Journey to the Savage Planet is not just the the first game from Typhoon Studios, but the first game from Far Cry 4 and Assassin's Creed III director Alex Hutchinson since going independent.
Hutchinson is a developer of considerable pedigree, having also been lead designer on The Sims 2 and Spore. He's joined at the Canadian studio by fellow co-founders Yassine Riahi and Reid Schneider. Between the three of them, they've worked at Electronic Arts, Warner Bros., THQ, and Gameloft.
Typhoon was actually acquired by Google Stadia in December last year to bolster its growing games division. Is Journey to a Savage Planet able to deliver the goods, though? And how does Hutchinson perform with a smaller team, outside the constraints of Ubisoft's particular brand of sandbox game?
A satirical Metroid-inspired collectathon, Journey to the Savage Planet has been met with mixed critical reception. Clearly taking notes from games like The Outer Worlds and No Man's Sky, critics say it still manages to stand on its own two feet. However, others found the game also unfortunately weighed down by its Far Cry genetics.
"Journey To The Savage Planet just wants you to have the best possible time"
Nick Gillett, The Metro
This is a point illustrated by Joe Skrebels in his six out of ten review for IGN: "Perhaps its biggest fault is that, as time goes on, it feels as though it can't quite escape the inexorable gravitational pull towards combat video games so often have, ending with a feeling of 'cut-price Far Cry', rather than the grand science fiction experiment it could and perhaps should have been."
Leaning heavily on humour to sell itself, Journey to the Savage Planet walks a thin line between hit and flop. While some reviewers revelled in the fart-laced corporate satire and surreal FMV advertisements, others criticised its lack of substance and failure to fully commit.
Journey to the Savage Planet appears to be a game at war with itself. It wants to be a pulp sci-fi adventure that sees the player abandoned by their corporate overlords on some distant planet filled with strange terrors; but theme conflicts with substance, resulting in a game that slowly loses its appeal as the hours drag on and the game's shortcomings become more apparent.
As Steven Scaife writes in his scathing two star review for Slate: "The game's themes feel like facile wallpaper over mechanics that still feed into the same ideas being critiqued."
This is a view supported by Christopher Byrd in his unflattering review for The Washington Post, wherein he highlights the game's failure to deliver in a few key areas.
"Yep, colonialism was bad and video game design often uses weapons as a crutch around which to build other gameplay mechanics, but here still is a game where you spend a good amount of time shooting hostile aliens," he writes. "And yes, microtransactions are an easy straw man to poke fun of as an example of corporate greed, but Journey to the Savage Planet isn't exactly bucking conventions... Its gameplay progression is fairly pedestrian, its combat is so-so and its boss fights seem there for obligation."
Vikki Blake, however, writes in her positive review for Eurogamer: "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 player motivation in Journey to the Savage Planet is fixing up your busted spaceship, gathering data on where you landed, and getting the hell out of there. It's a classic episode setup found in basically any sci-fi TV show, stretched out over 12 to 15 hours. By almost all accounts, it's filled with weird and wonderful aliens, beautiful vistas and plenty of stuff to do as you unlock upgrades and the world unfolds before you.
As Nick Gillett writes in his eight out of ten review for the Metro: "Journey To The Savage Planet just wants you to have the best possible time. It gently nudges you to explore as much as possible and not to forget about its enormous stock of secrets, which ping you relentlessly when you're near one. It even has a built-in customer satisfaction survey disguised as paperwork from your boss. It's quite clearly a labour of love, and really, really wants to bring you along for the ride."
Blake echoes this sentiment, praising the freedom and vibrancy of the world: "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 [the ship's AI is] so keen for us to find the fuel and get home. I'm pretty sure I never want to leave here."
"For all its grand ambitions, Savage Planet ultimately falls back on tired ideas to see it through to an underwhelming end"
Joe Skrebels, IGN
Whether positive or negative, the reception still broadly agrees on one thing with Journey to the Savage Planet: it's a cocktail of different influences, and the mileage you get from that depends on the individual.
For example, as Phil Iwaniuk writes in his positive review for PC Gamer: "It's not doing something radical in its own right, but the blend of established genres and mechanics at the heart of Journey to the Savage Planet are still expertly chosen and blended together like a muso's mixtape."
Meanwhile, apparent Star Trek fan Jeremy Peel finds a lot to love about the game in his four star review for VG247: "Even now though, with the tower delved and the ship refueled, I'm finding it difficult to leave. How can I when, just today, I realised that it's possible to use the blast of a Bombegranate to punt my protagonist to a distant floating island? Or that, if I leave a bundle of crafting carbon near the entrance of a dark den, the valuables will draw out the Burglesnatch?
"As any Trekkie will tell you, discovery is addictive, and Journey to the Savage Planet is almost all discovery."
Meanwhile, Skrebels is less generous: "Journey to the Savage Planet is a game with a lot of nice ideas -- trying to single-handedly twist a well-worn genre into new and exciting shapes -- but ultimately doesn't quite have the courage to commit to them. There's a lot to enjoy, particularly in its opening hours, but for all its grand ambitions, Savage Planet ultimately falls back on tired ideas to see it through to an underwhelming end.
Developed by a team of less than 30 in the span of three years, Journey to the Savage Planet seemingly aspires to ridiculous fun rather than greatness, and leans into its strengths to compensate for its weaknesses; as such, it's a game where personal preference trumps cold, hard critique. As a game with a clear niche, divisive reviews usually indicate something interesting as opposed to something bad.