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Robinson: The Journey Review (PS4)

Primordial Snooze

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Ever since the PlayStation VR released a month ago today, Sony’s headset has been in serious need of software that offers more than just a brief showcase of what VR can do. Crytek’s Robinson: The Journey looks to fill this void by providing more than the bite-sized distractions that players have been treated to since the hardware launched. While this Jurassic journey shoots for the stars, it doesn’t quite deliver enough of an adventure to match its sticker price.

A science fiction story that’s more than a slight nod to the adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Robinson: The Journey puts players in the spacesuit of Robin, the lone survivor of a crashed space station, The Esmerelda. Accompanied by his robotic sidekick HIGS and his pet T-Rex named Laika, Robin must scour the planet Tyson III and discover the fate of the rest of the fallen space station’s crew.

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Don’t worry your little head. This harrowing showdown is nowhere to be found in the full game.

Upon booting up the game, the first thing you’ll likely notice if you’ve been following Robinson’s development over the past year is that the final product looks significantly less impressive than it did when it was first revealed. Now, I wouldn’t normally start off a review by remarking on a game’s visuals, but this is a downgrade in quality that’s definitely going to surprise anyone who’s been keeping an eye on the title, and it needs to be addressed. After stepping out of your escape pod and onto the verdant landscape of Tyson III, you’ll find a world that’s a far cry from the stunning vistas and incredibly lifelike dinos that were showcased by the developer leading up to the game’s release, and that’s a shame. And honestly, I’d gladly overlook the developer dialing back the visuals if they weren’t still being used to market the game. However, even the most recent trailer for Robinson is using footage that’s leaps and bounds beyond what you’ll find in the finished product, and that’s never acceptable.

Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the trailer below:

That’s not to say Robinson is ugly: it’s still one of the nicest looking games on the PSVR. But this drop in visual fidelity in many ways feels representative of the entire three-hour experience. Remember the footage of Robin cowering in a T-Rex’s nest to avoid being devoured by one of those massive apex predators? It’s nowhere to be found here. How about that unforgettable footage of Robin running between the legs of lumbering longnecks beneath a lush jungle canopy, only to be confronted by a towering dino in search of prey? Well, it’s here, but scaled back to the point of being hardly recognizable.

In fact, most of what you’ll be doing in Robinson: The Journey is merely wandering slowly through a small handful of areas, scanning wildlife and picking up objects with your handy all-in-one tool, while occasionally ordering Laika to roar at creatures to scare them so that you can progress. Other times you’ll scale cliff faces in a fashion very similar to Crytek’s other recent VR release, The Climb, or solve simple logic puzzles, like messing up a pterodactyl’s nest to get it to move or building a bridge out of scattered debris to cross a small chasm. Apart from that, there’s really not much to see or do in Robinson’s claustrophobic world.

Occasionally you’ll need to call on HIGs to restore power to certain areas. Similar to Deus Ex’s hacking mini-game, the main goal here is to manipulate circuits and conduct the electricity from node to node while maintaining a certain voltage. It’s a novel idea, but novelty doesn’t translate into fun. In the end, these distractions pop up more and begin to feel more like a way to pad the experience than anything else.

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Laika is Robin’s loyal companion, and a key player in the game’s story.

Still, despite a lack of things to do, I have to admit that exploring Tyson III can occasionally be a breathtaking experience. I felt a real sense of wonder the first time I emerged from a firefly filled cave and stepped into the planet’s lush jungle, where the sun struggles to break through a dense canopy. Climbing enormous trees and crawling through dense foliage felt like the ultimate VR nature hike. Moments like these are where Robinson truly shines, but the scale of the jungle is lopsided, with the rest of the areas you’ll explore seeming miniscule in comparison, and nowhere near the level of visual fidelity the planet’s wooded wonderland represents. Instead, you’ll find dull tar pits to chart your way around, a tiny farm comprised of a cliff and a solitary tree fort, and a brief stint in a ruined space station to round out the rest of Robinson’s journey. These areas are largely lifeless, offering little reason to explore apart from seeking out the PDAs of your lost crew members, which further fleshes out the events that befell the Esmeralda with audio logs.

Locomotion is a concept that many VR games manage to struggle with, but thankfully Robinson does an elegant job of handling movement as naturally as possible. Using the DualShock, players move forward and back with the left thumb-stick, while the right thumb-stick rotates Robin left or right. Moving the camera is handled by simply moving your head, and your movement speed smartly slows down when glancing off-center, allowing you to take in the world around you without worrying about any discomfort.If you’ve yet to earn your sea legs when it comes to VR, the game also features snap-turn, allowing you to incrementally rotate with the tap of the right stick, for maximum comfort at the cost of immersion.

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Still, there are moments when Robinson’s CryEngine 3-powered visuals really shine.

Sadly, the PlayStation Move controller isn’t supported (which is strange, considering Robin’s handheld device looks nearly identical to one), which would have gone a long way towards making the climbing and environmental manipulation feel even more immersive. A control option similar to that of Loading Human would have been great. Still, it’s hard to fault Crytek for what they’ve managed to do in terms of making navigation in Robinson both fluid and comfortable.

While seemingly filled with potential, Robinson: The Journey never really manages to rise above mediocrity. Apart from climbing the occasional cliff or scanning wildlife to add them to your database, there isn’t much else to do. Tyson III may be a planet teeming with life, but the small portion of this fascinating setting that we’re able to explore is mired in uninspired gameplay that never really manages to excite. This, combined with the constant feeling that much of the experience was left on the cutting room floor to meet a holiday release, make Robinson seem like a missed opportunity. Given a few extra months to add some more meaningful interactions with the world around you, the game could have really been a centerpiece for the PSVR’s library. Sadly, what we ended up getting is an occasionally lovely tour of a world almost entirely devoid of purpose. There’s no combat here to speak of. The puzzles are bare-bones. And unless you’re especially partial to climbing cliffs and sliding down vines, you’re not going to find much here to hold your attention.

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The lived-in look of Robin’s tiny refuge is very convincing.

If it were priced similarly to other budget-friendly VR titles then I’d be more willing to recommend Robinson: The Journey. The small handful of memorable moments crammed into this three-hour story make the game a very hard sell at $60. That said, unless you’re dying for a new game to play on your PSVR, I’d recommend waiting for a considerable price drop before venturing off into this prehistoric expedition.

Final Verdict: 2.5/5

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Available on: PS4 (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Crytek Studios ; Developer: Crytek Studios ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 8th 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $59.99

Full Disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Robinson: The Journey purchased by Hey Poor Player.

Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Dodonpachi Dai-Ou-Jou (Arcade), Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove (Switch), Neo Turf Masters (Neo Geo)
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