Typhoon Studios' Journey to the Savage Planet was first unveiled back at The Game Awards in December, and even during its appearance on an Inside Xbox livestream earlier this year, we didn't get any gameplay. Since then we've received only a few screenshots, but last week we got a demonstration of the game from co-founder Alex Hutchinson via a video call, and this gave us more of a taste of a title that's been rather elusive thus far.
As Hutchinson introduced himself and the Typhoon team he explained to us a bit of context around the game, in the sense that this is a small team of around 25 people working on an indie game, rather than a AAA game. That said, the team does comprise of industry veterans who have worked at the likes of Ubisoft in the past.
The demo started off by placing us in a base of sorts, like a spacecraft or pod in which you have a crafting machine to print items like upgrades for your weapon and jump pack. Our mission is to explore the world and catalogue what we see on this alien planet, all at the behest of Martin Tweed of Kindred Aerospace (that guy you can see in the trailer below). This is then split into smaller objectives for you to pursue, like getting a grappler tool to access higher points and swing around.
Then we walked out into the alien world to see a snowy plain in front of us, punctuated by some orange crystals and sporadic flora and fauna. With a pistol in our hand, we were told by Hutchinson that this is a "first-person action-adventure game", or what he likes to call an "explore 'em up". This cleared up a lot, and immediately it became obvious that this isn't a giant open sandbox, but a much more curated experience as we saw with the guided paths within the level. There are wide open areas to explore, sure, but those who want to stick to the objective have clear markers on their HUD to follow.
In your left hand you have a variety of items to use on your travels, including a 'pomegrenade' (it looks like a pomegranate, get it?), bait to lure creatures, and goo that lets you bounce off the floor. These should be useful throughout your journey as you try to access new areas, and will even help with the light puzzle elements you'll encounter, including one example in the demo where a door needed to be opened by kicking chicken-like aliens into a giant mouth next to it.
You see, while there's a pistol, this is not a first-person shooter, and the combat elements are just as light as the puzzles (Hutchinson added that the game isn't designed to kill you that often). There are bosses though, including one fight we saw where a giant beast needed to be killed by shooting the sacs on its tail, but aside from overclocking your pistol, there won't be a wide arsenal of weapons to use. Exploration is the name of the game, and those curious enough to look everywhere are promised hidden secrets for their troubles. Your scanning tool will help you in this voyage of discovery too, which can use to analyse the alien environments.
Of course, the visuals are worth mentioning as well. It's a really pretty game with a lot of bright colours and interesting alien environments, packed with wildlife to discover as you explore. It's all so eccentric and out-there that we were actually reminded of Ratchet and Clank a little bit, especially with the various gadgets at your disposal and the humour that's packed in, like the wacky gadgets and the fact you can slap and kick.
As soon as the bright colours and alien planet appeared on our screens back in December the No Man's Sky comparisons were inevitable, so we were actually surprised that it was only towards the end of the hour-long session that one journalist asked about Hello Games' title and the comparisons between the two.
"Luckily we got a lot more questions about No Man's Sky when we were pitching the game as an optimistic, bright, happy exploration space game than after we started showing it," Hutchinson said. "I think our game is very different, and probably the biggest thing, if it wasn't clear from the demo, is we hand-crafted everything in the world. We wanted to make sure that if you spent all of your time exploring, you would find something interesting that we put there. We didn't wanna make any sort of generic assets, so the whole world is hand-crafted into a 10 to 12-hour experience that we really want you to get to the bottom of."
We didn't get much of the narrative during this hands-off demo, but Hutchinson did say that we were thrown onto this alien planet thinking it had no signs of intelligent life. There's a giant tower floating in the air and aliens, however, which indicate that's not quite true, and it'll be interesting to see how meaningful this story ends up being.
This blend of exploration and story reminded us an awful lot of Subnautica, so we actually asked Hutchinson how the game balances the story focus with exploration gameplay, and whether there's a set end point to the game's narrative as well.
"Yeah that's a really good question, and we did see Subnautica as a very interesting game when we were in development," he explained. "I think they're a little bit more open and they're definitely a survival game as well, whereas we've made the decision to switch to adventure. Early prototypes had survival elements, but we felt that when we were then asking you to explore and then turn over every rock and see everything that was there, the pressure of the survival elements started to sort of work against it."
"So we do have a finite narrative in the game, but there's all kinds of stuff around it that you can still continue to discover and put together the information and ideas that you might have as to what happened. So it's a bit of both, but it's more gameplay-focused than it is narrative-based for sure. You know it's more like a world story that you can uncover as you go through, but it's about jumping around the environment, gaining gear, exploring new spaces, and sort of figuring it out on your own."
Later on in the Q&A, we found out that the game won't be full price when it launches as it will be supported by post-release content, adding to the 10 to 12 hours Hutchinson said the campaign lasts for.
We can expect Journey to the Savage Planet in early 2020 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, and this demo was helpful in clarifying what to expect from the game. Some expected a No Man's Sky sort of space survival title, but instead, it's using exploration elements in a much tighter and more focused adventure built around mechanics including various gadgets that look fun to use as you traverse these environments and learn about the local inhabitants. It looks like it's going to benefit from this tight focus, although we'll have to wait until we can get our actual hands on the title to see whether the proof is in the pudding.