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Robinson: The Journey Review

Aside from the potential PSVR (or VR in general) would bring to the survival horror genre (my favourite genre), the one PSVR title that had me coloured keen prior to the system’s launch in October was Crytek’s Robinson: The Journey. If you’ve ever watched a dinosaur movie or documentary and thought you’d love to go walking with dinosaurs, this is probably going to be the next best thing.

Dino Crisis

Set in the distant future, Robinson: The Journey follows the tale of a young boy named Robin, whose spaceship, the Esmeralda, has crash landed on the dinosaur inhabited planet Tyson III. The Esmeralda was en route to Tyson III to colonise the planet before disaster struck. Fortunately Robin used an escape pod to flee the spaceship before it crashed survives, and must now traverse the foreign in search of survivors, answers and deliverance.

With the aid of a HIGS unit (an orb-shaped AI companion from the Esmeralda), Robin sets up camp and begins life on Tyson III. Not long after his arrival Robin discovers a secondary companion by a matter of happenstance; this time it is not of man or machine. Robin’s newfound friend is in fact a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex – which he has named Laika. Like the HIGS unit, Laika accompanies Robin on his quest to track down broken HIGS units (which contain useful data) which are scattered across Tyson III. And thus the bond between man, machine and dinosaur is forged, forming an integral part of Robin’s journey.

Man’s new best friend(s)

CryEngine does an excellent job of bringing the linear experience of Tyson III to life; it is hands down the best visuals I have encountered so far on PSVR

One of the first things you’ll notice (after adjusting to the VR visuals) is how impressive Tyson III’s visuals are. Most VR titles I have played so far have been somewhat disappointing visually, however Tyson III is a gorgeous and vibrant planet with some truly delightful flora and fauna (walking around with dinosaurs for instance is better than what I imagined). CryEngine does an excellent job of bringing the linear experience of Tyson III to life; it is hands down the best visuals I have encountered so far on PSVR.

The gameplay is fairly stock-standard for a first-person story-driven title (think Firewatch or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), however there is a little more flavour here as both the HIGS unit and Laika need to be utilised at various points of your exploration. Laika can be of assistance by using voice commands which are done by using the Dualshock’s D-Pad, whereas when utilising the HIGS unit you enter into a different mode (HIGS mode), which allows you to complete puzzles that Robin cannot. These puzzles are akin to the hacking in Watch Dogs, where essentially what you have to do is distribute the right amount of power throughout the chain, and they are relatively simple once you work out how they operate. The one slight negative with the gameplay is that sometimes objectives can be a little unclear, and on a couple of occasions I had to painstakingly scour the area to figure out what to do.

Robin is equipped with a multi-tool that allows him to do three things: point, scan and lift. Pointing at things allows Robin to give instructions to Laika (such as roar at an animal), scanning allows Robin to garner data about the wildlife (all information obtained can be found in the HIGS menu), and lifting items lets Robin move obstacles that either hinder his progress or assist in other situations. This is probably one of the main grievances I have with the game. Positioning lifted items in the right place can quickly become frustrating, as more often than not the item won’t be in the right orientation. One example was when I had to position a piece of metal in a particular spot to save an animal from falling into a tar pit. However the position in which I lifted the item compared to the angle it had to be ultimately placed meant I had to throw it and hope for the best, and if you missed the metal plank would sink into the tar pit and you’d have to try again. It was like watching the ending of Terminator 2 sixty times. The multi-tool also allows you to lift and launch items (think Dead Space’s Kinesis feature), and proves pivotal in one of the game’s cooler moments where you have to avoid raptors towards the end of the game. The other gameplay element you’ll be utilising is climbing – and you’ll be doing a lot of it. You’ll be hanging off cliffs more than Nathan Drake at a rockclimbing party. For the most part it’s not too repetitive, however there is one scenario towards the end where it feels like padding.

This is how Drake does it, yeah?

The game is primed for an engaging narrative, but disappointingly the story that unfolds feels somewhat limited – almost as if it were a prologue to a larger overarching story

The movement controls are relatively simple: to look around or change your direction you use the headset (obviously), the left analogue moves you forward and back and you can also change direction by using the right analogue stick. There are three options available, with two variations of a pivot (similar to the pivoting in Here They Lie) and a smooth option (no pivot). Unfortunately getting the game’s movement right ensured that my first couple of hours were fraught with motion sickness. It made my experience very stop-start as I couldn’t play for longer than 30-45 minutes at a time without feeling nauseous, and when motion sickness kicked in during my third session for the day I had to put the cue in the rack for the day. Thankfully, the following day I felt accustomed to the experience and only had to stop once early on for nausea. The last two or so hours I played without any nausea at all, which made the experience much more immersive. Initially I had the movement set to smooth, which it would seem my body didn’t agree with. I personally found the default pivot (pie chart) setting to be the most comfortable. This is a game that would greatly benefit from the ability to use the Move controllers. I have read Crytek may patch this feature in at a later date, but it’s a little baffling why this wasn’t a feature on launch.

The game is primed for an engaging narrative, but disappointingly the story that unfolds feels somewhat limited – almost as if it were a prologue to a larger overarching story. That’s not to say that the story here is bad, because it is rather interesting and it definitely gives you the feeling of wanting more. However, for a full-priced retail game ($89 here in Australia), it feels like you don’t quite get your money’s worth, especially as the campaign could be finished in about four hours (I took about six hours to complete the campaign). The companionship between Robin and Laika is never fully developed, which feels like a missed opportunity to elicit an emotional bond between player and character. However, the relationship between Robin and the HIGS unit is almost father-son-esque, and it’s hard not to remember your own childhood with some of the dialogue between the two.

Father HIGS has your back

Final Thoughts

Despite some early motion sickness issues, Robinson: The Journey is PSVR’s most immersive experience yet, with Tyson III coming to life thanks to the native dinosaurs and the rich visuals of CryEngine. While it’s encouraging that we will (hopefully) visit Tyson III again and continue Robin’s journey, it’s galling that players are being slugged with full retail price for such a short experience.

Reviewed on PlayStation VR

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