At the Game Developers Conference (GDC) earlier this year we got a hands-off remote session looking at Journey to the Savage Planet, a game coming from Typhoon Studios that's being made by veteran developers across the industry and spearheaded by former Ubisoft developer Alex Hutchinson. At E3, however, we got the chance to get our hands on a controller and try it out for ourselves, to see the proof within the pudding.
It was the same level as the GDC demo that we experienced first-hand in LA, and this put us on a planet as an employee of Kindred Aerospace. The company wants you to chart the planet you're on and collect data, but you soon realise that this rock isn't as devoid of life as you were told it would be, and your objectives start getting broken down into smaller ones.
The action plays out from a first-person perspective. Straight away we toy around with the controls and realise to our amusement that you can slap with a push of LT (we used an Xbox controller on PC), with the small pistol in your right hand being fired with RT. It's a simple setup, and as Hutchinson said to us back during GDC, this isn't a shooter by trade, so don't expect to be diving into cover and popping headshots very often.
We stepped out and the first task we had on this strange world was to shoot some crystals that were blocking our path, at which point we stepped out into a vast open area where we were free to choose where to go. That's one of the core pillars of Journey to the Savage Planet; the world isn't linear, even if it isn't totally open world either. Curiosity is rewarded and travelling off the beaten path and away from objective markers may well reward you, as we found out for ourselves when we discovered some fruit that increased our overall health.
One of your objectives is to investigate the strange relics that you encounter, which includes shrine-like structures that serve as fast-travel points. As you explore further and further afield you find more of these, and it makes navigating the environment that little bit less painful. Granted, it's a joy to jump and double jump around the colourful and varied environments, but when you need to quickly nip back to your ship and craft an upgrade, it's a welcome feature.
That's exactly what we had to do when we were greeted with a giant wall of yellow crystals later in the demo, but luckily there were plants attached to the side of them which made grappling possible. We went back to the ship, and using an alien sample we'd gathered from a separate objective, we were able to craft the grappler and ascend the structure with ease. At the same time, this also opened up other routes in places we'd visited earlier, although we didn't have time to backtrack.
These gadgets don't just help with traversal though, as other items can be used for more... interesting effects. One puzzle early on required us to satisfy the hunger of a giant Sarlacc-esque mouth in the wall, and to do this we had to throw a can of sticky food on the floor, attracting creatures over to it, and kick them straight into the mouth of the beast. It wasn't pretty, but it shows the various creative possibilities Typhoon is giving to players.
After we'd clambered up the crystals we were greeted by a boss battle of sorts, as a creature blocked the door in front of us and was sending out shockwaves we had to jump over, except the floor was made out of pillars with harmful liquid underneath. If we fell off we had to grapple back up to the boss' level, and unfortunately time was called on the demo before we had the chance to best this foe.
Only a few of the creatures we came across in this demo were actually hostile, as there was another one that rolled towards us, forcing us to dodge out of the way and shoot the fragile sacs on its tail. For the most part, though, the gaumless little chicken-like aliens posed no threat, and you could either let them be or slap them about for maximum giggles. Not that we'd condone that, of course...
Journey to the Savage Planet is looking already to be a playful, intriguing sandbox that doesn't take itself too seriously. It takes elements from platformers, shooters, and puzzle games and mixes them together in a blend that sees you exploring a volcano one minute before ascending a wall of crystals the next. We're interested in seeing where this journey takes us, but for now consider us a willing volunteer for Kindred Aerospace.