Disclosure: A code for Robinson: The Journey was provided to VGBlogger.com for review consideration by Crytek.
Of the dozen or so games I’ve played so far since the PlayStation VR launched, very few have felt like more than a tech demo polished up and made to offer a brief experience with the fledgling technology. Most games have been limited to one gameplay mechanic and a simple premise. That’s not to say that simple means dull or boring. On the contrary, it allows developers to be hyper focused on what they are delivering to gamers. However, having VR on a console where gamers expect to have a flashy, beautiful world to play in, an expectation of larger experiences is only natural. Crytek has proven in the past it is capable of making some amazing and deep games, and Robinson: The Journey is no exception.
Robinson: The Journey begins the tale of a young boy named Robin who appears to be the sole survivor of an intergalactic space mission that has ended when the ship he was traveling on, The Esmerelda, crash lands on the planet Tyson III. Set a year after the crash, Robin has established a fairly remarkable campsite thanks to the help from his floating AI companion HIGS. Tyson III is not just any uninhabited planet, as it is filled with all manner of life forms, the largest of which are amazingly rendered dinosaurs. Besides HIGS as a companion, Robin also has rescued and partially trained a young Tyrannosaurus Rex named Laika, and the bulk of the gameplay surrounds the notion of exploring to find more information about the crashed space ship as well as any other survivors.
As a first-person, completely free roaming VR adventure, Robinson takes a few minutes (and some minor tweaking of visual controls) to get used to. Robin moves through the world by pressing up on the left analog stick (strafing can be done by moving the stick left or right, but that seriously messed with my head so I set that to as limited as possible). The right stick is used as a limited way to turn fully left or right–think pie wedges in a circle. Robin carries a multi-tool in his right hand, which can be used to levitate objects as well as scan life forms to identify and expand his knowledge of the planet. Viewing is free moving based entirely on where and how much players move their heads. Having free reign of movement of both where I’m looking as well as where I’m moving initially caused a bit of an imbalance twice while playing (once early on while still adjusting to the controls and movement and once more from climbing—more on that in a bit), but Crytek has done a remarkable job of minimizing the nausea I’ve felt far worse in other games with similar movement mechanics.
HIGS acts as not only a companion to Robin, but also as a guide to players, suggesting ways to solve problems presented in the virtual world. Robin is first tasked with lifting a large object to allow Laika to become free from an area she has managed to get caught in. In order to levitate the large object, Robin must restore power to a unit that is reminiscent of a shield generator. Restoring power to that means following the power cables to a generator found near a river. Once debris has been cleared from the generator, power is restored and the enhanced levitation can be used to free Laika. Simple environmental puzzles like this are what Robinson is all about.
Freeing Laika reveals a damaged HIGS device that Robin scans to learn more about the Esmeralda crash, prompting Robin’s active HIGS to suggest finding more information at other areas nearby. A sign post indicates that one area leads to a farm while the other direction leads to danger. At the farm, players are introduced to another game mechanic, that of climbing. Practically anything with an orange surface can be climbed–mostly as a common indicator for players to recognize when something can or can’t be climbed–and usually signified by sturdy mushrooms running up the side of a cliff face. Climbing itself switches out the player’s field of view from the multi-tool to a pair of hands, while the physical act is performed by looking and slightly moving your head toward a new ledge, and then grabbing on with either hand by pressing L2 or R2. Once the top of a ledge has been reached, tapping the X button allows players to climb up and continue seeking clues or scan life forms.
Scanning life forms is one of the other main functions of gameplay. Bugs crawl or fly around the path to each new area, or rodents skitter away from Robin as he moves through the world. Having the multi-tool set to scan, lifeforms will appear to have a magnifying glass attached to them as they scurry about. Holding down R2 allows a creature to be scanned. A white cursor appears on screen whenever an object can be scanned and movement of the cursor is managed by moving your head. Simple creatures have two or three green dots on their bodies that need to be collected by painting over them with the white cursor. Larger creatures have a mix of red and green dots, and if a red dot is touched all of the dots scramble and the creature needs to be rescanned from scratch. This is both satisfying and frustrating as some animals are very large and move around during scan attempts, so being able to scan only the green dots at times becomes an exercise in patience.
Each new area explored provides an opportunity to see some truly marvelous visuals; walking under massive plant eating dinosaurs, quietly walking around packs of raptors, zip lining on vines between humungous trees. As progress is made through the game, subtle changes occur to make the game more challenging, but also more engaging. Climbing up walls becomes second nature fairly quickly. Needing to climb and reach static points before certain areas open and drop players adds a fun variety to the environment.
Learning how to interact with Laika also provides some fun moments. Using a mini T-Rex to scare big and small dinosaurs never gets old, and hearing the glee from Robin as he commands Laika to roar is pure joy. Laika is very smart too, capable of retrieving objects to further solve environmental puzzles. When going into HIGS’s special mode, the camera view switches from Robin’s point of view to an almost top down isometric view of the surrounding area. Like a miniature scale model of the immediate area Robin and HIGS are in and HIGS has the ability to route power from one source to another in order to restore functionality to equipment. This view change is a nice switch from the first-person perspective and also provides another great way to take in the sense of scale of the world.
While Robinson is a pretty spectacular experience both visually and in gameplay execution, the game is not without its minor faults. I had to exit the game on more than one occasion to reset a glitch where Laika got stuck just standing still and wouldn’t respond to any commands that I was trying to get her to follow. The physical manipulation of objects is another cause of occasional frustration. The levitator aspect of the multi-tool doesn’t give a full range of motion of objects when trying to insert them or attach them to objects in the world. For example, early on there are dish-like plates that Robin needs to attach to a weather vane, but the combination of a rotating weather vane plus the inability to change the distance between Robin and the object led to a short period of time where I just spouted obscenities at the game because they wouldn’t go together as expected (see my Twitch stream footage embedded at page bottom). Robinson also is a little vague in tracking progress. I collected the information from one broken HIGS, but my map still showed that I had that objective to complete, so I spent extra time trying to retrieve the broken device from a nest not realizing I had in effect already completed the task but the menu didn’t update as it should have.
The care and level of polish and thought put into the lavish world is truly amazing. The story is also compelling and rewarding. I don’t want to spoil anything about what is revealed from the other discovered HIGS devices, but the story has a very satisfying conclusion that is well worth playing through to the end. Plus the game has plenty of hidden information discs to find and other alternative ways to solve puzzles, which provides meaningful reasons to go back and continue playing once the story has been finished (I’ve still only managed to catch fish by one of three ways). Robinson: The Journey is easily one of the best PlayStation VR games available and a shining beacon of what the future holds for gaming in virtual reality.
+ Incredibly stunning visual world
+ Compelling story
+ Fun climbing mechanic
+ Collectible items provide a reason to replay
– Interacting with some world objects feels clumsy
– Minor glitches
Platform: PlayStation VR for PlayStation 4
Publisher: Crytek / Sony
Release Date: 11/8/2016
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Source: Review code provided by publisher