The first time I throw down a cannister of GROB, I’m not entirely sure what it is. As it explodes into a satisfying puddle of goo, the exotic creatures around me – my scanner tells me they’re Pufferbirds and they “like, love me”: it’s already reciprocal – screech a joyful, if alien, screech and waddle straight to it. Awed, I waddle right after them.
Moments later, their little bodies start contorting and their cheerful chirps fade. With dawning horror, I realise I’ve mindlessly thrown down this unspecified foodstuff without knowing anything about it – even though I’m playing a game with the word “savage” baked right into the title – noticing for the first time it’s labelled “bait” in my inventory. It’s too late for recriminations, though, isn’t it? These poor creatures are jitter-bugging their final death throes. I’ll be branded a Pufferbird Poisoner, I think. The Avicide Assassin. Spare me no leniency, I’ll wail, as they drag me from the dock. Don’t let me-
The convulsion ends in an obnoxiously noisy fart and a cloud of blue atoms spills out from beneath the Pufferbird’s backside. Its neighbour swiftly follows it up with a clamorous bottom-burp of its own. There’s another trouser toot from the corner of the cave – I hadn’t even spotted that one – and the faint luminosity of untapped atoms now presses softly against the dark walls of the cavern. I step cautiously towards them, still wary of upsetting the fowl, and gather my first resource – carbon – of the game.
Not all experimentation in Journey to the Savage Planet ends so innocuously, of course, but this initial encounter sets the template for what will probably be several hours’ worth of “ooh, I wonder what happens if I do THIS?”. I spend/waste a lot of time idly skipping through the striking regions of planet AR-Y 26, ears pricked for the telltale “gloop-gloop” sound that lets me know something gross but edible is pulsating close by. Other times there’ll be a gentle tinkle to tell me a rich vein of coveted resources – carbon or aluminium, perhaps – is close at hand, or a hypnotic musical sting will indicate a secret is hidden nearby.
The similarities to titles like No Man’s Sky and The Outer Worlds are numerous, and several mechanical aspects of the gameplay echo those of others, too, but to be fair to developer Typhoon, Journey to the Savage Planet cultivates its own charm. And oh – it’s so gorgeous here! There are craggy mountains and snowy vistas and leafy glades and icy caverns stuffed with indigo crystals. There are giant mushrooms and scolding lava falls and bulbous, explosive shrubs and hallucinogenic trees and plants that shoot fiery lasers at you. Pulsing sacs of… well, I don’t know what they’re made of, really, but they’ll drop seeds that can be trampolines or sticky traps or flowers strong enough to withstand a grapple tether. The game never tells you any of this, of course; it’s up to you to fiddle with the curious items in your inventory and experiment with the bright, bold world around you.
Most of AR-Y 26’s animal life is delighted to meet you, whilst others are unaffected by your presence. It troubles fewer still, which means you’ll only occasionally need to charge your infinity-ammo pistol and remind the critters you don’t necessarily come in peace. Journey to the Savage Planet isn’t a shooter in the traditional sense which is probably just as well; the floaty gunplay and frequent recharging mean intense combat sequences with tougher foes can be frustrating, especially if you’re looking to take down a boss or relieve a nearby vault of its precious cargo. So unless I’m collecting very specific resources that are only shed when certain species shrug off their mortal coils, I prefer to leave the wildlife be.
A lack of meaningful peril means you can indulge the whim to ignore your in-game objectives as often as you wish. Co-operative partners can float about as they please, free to explore different areas unchained from their companion. Regularly upgrading your equipment means there’s always a reason to jump into a handy transporter and revisit old ground, utilising your new tools to unlock areas that had hitherto been inaccessible.
Perhaps most amazingly of all, not once did I begrudge this; despite its dizzying verticality, the maps are contained enough and accessible enough to ensure you’re rarely far from your next objective, making backtracking a welcome distraction rather than a chore.
Mostly, though, you’ll spend your time leaping across AR-Y 26’s fascinating flora and fauna as you scout for resources that’ll help get your stranded ship up and running. You’re working for Kindred Aerospace – the fourth-best interstellar exploration company on earth, no less – which had mistakenly presumed this planet was devoid of intelligent life. The discovery of alien architecture suggests otherwise, but it’s up to you to traverse the world, collecting samples and data as you go, and locate what you need to get back home again.
Very occasionally, I encountered a problem. Sometimes, Savage Planet’s beasts glitched through the environment, once making it impossible to dispose of a key enemy to unlock a vault until I’d left and returned to the area via a transporter. Without a map to help orientate yourself, the waypoint compass system can be a little confusing, and on a couple of occasions, my handy respawn buddy spawned me in mid-air, which sent me spiralling to my death again. Not sackable offences, granted, and they didn’t happen often enough to mar my experience, but something to bear in mind, perhaps.
And it’s funny, too; honestly, genuinely comical. I know, I know – humour is in the beholder’s eye, and I’ve already told you about the farting. Beyond that, though, Journey to the Savage Planet is stuffed with gentle Portal-esque self-deprecation, often breaking the fourth wall and offering up some of the most impressive, and entertaining, FMV in-game videos and advertisements I’ve ever seen. The AI voice in your ear, EKO, is both informative and charming without ever becoming an irritant, but if you suspect you’d prefer a more solitary experience, you can tweak her chatterbox-ness in the settings.
There are missions and objectives to complete, of course, and items to unlock and upgrade via the wonders of your 3D printer, plus there’s plenty of collectibles, too (oh, how I love collectibles!) Succumb one too many times, however, and you’ll lose the resources you’ve collected thus far and be forced to make a Dark Souls-esque dash to retrieve them.
But good grief, there’s something so special about being untethered this way, free to float and stomp and cheese my way around this remarkable place, poking my head into the nooks and crannies as I meander along, admiring the friendly fauna I pass by. I don’t know why EKO’s so keen for us to find the fuel and get home. I’m pretty sure I never want to leave here.