of fuel.
Otherwise … welcome home, space traveler!
Exploring AR-Y 26’s various open-world environs is the immediate gaming activity at hand. You’ll sally forth to scan every plant, animal and mineral deposit you can find to see if they’re something you can work with. From the usable bits, you craft an ever-growing collection of equipment and tools, such as a grappling hook and a jump-boosting jetpack, that let you explore further into the nooks, crannies and floating platform levels of the planet.
The plant life bestows health boosts when you gobble down slimy handfuls of it. Some plants can also be used as projectile explosives to help you make it past obstacles. And, yes, you’ll quickly craft a laser-like pistol to fend off hostile critters.
When you zap creatures—which range from small, ball-like oddities with gigantic eyes to an enormous monstrosity that looks like a cross between a scaly tree-lizard and a Snuffleupagus—they gush different colored goo that splatters about. (The creatures also drop carbon deposits you can craft with after they puff out of existence.) You’ll also encounter some saw-mouthed plants that suck up animals and gobble them whole or spew streams of acid-like gunk. And even some of those Kindred Aerospace videos can get a bit goopy with gelatinous-blob commercials and the suggestion of human limbs being fed into a meat grinder. But truthfully, none of that is as visually bad as it may sound.
There may be alien lifeforms to zap and beasty bosses to best, but Savage Planet doesn’t feel like a typical shooter. In fact, the shooting seems secondary (or tertiary?) here to the exploration and crafting aspect of things. You’re constantly gathering and building, and you’re called upon to keep pushing forward as you piece together this world’s real secrets. The potentially messy side of things, then, gets toned down by the game’s colorful, almost playful aesthetic.
That said, irreverent playfulness tiptoes across a line from time to time, too. Toilet giggles and crude humor sometimes enter into the mix. For instance, as you scan animals and plants, your computer AI reports information that you might find useful, and it’s always delivered with a cheeky grin. One odd-looking creature is labeled as a “festering butthole,” for example. And in another instance, the AI suggests you “enjoy responsibly” when encountering a hallucinogenic mist. Those Kindred videos I mentioned contain chuckling adult winks from time to time, too.
Journey to the Savage Planet is, in the final assessment, a playful sci-fi title that’s broad and colorful, blending the crafting and exploration play of a game like Minecraft with a dash of platforming, a little trigger-pulling and some winking snark. It’s not what you might come in expecting. But that can be a good thing, too—just as long as you don’t step in the game’s occasional goo.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.