We’ve not exactly been stuck for choice since the PlayStation VR launched – ports of existing VR games and brand new IPs have kept us sustained over the initial few weeks, but there are a fair few of us wanting to get a full on VR game that doesn’t seem just a great tech demo and has more depth to it than your average After Eight. Robinson: The Journey from Crytek holds all the promise of being a phenomenal looking title given their engine pedigree, and should be a decent gaming experience considering what they’ve delivered in the past to our machines. Does it bring us our first truly standalone, full length VR game?
No. The overall length of this is probably 4 to 5 hours on your first playthrough if you spend a lot of it exploring, with some additional mop up time if you’re insistent on searching for collectables. That, for me, means the £50 price tag is a bit of a piss take. There’s no online link in, not a huge amount of replay, and the trailer hinted at a gameplay style that’s not really present, so Robinson is less Crusoe and more orange squash. Right, that’s the negatives out of the way, let’s get to some positives now.
What Robinson: The Journey does, and succeeds in, is put you in the survival suit of a young boy marooned on a remote planet that’s inhabited solely by dinosaurs. Once part of an interstellar resettlement project, disaster struck and Robin is the only one to have made it off the doomed ship alive. Fortunately, maintaining your existence has been made easier with the companionship of a HIGS unit – a faithful robot who seems to be a lite version of C3PO embedded in a more advanced Wheatley. Things kick off after you’ve been stranded for a year, and the most pressing things are now maintaining your camp so water, power and food keep flowing. Oh, and you’ve tamed a baby T-Rex, because why not?
What unfolds over your first hour or so with Robinson: The Journey is a first person exploration and puzzle game where you get introduced to all the mechanics before heading out of the base camp and start interacting with the wider world. Whilst I’ve already criticised the length, there’s quite a variation in game mechanics to get to grips with… some quite literally. All actions are controller based so there’s no need for Move here, and that means your floating hands are context sensitive rather than independently controlled. As with all the best sci-fi, you’ve a multipurpose tool at your disposal that lifts objects, scans wildlife, laser points to guide your T-Rex (Laika), and works as the world’s worst flashlight. Laika’s commands are mapped to the d-pad so it’s easy to get her to move, fetch and scare things, and occasionally there’s an option to take over HIGS to solve power grid problems. Make it beyond the electric fences of the camp and climbing becomes a necessity, as does physics based puzzling along with stealth distraction and movement. There is quite a nice variety of actions to take and most are reused so it doesn’t feel like they’re just there as a one off for a particular environment.
Equally, the environments in Robinson: The Journey are well realised and built – as they should be because that’s really the draw of wandering around a prehistoric world. VR brings a sense of scale and size that you’d struggle to appreciate in a flat 2D game, and without compare, this is the best looking game I’ve experienced in VR, even if it has a few pop-in texture issues. It’s smooth and detailed, and even with the screendoor effect there’s not much in the way of distraction once you’re in the world. Your first encounter with dinosaurs has you swinging your head around trying to capture the essence of what you’re looking at, and the type of animal that produces that initial awe depends on which area you’ve decided to explore first. Flying, walking, leaping and swimming creatures all keep you on your toes, and you’re not invulnerable in this world, so watch out for Raptors and falling to your death.
Putting a lot of mechanics into the mix for a short game could have proved to be problematic though they’re balanced quite nicely, and I’ve probably made it sound shorter and smaller than it really is. There is a great experience in here, I spent a lot of time really looking at the world and figuring out where you could and couldn’t go – it definitely opens up the further you go in, whilst managing to guide you along the story path. If you strip out the run time, the only other complaint is the last minute tease that there’s more to come for Robin and Laika, that really adds the tasteless icing to the hollow cake. It makes the game feel like a prologue, and I’d have happily spent more time continuing on and finding out where things went next. I can’t get past the price vs. time spent argument, and whilst I know games are not cheap to develop, this just feels like a launch period cash grab. We need more reasonably priced VR games to help the hardware maintain a user base, and unfortunately Robinson: The Journey is twice the price of some of the lengthier and more replayable titles available.
A PS4 copy of Robinson: The Journey was provided by the Crytek PR team, and the game is available now at a frankly ridiculous price.