Journey to the Savage Planet Review: A Delightfully Twisted Sci-fi Satire
Let's just get this out of the way right off the bat: Journey to the Savage Planet is a very weird game. Don't get me wrong, that is meant to be a total compliment, it just needs to be stated in order help you understand what you're getting into with this one. You might have watched the trailer for Journey and thought it looked like another Outer Worlds/Fallout in space type of adventure. This ain't that, folks, but that's more than okay. Journey to the Savage Planet is a delightfully twisted tale wrapped in a supremely silly package, and you'll find yourself giggling through the entire game, even if it doesn't last as long as expected.
Journey to the Savage Planet begins with your "protagonist", a faceless character hired by a greedy and flailing company to explore distant worlds, landing on the planet AR-Y 26. Through a wacky live-action video, which proves just how little the Kindred company and CEO Martin Tweed actually care about you or the planet, your character is tasked with heading out into the wild and to learn what you can about AR-Y and find additional fuel to get yourself home, since you weren't sent with very much to begin with. Eventually you realize that there is intelligent life on the planet and your quest then pivots to discovering the secrets hidden at its core.
The premise sounds very normal on the surface, but it only takes a couple of moments of playing to realize just how strange and petty the game actually is. You learn quickly that your character isn't actually a hero at all, but rather a pawn for a large corporation that simply wants an innocent planet's resources for itself. The first creatures you encounter are adorable and innocent Pufferbirds, which are confirmed by your scanner to love you unconditionally. However, when you learn that they contain resources like carbon, you're told by your incredibly sassy AI sidekick, "Oh it's okay, kill them!" You proceed to backhand slap the Pufferbird, cause it to explode into a pile of goo, and proceed to collect its insides.
That microscopic moment in the opening minutes of Savage Planet tells you everything need to know about the game itself. You're referred to as "Colonizer" on multiple occasions and are told that your gun is "the most important tool for any colonizer." You essentially play the role of Christopher Columbus and the hordes of colonialists that found themselves on the shores of America. Regardless of how innocent the life and culture on this beautiful planet seem to be, you destroy, pillage, and steal as much as you can in the name of finding new land for your ultra-rich overlords. Just look at the name: Journey to the Savage Planet isn't exactly subtle, is it?
No matter how evil your character may be, however, the experience of the journey is no less enjoyable. Yes, you're bad, but the game makes its intentions more than crystal clear. Every joke or quip from the various live-action videos in your ship or the incessantly horrible AI working alongside you is a direct jab at the darkest moments of our nation's history. It also uses sci-fi elements and things like crippling loan debt to drive home the point that we haven't exactly learned much over the last few hundred years.
Hilarity is certainly Savage Planet's strong suit, and the backslapping, goo-throwing gameplay is loads of fun to figure out, save for a couple of little hiccups here and there. However, the game is a bit lacking when it comes to its length and overarching narrative story. Journey to the Savage Planet is much, much shorter than you think. It feels like a massive open-world RPG when you first start playing, but once you reach the story's climax you realize just how small and contained it actually is. Just when you think you're reaching the halfway point of the story, it all ends very suddenly. There's more to do after you finish the main campaign, but it's a little hard to get back into it once you realize there's really nothing more to uncover. Unless you're a die-hard completionist, then this epilogue might really be fun for you.
There's nothing inherently wrong with having a short game; in fact, it's actually a nice break from time to time. It's only disappointing with Savage Planet because everything seemed so much grander in the opening few hours. Some DLC down the road would be really nice.
Journey to the Savage Planet is a layered and searing portrait of colonialism that will make you laugh throughout, and it plays so much more like an off-the-wall N64 RPG with updated graphics than any of the adventurous space epics on the shelf today. That's to say it's confident in its absurdity and knows that "groundbreaking" and "fun" don't have to go hand-in-hand. It's hard not to enjoy the time you'll spend on AR-Y 26.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Journey to the Savage Planet is now available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.