Earlier videos of Robison: The Journey showed action packed sequences as Robin, a young boy who has been stranded on the planet Tyson III after his ship crashed skips and darts through the legs of some very large dinosaurs. The actual game is a much more sedate affair, with my preview starting in Robinson’s camp, months after the initial crash of the massive generation ship that brought him to this alien world.
HIGS, Robinson’s floating ball of an AI companion, is on hand to guide you through the game but there is plenty of opportunity to go off piste and explore, which is exactly what you would want to do if you were dropped on an exotic alien world. Admittedly some of the awe and wonder was lost on me, as I had a certain editor watching me play, telling me to jump off a cliff when walked up to the edge admire the gorgeous views, but I am fairly sure that if you are sat quietly at home by yourself, you will spend hours just looking around.
That said, putting on the headset and diving in to the world that is Tyson III is a little underwhelming at first. The demo began in a rather sterile and blocky escape capsule that doubles as Robinson’s sleeping quarters. However, a flick of a door handle and I stepped out in the jungle, mountains stretching off into the distance and insects buzzing through the air. It turns out that the landscape of Tyson III is rather a lot like Hawaii, and there were a couple of moments where I stopped and gazed around whilst thinking, “I’ve been somewhere almost identical to this in the real world.” There are also moments of pure wonder, glancing up and spotting parts of the Esmeralda, Robinson’s crashed spaceship, perched precariously on a cliff high above the camp, and in the distance you can catch a glimpse of winged beasts flying high in the sky.
There’s plenty to do in the camp, some of which is obligatory and helpfully signposted by HIGS’ occasional witty comments, whilst some tasks are just for fun. Rather like No Man’s Sky, you a multi-function tool to scan local wildlife and catalogue it, using your head to look at what you want to scan, and dropping into the menus to view your research brings an unintentional, but rather amusing call back to the days of PlayStation One as a giant T-Rex suddenly fills the screen and stomps about. You can also pick up, move, and throw objects around, adding simple puzzle elements to the game.
One of the first puzzles is to free your pet dinosaur named Laika, who has become stuck behind a boulder, and this means clearing debris from a generator and powering up a few systems. The tasks are rather simple but enjoyable and it didn’t take long before I had my own virtual baby T-Rex called Laika to play hide and seek with – yes, you can cheat, but she’s not very good at hiding – and being able to ordering her around comes into some of the puzzle design.. This also gave me the very surreal experience of staring into the eyes of a realistic dinosaur, which the five year old child inside me couldn’t quite believe.
Despite pre-ordering it as soon as it was announced, this was my first time trying out PlayStation VR and it is a relief to know it looks pretty damn good and works perfectly. The resolution for the screens could be a higher, but to be honest you only ever notice that when viewing high contrast objects. Robinson looks good and is an impressive example of what the PS4 and CryEngine can do, but it doesn’t look as good in VR as it does in the standard game trailers.
I also found the controls took a little while to get used to. Moving your head around changes your angle of view view and pushing forward moves in the direction you are looking, but the DualShock is needed for greater ranges of motion. Rather than smoothly turning when you press the stick left or right, as you would do in any non-VR game, the screen flicks 30º in an instant, the same as in the updated Resident Evil 7 VR demo. This is, according to Crytek, because your brain doesn’t register movement that fast. If the view shifts smoothly with the right analogue stick, that can lead to nausea, and while I don’t doubt them, the quick shifts do break the immersion.
The walking speed was also rather slow for my liking, but again this was dictated by extensive playtesting and there will be options to tweak the controls in the full game. I didn’t experience any motion sickness, and the only time I had a slight wobble is when I looked down at my feet, which threw me for just a second. I was sitting down, for one thing, but I’m also 6’5″ in real life, so wasn’t expecting the ground to be quite so close to me.
I think given the right conditions – namely a quiet room by yourself – you could lose days on Tyson III. Rather than go for guns blazing action, Robison: The Journey taps in to that basic human curiosity, the desire to explore and see what’s around the corner. Ironically, Crytek cut the demo short just as I was about to discover what was round the corner of a trail, but given a lush jungle planet, dinosaurs, and a chatty AI companion, I am very eager to discover more and I’m feeling a lot happier about my PSVR pre-order.