Robinson: The Journey PS4 Review
When it comes to the concept of Virtual Reality, many of us tend to visualize ourselves interacting within certain commonly conceptual scenarios: a haunted mansion, outer space, a Japanese schoolgirl’s bedroom…and then things take a decidedly NSFW turn from there.
But one word tends to crop up more often than not when it comes to virtual interaction: Dinosaurs. Ever the king of imagination and box office receipts, the long-extinct species continues to be a popular topic among children and adults who have dreamed of meeting their favorite dinos in person (and don’t even think of bringing up feathers into the conversation). In the world of videogames, it has been quite some time when a game allowed players to interact with dinosaurs in a friendly manner instead of gunning them down like slightly-smarter zombies, so it has fallen upon Crytek to reopen peaceful negotiations while also being the first console VR experience to give players the virtual dino simulator they’ve longed dreamed about.
Robinson: The Journey takes inspiration from cult classics like Land of the Lost and failed films like After Earth, combining far-future sci-fi with prehistoric planet charting. The titular character is a young boy who was part of a colony that crash-landed on Tyson III, an alien planet that happens to resemble Earth during the Jurassic age, right down to the tar pits and volcanoes. After befriending a baby T-rex that hatched before his eyes, Robin and his English-accented AI companion HIGS must learn to survive in their new dino dwelling while exploring each area to gather clues hidden within the debris of their destroyed colony (and, just maybe, a way to get back home).
Thanks to the newness of the PSVR hardware, even the most visually-basic games have managed to impress a little with their fully 3D environments and eye-popping effects. If such simplistic launch titles have managed to wow you, then Robinson: The Journey is almost guaranteed to have players practically gasping in disbelief. This is, bar none, the most visually stunning PSVR game to date, especially for early adopters of the PS4 Pro; the Crytek engine shows off its technical prowess without any of the common hitches found in the most infamous of console train wrecks running on the engine, delivering a beautifully detailed setting that even manages to avoid the low resolution blurriness plaguing most PSVR titles. Other than the occasional pop-in with trees and the HIGS robot phasing through solid walls to meet the player’s field of view (a trick that is bound to startle VR players more than once), Robinson is proof positive that the PSVR is capable of delivering the same kind of VR fidelity seen in its PC predecessors.
For the more bloodthirsty gamers hoping that Robinson will allow them to execute the dinosaurs in addition to admiring them, two words will quickly put a stop to those macabre thoughts: Walking Simulator. A genre growing in both frequency and divisiveness in the gaming world, Robinson is another game where movement is intentionally slow-paced and limited, as it demands that players stop and take in the sights of flying pterodactyls in the distance, giant brontosaurs lumbering at a snail’s pace, and snarling tyrannosaurs both fearsome and adorable (the latter being Robin’s adopted pet Laika). It could be argued that Robinson relies a bit too much on its scripted moments: most gamers will be able to predict what eye-popping dino encounter will occur moments before it happens, but it’s hard not to stay impressed once the big moneymaker moments happen all the same.
But the methodical movement speed might still prove infuriating for impatient players, while the leaps of logic regarding platforms and foothills that even a one-legged person could make with little effort is even more obnoxious; instead, players must utilize the gravity gun-inspired tool in Robin’s hand to pull, place and otherwise manipulate various debris and devices in order to solve one puzzle so that players can move onto the next gorgeous set piece. The puzzles themselves are elementary in nature, but the somewhat fiddly nature of precisely placing the items can get cumbersome (thankfully, this is one of those games where accidentally dropping a key item will have it instantly respawn at its point of origin). Fortunately, movement is a lot more manageable in this game, and manages to stick to traditional walking controls without the feeling of nausea experienced in other VR games. Turning around is not quite as seamless, but there are multiple options available: in addition to head tracking for general head turning, the right analog stick can be configured one of two ways: free camera movement or instant “slideshow” turning. It is highly recommended that players stick to the latter setting, as turning on free ended up causing more migraines.
Curiously, the game does not offer Move support, even though the device in Robin’s hand closely resembles a Move controller. Having a floating hand permanently attached to the player’s head-level is also an odd experience, but also a necessary one as the game opts to use head tracking for its aiming. Ironically, Robinson’s most entertaining gameplay mechanic is purely optional: by hitting the scanner button on his device, Robin can scan all nearby wildlife, which adds them to his database. In order to successfully scan a creature, players must aim the scanner to “collect” all of the green nodes surrounding a creature’s body while also avoiding the red ones. Hitting any of the red nodes resets the collection process, thus turning this mini-game into one of skill and patience. There’s a certain level of satisfaction in successfully collecting all the green dots from a massive dinosaur, or learning to walk slowly in scanning skittish creatures like snakes and insects.
In the end, Robinson: The Journey is the closest thing to a full-fledged title for the PSVR, which would explain its full price tag. Unfortunately, its average length is only slightly longer than the average VR title, clocking in around five hours. Regardless of the price, there’s no denying the level of polish and immersion that Robinson succeeds at, opening the doors even wider for the kind of innovative experiences Sony’s virtual headset can offer. If the games can steadily improve from here, then it’s a sure bet that the PSVR won’t go extinct before its prime.