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A refreshingly laid back adventure with a bit of a bumpy landing

What makes the early game so appealing is the opportunity to discover and experiment at your (and potentially your partner’s, as the whole game can be played co-operatively) leisure. You can ignore the objectives and suggestions to simply go off and explore; the world is littered with flora and fauna to scan, all with their own curiosities and flavour text, and although your offensive options are mostly limited to an energy pistol (and the back of your hand) there’s a lot of hilarious variety to how you can interact with the planet’s creatures.

You unlock greater traversal abilities over time Metroid style, cash in resources for better gear, and can usually spot some life-expanding orange goo just out of reach tempting you to make your way to it. There are also items like bait and portable bouncy pads you can use to tackle puzzles in whatever way you like.

The whole game can be played with two players.

The whole game can be played with two players.

Still, while there’s a lot of freedom in how you noodle around, the design’s overall openness is something of an illusion and that becomes more apparent the further you progress.

You might have the option to continue searching for a particular resource or upgrade rather than heading back to your ship to progress the story, but in truth you would have had to go and do those things anyway. The back half of the game also funnels you more and more towards prescribed scenarios and combat, which had me longing for more of the early hours exploration and surprise.

This is a funny game, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste. There’s a Starship Troopers vibe to the video messages from your employer, and a lot of the other media from Earth you can view in your ship is an effective but familiar kind of absurdist apocalyptic political commentary. The gags at the expense of Silicon Valley and the homogeneity of mega corporations speak to the designers’ history in huge video game companies, though take on something of an ironic edge now the studio is technically a part of Google.

The funniest stuff is out in the world where, despite a preponderance of extremely juvenile poop jokes, slapstick interactions and clever writing frequently elicits a chuckle. I especially appreciate the sardonic quips of your AI companion, which are contextual enough to taunt you about dying while after a specific goal, or reassure you if you decide to ignore a main objective to go and scan stuff.

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As much as I loved exploring this world and cataloguing all its weird and wonderful inhabitants, it was certainly a case of diminishing returns. Part of that was that I’d become accustomed to the world, but I also feel like the game couldn’t help but fall back on the structures and tropes of open world shooters, even as it tried to reject those experiences to focus on the collecting and upgrading. Fighting things was my least favourite part of the game, but it becomes more and more central to your upgrade path as you go.

That said the brevity of the game helps gloss over those kinds of pacing issues, and smart additional objectives like the wacky scientific experiments means there’s almost always something for you to do if you’re trying to avoid the main mission.

Journey to the Savage Planet is out now for Xbox One (reviewed), PC and PS4.

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