PAX West 2019: Journey to the Savage Planet Joyfully Rejects the AAA Doom and Gloom
Typhoon Studios is officially over the grayscale worlds and gruff anti-heroes they spent years crafting for major publishing labels. That couldn't be more obvious than it is with Journey to the Savage Planet.
From its absurdist humor to its vibrantly varied biomes and even its briefer but denser runtime, JTSP is everything AAA game design is not. Typhoon wants to dazzle you for 15 to 20 hours of gameplay, not drag you along for the third act of another Checklist Epic.
They like it that way, and they hope you do, too. I know I certainly did.
As someone who often has a hard time staying interested in the latter acts of some sandbox games, the thought of playing in a unique world like JTSP's for just 15-20 hours sounds like a dream come true. Not just because the game won't take too long — I can find that in plenty of games — but also because in my 30 minutes with the game, it was one of my favorite demos at PAX West.
JTSP is an exploration game at heart, and while Typhoon's Community Manager Denis Lanno and I took on a boss and fast traveled to several combat areas, this is chiefly a colorful Metroidvania meant to make you smile. It's really good at that.
With its gorgeously weird world full of oblong flora, magical fauna, and absurd infomercials playing on your spaceship in bright oranges, blues, purples, and greens, the planet looks more like a box of crayons sent through a blender than something aptly named "savage." It's clearly meant to be ironic.
Still, the heart of the demo — for me — was its traversal mechanics. I double-jumped over huge gaps; I grappled to the sides of massive flowers; I scaled walls using boogery plants; and I grinded on some of the world's naturally gnarly terrain. It was this last part that made me vocalize the very Sunset Overdrive feelings JTSP gave me.
Even as so much of the game's design was different, such as its first-person versus Sunset's third, or a Metroidvania experience versus a sandbox one, ultimately, my developer teammate liked the comparison and said Sunset Overdrive is sort of a spiritual guide for them. It was a game that eschewed normal practices and decided to make a name for itself by cutting through all the red tape it could have been wrapped up in.
"We used to have to call a meeting for every little idea," Denis said, with no love lost for the AAA world.
Sunset Overdrive still had the backing of Microsoft, though, making JTSP feel even riskier. It takes some guts to ditch the blockbuster franchises you're working on to not only build up a new studio but to then get to work on a game that ignores everything you've done until then.
With heads of studio responsible for previous mega-franchises like Assassin's Creed and Far Cry, it seems this refresh is more like a mission statement for Typhoon Studios. In that way, Sunset Overdrive's punk ethos does still shine through in the studio's upcoming debut.
Journey to the Savage Planet is Typhoon's irreverent middle finger, delivered with a see-ya-suckers grin, to the gritty games and prying publishers of their collective past.
JTSP is set to release on January 28, 2020 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. It will be exclusive to the Epic Games Store on PC.
For more coverage from PAX West 2019, be sure to head over to our PAX West 2019 hub.