A knock against virtual reality on the console is that, to provide a decent experience, games have to be “scaled down” from what is possible on more powerful PCs. Resolution, level of detail, draw distance must all be diminished for the base PS4’s relatively puny GPU. Even the PS4 Pro has a GPU that has a bit over double the power still only reaches the low-mid range of modern graphics cards. So virtual reality on the console can’t match the visual fidelity of a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, or so the saying goes.
Robinson: The Journey is a direct challenge to those assumptions. It transports you to a gorgeous world, sumptuous in its fecundity. Developers Crytek have done an amazing job in creating what is easily the most beautiful environment in VR that I have yet experienced. But for all its beauty, Robinson: The Journey is a flawed experience, in the only true way that matters in VR – movement. This make-or-break factor is unfortunately to the exclusion of all others, and some poor choices in control and movement makes this hard to enjoy and recommend for anything more than a tech demo. But before we get there, let’s explore what this game does well.
Right as the colony ship reaches its last leg of the journey, suspended above the adventurers’ new home, tragedy strikes. The huge vessel crashes into the surface, but you manage to make your way to an escape pod. As you fall you see your once-home explode, thousands of fellow travellers are hurled into the endless oblivion of space.
It is three months later. You have set up quite an impressive makeshift home on your new home world and must survive until help comes, or until time runs out. It’s a shameless retelling of the Robinson Crusoe tale, updated for the modern age in a new world. And what a world – a step back to the Maastrichtian age full of dinosaurs big and small. It’s stunningly rendered – a huge level of care has been put into the environment, and in virtual reality it feels fantastically immersive. The contrast between the prehistoric fauna and flora and the gleaming white metal of the spaceship remains looks fantastic, and the overall design has had a huge amount of care and time poured into it.
And that is the selling point of the entire game. Everything else, unfortunately, is substandard. Chief among them is the movement system. It is absolutely unintelligible why they did not use the Playstation Move controllers. The multi-tool that you hold in your hand throughout the journey even looks the spitting image of one! Perhaps it was scrapped late into development but its replacement combination of a Dualshock 4 and head-tracking leave a lot to be desired. It’s difficult to describe, but you point your head then press a button on the Dualshock to get something to happen. On top of that, you move through “smooth” walking. This, more than anything made me very motion sick. It’s as if you turned your head, then turned your body, then floated to where you’re heading. Not natural at all. It’s not a system that works well, and I would have liked to see a teleportation mechanism, such as in Rise of the Tomb Raiser. In particular, rock climbing, of which there is a surprising amount, feels off. I think it’s the combination of vertical and horizontal movement that makes for some hairy moments, and it’s an unfortunate detraction from what is otherwise a quality game.
There are some basic puzzle elements, mainly a hide and seek find this and bring it to the right place sort of thing. These are fine, but not really noteworthy. They do help to pad out a relatively short three-hour journey, which is needed considering that it is asking full price.
There are significant benefits to using a PS4 Pro while playing Robinson, and at this stage it is clear that VR game developers have been some of the most enthusiastic about the more powerful hardware. A PS4 Pro is now a very solid upgrade for virtual reality aficionados, as there are plenty of games where the extra GPU power helps enormously. In this game benefits include a higher rendering resolution, enhanced lighting effects, longer view distances, higher quality texture filtering and more seamless LOD (level of detail) generation.
Like so many of this initial wave of games for the Playstation VR, Robinson: the Journey is a bold game. For Crytek, their aim was seemingly to create a world that was as beautiful as anything found on PC. In this sense they have succeeded. But in creating a compelling game they have fallen far short. I will keep this game installed, as it may yet replace the shark dive experience in PS VR Worlds as my go-to experience for showing of what VR is capable of. But I won’t ask them to do anything but enjoy the scenery. They value their stomach contents far too much for that.
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Released: November 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PSVR
Genre: Action, Adventure