Locomotion is one of the obstacles that might prevent VR from gaining mass appeal. In traditional games, we take for granted our characters are walking forward, turning smoothly, and looking a different direction than we are moving. In VR though, all of those things I just listed can make some people lose their lunch. Robinson: The Journey takes the brave step of letting your character “walk” forward. Turning is incremental, but most of your movement is a smooth motion, and it was something I felt immediately. I was not motion sick per se, but I just felt funny…almost stressed. Supposedly the more you play VR games, the more you get your VR “legs, ” and this feeling begins to subside. Unfortunately it never really waned during my playthrough of Robinson, but I still found plenty of things to like about it!
One criticism facing VR games is they cannot look as good as “traditional” games. Graphical concerns are especially valid on PS VR since it is hamstrung by the power of the console whereas Vive and Oculus can use beefy PCs to push higher visuals. Apparently, folks forgot to tell Crytek because Robinson is a beautiful game that helps to tell the story of Robin and his robot companion HIGS. The environment is lush, the animals and beasts you come across look and move as you would expect, and the human constructed aspects feel genuine. This game presents like a AAA title.
From a gameplay perspective, Robinson feels almost like a first-person adventure game. The focus is on exploration and light puzzle solving. One mechanic pulled in from Crytek’s game The Climb is how you scale rock surfaces, ladders, etc. by looking at the surface you want to grab and using the appropriate shoulder button to reach for it. When it works well, it does create an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. When it is not functioning well, the frustration levels can be significant. When you combine this with the fact you must use the DualShock 4 (even though the item Robin carries in his hand looks like a Move controller) I often felt like I lacked a bit of precision. Finicky controls occasionally appeared in the puzzle solving as well.
The puzzles range from pretty straightforward to quite vague, but the difficulty in solving them typically comes from being able to manipulate objects in the way you want, or even knowing what you need to do. It was not uncommon for me to try to throw objects off cliffs in hopes the would respawn as that was easier than trying to reorient an object. HIGS will occasionally provide some direction or assistance, as does your other companion, a young t-rex named Laika, but your wit and ingenuity will have to solve most problems. (On a side note, Laika contributed to my scariest moment in VR yet when I turned to call her, not realizing she was already behind me, and I was met with t-rex seemingly inches from my face. I jumped a bit in my seat.) One side task you perform throughout the game is scanning wildlife to document them. While conceptually it does not seem like it should be fun (the animals become filled with green and red dots, and you have to look at all the green while avoiding the red to scan them) I could not stop doing it.
Navigating the environment in Robinson ranges from joyous to a challenge. The setting is beautiful, but since you walk and do not warp, you move very slowly. When I knew where to go, I did not mind this. If I was unsure of my destination, there were no map waypoints, and I was left to wander while I figured out where to go next. Granted, this did not happen often, but I never looked forward to it when it did. If you knew exactly where to go, this game would be a pretty quick experience (three to four hours I would guess), but my playthrough was fleshed out a bit by some wandering.
Robinson: The Journey does some things well (graphics, environment, scanning of animals, environmental storytelling) but the actual act of playing the game can sometimes be frustrating. With a bit more refinement this could stand-out as one of the pillars of VR. As it sits, Robinson is another example of the excellent potential of VR.