When thinking about the games I desperately want PlayStation VR to gel with, anything first-person leads the way. Doesn’t matter if it’s getting behind the wheel in DriveClub, gunning down murderous clowns and wendigos in Until Dawn: Rush of Blood or even aerial combat (I’m not traditionally a fan) in Criterion’s stunning X-Wing mission in Star Wars: Battlefront – I’ll be there, ready to push my face into it.
It can all be a bit manic though, stressful even – I’m just waiting for a good deal on Resident Evil VII, honest. I could do with something I can sit down with for a few hours and just enjoy being ‘there’. Robinson: The Journey may just be that game.
You play as Robin, a young boy emerging from his escape pod after crash-landing on Tyson III, a planet populated by Cretaceous era dinosaurs – it’s ok, Mr. Spielberg, we think Cretaceous Park sounds guff as well. The last thing Robin remembers is going to sleep aboard a spaceship, on a long journey through the stars towards Titan III. To say more would risk story spoilers. You’ll slowly put events together as you find remains of the ship and audio diaries scattered throughout the world.
It’s not too lonely though as you have Higs, a floating robotic AI orb chatting away throughout the adventure, offering advice and warnings for you to not heed. Think Portal 2’s Wheatley with the nervous but snooty attitude of CP3PO and you’re there. Amusingly, he really hates your pet baby T-Rex. That’s right, you have a baby T-Rex sidekick. He’s kind of adorable, even when you turn around and he’s right there in your face, really showing off the depth of the 3D graphics. Plus, he’s nowhere near as much trouble as his sibling in the second Jurassic Park movie.
We’re given the impression that Robin has been on the planet for a while before we’re given control, but it doesn’t look like he’s ventured far from the escape pod at all, so almost everywhere you go to explore is new to him. Seeing as he’s mainly mute, this makes it easier to jump directly into his shoes.
You need to explore each area looking for missing black box-like orbs to discover the fate of your fellow travellers. You can also scan every creature you see in order to complete a checklist of the local wildlife. While the scanner looks very similar to a PlayStation Move controller, this is strictly a DualShock 4 controlled game, which makes it easy to walk and interact with things.
The scanner is actually controlled by moving your head, then scanning multiple tiny green orbs on each creature, while being careful not to get any red ones or you’ll have to start again. Simple enough to be engaging, with just enough challenge to make it worthwhile. Other puzzles aren’t too taxing and Higs will try to give you as many hints as possible so you don’t end up sneaking off to YouTube.
Exploring the game world is the main hook. It’s not a huge sandbox by any stretch and you walk rather slowly throughout. There is a wide range of environments squeezed into a small area though and on your way you’ll find more of your favourite dinosaurs to scan, avoid, or simply walk under, enjoying just being able to stare at them at your leisure.
Graphically the game can get a bit blurry if you move the camera too much (more on that later), but overall, it’s one of the best-looking PlayStation VR games out there. You’ll just have to meet it halfway a little given the comparatively low resolution offered by PSVR at this early stage. Let yourself enjoy the game though and there’s an immersive experience that shows VR is more than capable of delivering extended-play experiences.
If I’ve made it sound a bit like a leisurely dino-themed walking simulator so far, just wait until you get to the climbing sections. Using the L2/R2 shoulder buttons to control each hand you’ll climb up trees, along perilous cliff edges and swing over lava pits. These typical gaming tasks are given a huge boost in VR (even without Move controllers) as you must use your head to look around for your next handhold and it feels so much more precarious, especially when you have to let go with both hands sometimes to reach a ledge just out of arm’s reach. It really puts the danger back into climbing after the likes of Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed have all but made it an all but impossible-to-fail autonomous act. I’ll take a rock-climbing game for PlayStation VR anytime now thank you very much, Crytek.
The first-person nature of the game is a great fit, but there’s an unavoidable downside thanks to the potential motion sickness. After a few hours, I was gutted to feel it for the first time using PSVR, and maybe ever. This was all the more galling as I’ve been fine with plenty of other PSVR games known for drawing it out – yes, even DriveClub.
To be fair, I think I may have brought it upon myself by pushing my luck. The frame-rate is janky throughout if you spin the camera around too fast. After continuous attempts, for longer than I’ll admit, on a basketball minigame that involved turning around 180 degrees a lot to retake the shot, I felt a troublingly unfamiliar knot in my stomach that took me a while to connect with the game. So I stopped and rested for an hour or so. Unpleasant, but it could have been worse.
To be honest though, I couldn’t wait to get back in the game and after adjusting the in-game settings, I was able to play again with no repeat issues. A huge relief considering how much PlayStation VR had set me back. The adjusted settings essentially swapped regular turning for 45 degree ‘chunks’. It would be awful for full-on FPS games, but Robinson: The Journey allows you to take it easy.
If you’re not bothered about Trophies or ticking off all the activities, then you might breeze through Robinson: The Journey in under five hours. But if you’re willing to just enjoy spending time in this world, you’ll find one of the best PlayStation VR experiences yet. There are plenty of encouraging signs of what works in VR and how even basic gaming elements like climbing can be made to feel fresh and fun again.