Amidst the chaos of the E3 show floor, dipping into the quiet, colourful world of Journey to the Savage Planet feels like a breath of fresh alien air. Savage Planet has the colour palette and creatures of a particularly designed No Man's Sky planet, the exploration of a classic 3D adventure game, and the campy humour of a Russell T Davies-era Doctor Who episode. And that's all very much my space jam.
Over 45 minutes of playtime, I slowly get to grips with the game's systems. Emerging from my crashed spaceship, I explore, I observe strange bird-like aliens which look like something from Monsters Inc., and then I fall off a cliff and die. I respawn back at the ship, the game's chatty AI narrator telling me a bit of disorientation is natural after being transferred to a freshly-printed new body. I explore some more.
There's some light puzzling here and there. For example, at certain points you need to punt some of those bird aliens into larger, carnivorous alien blobs that block your path. After chowing down, these blobs recoil into a passive state, allowing you to pass. There are resources to mine with your laser tool, and a couple of objectives which require you hunt down enough of these deposits to craft new exploration tools - such as a grapple - so you can explore further.
Progress far enough and you'll find new warp points, so travelling back to your ship to craft new items or upgrade your skill tree is near-instantaneous. And, so if you do die, you can whizz straight back to where you were, or near enough. Journey to the Savage Planet is not meant to be a lengthy experience, creative director Alex Hutchinson tells me after my time is up. The game will last 8-12 hours, and developer Typhoon Studios' aim is for everyone who starts the game to be able to see its story through. There are, though, extra bits and pieces hidden away, Metroidvania-style, if you did want to revisit areas and find everything.
Journey to the Savage Planet is Typhoon's first game, following the departure of Hutchinson from Ubisoft Montreal and the much-discussed cancellation of his final project there. Pioneer, as it was dubbed, never got formally announced - but a trailer for it was hidden as an Easter egg in Watch Dogs 2. I asked Hutchinson about it:
I notice your character is referred to in Savage Planet as the "Pioneer" - is that a reference to anything in particular?
Hutchinson: Aha yeah! It's a joke referring to our final codename at Ubisoft on the deceased project. It made me laugh.
There's various reports of things from Pioneer being reused, or not, in the game it got turned into - can you clear that up?
Hutchinson: As far as I know there's nothing being reused. I saw the game from the team which remained got announced at E3 already. So yeah - there's nothing left from the original game.
No chance for your name in the credits?
Hutchinson: No, not at all. [Laughs] They're so different now.
It's fairly obvious which game it got turned into [the recently-announced co-op shooter Rainbow Six Quarantine]...
Hutchinson: I think legally I am not allowed to say, but if you can't figure it out that sort of proves the point they're so different now you couldn't even see it.
How much of the abandoned Pioneer can we see in Savage Planet?
Hutchinson: There's some sense of what you saw in that little teaser from Watch Dogs 2. There's the sense of optimism we were going for, the non-violent options, which was something we were going for. But it's radically different now - it's an explore 'em-up, first-person, adventure comedy now. So yeah, Savage Planet is radically different from what Pioneer was supposed to be.
And where are you at with Savage Planet right now?
Hutchinson: We've had a full run-through of the game running for some time. Our strategy with this studio is that as it's a new IP, new team, you don't know how long things are going to take. So we do big, rough drafts then redo everything if needed. We've redone everything about three times so far! Every tool, every location, every creature has been done and done again. But we have a full-playthrough now, we're just making sure it lives up to the promise.