Crytek’s VR outing is a sumptuous theme park ride that’s sadly too shallow and bland to justify the full-price cost of entry.
Peer beyond the foliage that enshrouds Robinson: The Journey’s planet of Tyson III and you’ll find a little piece of Crytek’s history, a fossil that’s now been brought to live as a towering embodiment of so much that’s defined this developer. Back before Jack Carver had even packed his bags for the South Pacific in the original Far Cry, Crytek made its name with tech demo X-Isle Dinosaur Island. Almost 15 years later it’d return there, this time for a tech demo that explored the possibilities of VR, and now we have this: Robinson: The Journey, a full-priced PlayStation VR title that has you stranded on a dinosaur-infested planet as you strive to find other survivors of your downed spacecraft.
True to many a Crytek game before it, Robinson: The Journey is stunning to behold, and an early contender for the finest looking game to grace PlayStation VR. Confident art direction that takes well-worn sci-fi tropes and infuses them with a little lived-in character – the space pod that your character, the young Robin, lives in is as messy as a teen’s bedroom – is delivered with technical excellence. Virtual reality games have rarely looked better, making it all the more impressive that Crytek is getting this performance from a mere PlayStation 4 (the PlayStation 4 Pro version that contains some improvements wasn’t available to us before launch, but the vanilla edition is more than handsome enough).
Jungles crawl with wildlife and bristle with detail, tarpits bubble away and all the while Robinson: The Journey harnesses the wonder and awe of having dinosaurs amongst its cast. They’re impressive beasts, beautifully rendered and animated, and there’s something of that same spectacle that Jurassic Park’s CGI dinosaurs harnessed so many years ago. Look skywards to take in the size of a ‘longneck’ – Tyson III’s own brontosaurus – and you’ll get that same feeling audiences had in 1994 when presented with something that’s part of the collective conscience brought to life in such a brilliantly, shockingly new way.
Like its cinematic inspiration (and at one point towards the adventure’s end, Crytek goes beyond homage to straight-up VR remake) Robinson: The Journey is an elaborate theme park where you’re mostly invited to stop and gaze at the wonders around you. It’s a frequently impressive theme park ride, mind, and one in which you’re afforded some freedom. As Robin you must navigate several small interconnected areas, each offering numerous paths as you track down clues towards the whereabouts of your fellow crew members.
You’re not entirely alone on your adventure. Laika, a baby tyrannosaurus, joins you, as does HIGS, a floating AI orb, both of whom help you in the light puzzles you encounter. Those puzzles themselves are simple things, sometimes involving re-routing power in a short mini-game and more often involving moving objects around the map via a tool that’s ever-present on the screen (curiously Move controls are currently not supported).
There’s just not enough to it, though, the puzzles being clumsy and uninspired while the finer details of the world around you fall equally flat. HIGS himself is a banal companion, a weak Wheatley with a personality bypass, while the story you uncover feels like it’s been told countless times before. Crytek’s environmental storytelling is much more powerful than its writing, however, and for all its failings the world they’ve created is compelling – visually, at least.
It’s also where you’ll find the most satisfying part of Robinson’s make-up, with traversal that’s been borrowed from Crytek’s excellent earlier VR outing The Climb. You find hand holds by craning your neck, moving one hand from another and finding a simple rhythm. It’s been pared back here from its earlier outing – there’s no stamina bar to worry about, nor do you have to bother chalking your hands – but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.
It’s a small part of a small game, though, and Robinson: The Journey is slight. There’s a premium feel to how the world you explore looks and feels, but the price-tag Robinson: The Journey commands is noteworthy seeing as it doesn’t offer that much more than Rocksteady’s more reasonably priced Arkham VR.
Robinson: The Journey is as hollow as it is spectacular, and only ever makes small steps away from its tech demo origins. Crytek knows VR intimately, and Robinson is as smart and assured as anything else in the medium. It knows all the tricks that make for a great VR experience, and isn’t shy in using them. It doesn’t quite know how to match that with a half-decent game, though, leaving this a theme park ride that’s over too soon and that’s all too forgettable.