Everyone needs a pet dinosaur, right? If there’s a five year old boy in your house then the answer is probably a yes, and when looking through the early titles for PSVR, Robinson: The Journey looked like it would be a clear highlight in our household. While Crytek’s rendition of an alien world populated by dinosaurs undoubtedly creates one of the most impressive settings we’ve experience amongst the early PSVR titles, a few issues prevent it from being the essential adventure we were hoping for.
You take on the role of Robin, the young survivor of a crashed colony ship, whose earliest encounter on this alien world is with a T-Rex hatchling who you adopt as your pet. You’re also assisted by HIGS, a spherical floating AI who politely yammers away at you as you explore your surroundings, his digital screen throwing up emoticons that often remind you what you’re supposed to be doing.
You begin in your habitat, a lifeboat that ejected from the colony ship Esmerelda, some three months after arriving on the planet Tyson III. You’ve been busy in that time, and with the aid of HIGS you’ve set-up various pieces of equipment including water and wind turbines to power your generators, security gates, and a robot-tended farm. It’s not all working the way it should though, so your early time in the game is spent fetching items and repairing equipment.
You interact with the world via the Dualshock 4, despite your in-game controller looking very much like a Move controller, and you’re able to remotely grab items and levitate them. You simply have to look at a usable item – highlighted in neon blue – and pull the right trigger to lift it. The analog sticks then allow you to rotate the items, while the X button lets you launch them into the air.
While it’s a pretty simple system, there are some classic game annoyances with positioning an item that you’re holding, and while items that you’re placing often click into prescribed places, sometimes they don’t, leaving you to root around and pick them up again, or watch them melt away into a tar pit.
You also have loose control of your T-Rex companion Laika, who you can command to follow you, fetch, wait, or roar. She’ll come in handy for scaring off other creatures, but beyond that she’s often just a cute little dinosaur that provides a touch of emotional attachment to proceedings, ambling around areas while you busy yourself with your tasks.
Largely the gameplay boils down to a variety of fetch quests for other HIGS units, interspersed with some very light puzzling where you take control of your HIGS and route electricity to generators. Each of the HIGS units has a black box that contains audio clips and pictures that help you to build up a picture of what happened to the Esmerelda. On top of that, you have a scan function that you can use to catalogue the planet’s lifeforms and items of interest, with a simple mini-game where you collect green dots whilst avoiding red ones that becomes progressively more difficult the larger the creature.
It’s safe to say that the experiential nature of the game and its narrative are the driving force here, as the gameplay itself can often be rote, and indeed, a little dull. A lack of signposting often leaves you to wander around hoping to initiate the next step of the tale.
Things are somewhat hamstrung by the controls at points, especially when trying to place an object with any accuracy, and the traversals in particular were uncomfortable for me from a motion sickness point of view. After my first period with Robinson I had the worst bout of motion sickness that I’ve had thus far with PSVR. This was my own fault, as I’d set the rotation mode to free as at first it seemed the more natural option, but soon discovered that I literally didn’t have the stomach for it. Opting for the default pie chart mode saw a big improvement, though climbing down from heights remained gut-wrenchingly tough. Part of that is due to just how believable the setting is, and how much it can genuinely make you feel that letting go will see you plummet to your death.
That’s because Robinson: The Journey looks utterly phenomenal. As ever, Crytek have turned in a graphical performance that far exceeds those of its contemporaries, and the world of Tyson III is a solid, believable, and often breathtaking place. The opening vista as you exit your habitat is almost worth the price of admission alone. Almost.
The question here is one of value. As a technical showcase for PSVR, Robinson: The Journey is spectacular, but in terms of actual gameplay there’s probably about four hours available to you, and whilst the exploration is involved, the gameplay is often a touch frustrating.
Only you can determine whether that’s a concern, and I can see some making multiple playthroughs, though only to show it off to friends or if you’re a completionist that wants to scan in all of the planet’s life. When you balance it against the potential time you can spend with the other top-tier PSVR titles like EVE: Valkyrie or Battlezone, it doesn’t quite measure up in the same way, despite having the same premium price.
Robinson: The Journey then is going to split opinion. I enjoyed my time with it, but largely it feels like a prologue to another, larger, game. Graphically it’s a huge success, and frankly if the PS4 Pro is capable of improving the visuals further then that’s deeply impressive – though Stefan’s time with it on PS4 Pro yielded few tangible improvements. I’d love to see more titles using the same engine, and Crysis have certainly set the bar that other games will be compared to.
Robinson: The Journey is beautiful, but ultimately too light on content and reliant on overly traditional game design. It’s a wonderful insight into the future of PSVR that sadly remains trapped in the past.