This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Journey to the Savage Planet.
I hate when people say the human race is destroying the planet. Bitch, the human race can't even invent a permanent system of government that doesn't eventually lead to societal collapse! What the fuck do you think we could possibly do to worry a giant billion-year-old rock? No, the only thing the human race is destroying is the human race, and life on Earth goes on regardless; oh, sure, there are a lot of homeless koalas in the world right now thanks to climate change, but I'm sure the cockroaches and the urban foxes will remember us all quite fondly when they're ruling over the remnants of our cities. "Climate change reversal! Don't do it for the forest or the little hoppy bunnies; do it so you can keep sitting on your fat arse stuffing sustainably-sourced Pringles into that slime-covered catcher's mitt you call a face!" Feel free to use that slogan uncredited, ecological groups.
What was I talking about? Oh yeah. In the spirit of fucking the planet, here's a game based around the common, if slightly wishful, sci-fi notion of going to a whole other planet and getting a do-over on the planet-fucking: Journey to the Fucking-- I mean, Savage Planet. And now I've said the word "planet" so many times, I sound like a stuttering middle manager trying to delegate work outings.
Journey to the Cabbage Punnet's premise is that you are a faceless adventurer who has been dispatched to an uninhabited planet by the corporation that presides over a thoroughly-fucked Earth in the hope of finding a new home for humanity, only to find it's slightly less uninhabited than previously thought. I say "faceless"; you do get to pick your face early in the game from several options, and with my usual devil-may-care sense of humor, I chose the picture of a dog, and then had to spend the entire game having to listen to canine growls and whines every time my character jumped or got hit. Oh, I see how it is; this game thinks its sense of humor can out-devil-may-care mine, does it? Well, only one of us gets the last word, bitch, and my last word is "cuntburlap"!
I think it's fair to say this game shoots for "balls-out comedy game"; it's the Scary Movie to The Outer Worlds' Scream: precisely the same satire, but ten squillion times less subtle. I could convince myself it's a decently funny game if I hung around my home base the whole time watching the parody adverts from that lovable, wacky old dystopian future Earth, but sooner or later, I'd have to leave the capsule, and it'd all fall apart, because the rest of the humor is in the things your A.I. helper voice says and writes in your journal, which has a very bad case of "insert-a-sarcastic-quip-into-every-fucking-line-regardless-of-how-tortured-it-comes-across-so-an-enemy-description-like-a-giant-frog-that-spits-lasers-becomes-a-giant-frog-that-spits-lasers-ooh-that's-a-new-one-which-you-could-have-added-to-the-description-of-literally-anything-and-called-it-a-quip-and-been-just-as-much-of-a-liar-itis". And it's doubly annoying when I have to take a sample of a giant laser frog as part of a busywork quest that I have to do to unlock the next round of gear upgrades, and the description in the bestiary just wants to fucking quip at me rather than tell me something useful, like where the fucking things usually hang out!
But we're moving so fast; I haven't even said what kind of game it is yet, or rather, what kinds. Journey to the Savage Garden is one of those games in the vein of Jedi: Fallen Order, i.e., a game that rips off so many other games that it almost comes back around to being original; I already mentioned Outer Worlds, but there's also a big dollop of No Man's Sky on here, on top of the relatively conservative dollop of it that Outer Worlds already had.
At its core, it plays like the Metroid Prime-esque ability-gated Metroidvania crossed with the hunting and crafting element of, say, Subnautica, and this is where the mechanics have their biggest car crash, because when we find the pig Viagra upgrade that allows us to explore all the areas that can only be reached by grappling onto the extruding stiffies of pigs, we can't actually start doing that until we go back to our ship and craft the upgrade, which is a bit of a grinding of gears from a flow perspective, because the place where you found the upgrade might be thick with sexually-engorged boars all ripe for the molesting, but you've still got to go back to the starting location first. And this is assuming you have the crafting materials; if you don't have the carbon, it's back to massacring starting enemies, until you realize that starting enemies drop more carbon if you feed them and wait for them to poo it out, and that's when you find yourself thinking, "I am a seasoned adventurer! Why am I back in the fucking starting area, waiting to harvest a turd from a spherical owl so that I can go fluff a bunch of pigs?!"
I guess that's a point for Journey to the Sausage Buffet in the "Devil-May-Care Sense of Humor" contest, but it's still not much fun. (There isn't actually a pig Viagra upgrade; I made that up. Sorry if I accidentally sold you on the game there.) What you do get is utterly bog-standard Metroid Prime power-ups - grapple beam, space jump, space jump but twice, space jump but very high this time - but without Metroid Prime's great level design.
The map is not so much an intricate sprawl of paths as a great, big, undisciplined cowpat of areas and secret pickups, which probably explains why it feels it can do without a map; I mean, there's so much vertical traversal, if you need a map, just get onto a higher ledge and look down. But it means that when you're in the late collect-a-thon stage and blew all your lower-level enemy turds on one of the secret-detecting upgrades, all you have to go on is that the item is in yonder direction, when it might be at the end of a cave, whose entrance is actually on the other side of the island, guarded by a sequence of six erect pig knobs and a swollen horse vagina. (Again, I made that up; sorry to disappoint.)
I should stress that I don't hate the game. "Oh, don't worry, Yahtzee; that was totally coming across, with all your swearing and references to farm animal genitals." It's a relatively smooth ride most of the time, at least somewhat funny, and, importantly, it remembers that a game's comedy should lie in more than just the dialogue; when you're done collecting spherical owl poo, you can punt them into the air and skeet-shoot them with your one slightly lame gun. The things I'm complaining about are annoying bottlenecks that keep interrupting the ride: the crafting grinds; the slightly samey and frustrating boss fights; locking certain upgrades behind arbitrary achievements, so suddenly, I'm required to kill a group of four enemies with a single grenade if I ever want my slightly lame gun to do more damage than a dementia-riddled grandma spitting frozen peas after a particularly disastrous cooking attempt.
But I think the real problem with Journey to the "Dammit Janet" is a recurring sense of there just not being enough; it takes ideas from a lot of games, but doesn't take enough from any single one to stand out in any area. It doesn't have enough weapons or monster variety to focus on combat, but the world isn't interesting enough to lean on exploration, either. It's Subnautica without the wonder; it's Grow Home without the elegance. And while quirky humor in a game like A Hat in Time can make one forgive its jankiness and still quite amazingly shitty title, Savage to The Journeyman Project isn't quite funny, unique, or charming enough to pull that off, either. And just to raise one final point, "cuntburlap".
- A bottomless shit cornucopia: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- If you want evidence that males are the dominant sex, the glowing weak points in their underpants indicate that they're supposed to be the boss fight
- Boy howdy do those corporations suck ass