The game puts players in the role of a lonely explorer that’s been dispatched to a relatively unknown corner of the galaxy by corporate overlords searching for habitable planets. It’s telling that the only note I wrote down over the more than twenty hours I spent with it comes from the beginning of the game when the A.I. companion who aides you on your expedition compliments you for acquiring a 3-D printed gun. “Now you have a weapon,” she says. “The single most important tool of any colonizer.”
Comedy is supposed to play a large part in “Savage Planet.” There are silly messages from your corporate headquarters and commercials for products like a mobile game with a titanic amount of microtransactions. But as with the aforementioned joke, the humor in “Savage Planet” is tame. 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. 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. Think what you will of its funny-looking creatures such as the Jellywaft — a flying jellyfish of sorts, or the Barfer, a creature whose existence is self-explanatory. Its gameplay progression is fairly pedestrian, its combat is so-so and its boss fights seem there for obligation.
As the story goes, your employer didn’t invest much thought into seeing you, in person, ever again. So, you must explore the planet — made up of a number of floating archipelagoes — to try to resupply your ship for a homeward voyage. The company credits you for scanning flora and fauna for clues and is, of course, interested in all of the data you collect. Travel between places is gated by obstacles requiring specific tools to overcome such as a grappling hook or pouches tailored to hold plant-based projectiles. And if you’ve played a fair number of Metroid-style games the treadmill of upgrades available here should pass by with hardly any notice. The most memorable (if that’s the word for it) obstacle in the game is the Meat Vortex, a flesh-eating plant that requires an offering before it’ll move its tendrils from blocking a pathway.
I found a number of exploits that made the more difficult fights easier. I baited some enemies into situations where they ended, quite inadvertently, suspended harmlessly in the air above me. At another point in the game I evaded a gauntlet of lasers by standing on a spot where I was obviously not supposed to be (on top of the electric dome projected above the lasers). I assume such exploits will be patched out but I was certainly glad to have used them. I found little reason to wish to prolong my “Journey to the Savage Planet.”
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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