It looks beautiful, but does it play well? Not really…
Virtual Reality is far from being the next big way to play video games- it might well get to that point in the distant future (or it might now), but right now, it has a lot of issues that hold it back from being anything other than a cool gimmick. VR games usually face a lot of the same problems – a lack of depth, a lack of any real accomplishment in terms of game design – and Robinson: The Journey is bogged down by a lot of these issues as well. Admittedly, it’s a game that is simply gorgeous to look at, but beyond that, it doesn’t have a lot going for it.
In Robinson: The Journey, you play as a young boy named Robin, whose ship has crash-landed on a planet that is, for some reason, inhabited by dinosaurs. The game’s main drive is for Robin to go out into this new and dangerous world to look for any other survivors, or to discover new pieces of information on just how and why his ship crashed into this planet the way it did. It’s a setting that has a lot going for it, more than any other reason because this is a VR game- getting to see dinosaurs up close and personal is a wondrous experience, like seeing Jurassic Park for the first time ever was back when it was released (maybe not quite as much), and that sense of awe and wonder, quite frankly, never goes away.
"Getting to see dinosaurs up close and personal is a wondrous experience, and that sense of awe and wonder never goes away."
The world these dinosaurs inhabit is similarly lush and beautiful, overgrown with forests and dotted with brooks and rivers, with mountains and hills looming in the distance. Every once in a while, you come across pieces of wreckage from your crashed ship (it’s a mammoth ship, so there’s a lot of wreckage to come across), and seeing these huge, metallic, futuristic pieces of debris in an overgrown and lush world provides some moments of wonderful contrasting beauty. These are all some of the game’s biggest strengths, and they are compounded by the fact that this is a VR experience. Anything and everything of visual beauty sticks out, and Crytek have to be given credit for creating some amazing vistas, and dinosaurs that are amazing to look at (not that dinosaurs are ever not amazing to look at, but still).
But that’s as far as it goes when it comes to the good stuff. Did I say the sights and the beasts to behold are some of Robinson: The Journey’s biggest strengths? Well, they’re not- they’re it’s only strength. Honestly, this would have been a much better experience if it was just a virtual theme park sort of thing rather than actually being a game, because all of its “game-y” aspects are what bring it down. The majority of the gameplay is basically centred around two things- puzzle solving, and traversal, and both these activities are equally bad. Traversal entails Robin climbing vast and dizzying heights, but curiously enough, this isn’t controller by the PS Move controllers, but rather by the traditional gamepad. It would have been fine (-ish) if it was just the gamepad, but a lot of it involves you having to move your head around to, essentially, aim with your nose. It’s bizarre and it just doesn’t work, and what’s worse is that a lot of the times, it made me feel nauseated due to motion sickness.
"Movement isbizarre and it just doesn’t work, and what’s worse is that a lot of the times, it made me feel nauseated due to motion sickness."
Then there’s the puzzles, and they only come in two varieties throughout the game- they’re either dull and uninspired, or they’re frustratingly vague. They’re never designed to be smart or enjoyable in any way, and more often than not, the game does a horrible job of hinting at what’s to be done. Additionally, there are even times when you think a puzzle can be solved with a solution that is painfully obvious, but the game simply doesn’t let you do it that way, because it has a completely different solution in mind that it’s prodding you towards. What makes this all even worse is the fact that the game’s checkpoint spacing is beyond terrible, and there will be a lot of moments when you lose a great deal of progress, making the frustrating puzzles even more frustrating.
In Robinson: The Journey, Robin is also accompanied by two companions- there’s HIGS, a ball-shaped AI, and Laika, a baby pet dinosaur. And while HIGS is occasionally funny, and Laika is adorable to look at, neither of them is ever utilized well for gameplay purposes. HIGS’ prompts and remarks aren’t always helpful, and sometimes, he simply forgets to give any prompts. Laika’s inclusion is even more confusing though- early on, the game teaches you how she can be commanded to growl (to scare away other dinosaurs) or crawl through holes and stuff (for puzzle purposes) and other such actions, but then the game rarely ever gives you any opportunities to make use of her, making you wonder why she is even in the game.
"Puzzles are either dull and uninspired, or they’re frustratingly vague."
In fact, this is a problem with all dinosaurs in the game. Other than the fact that simply looking at them is a wonderful experience in and of itself, there’s just not much else to them in the game. There are a few sections where you have to stealthily make your way around a few dinosaurs, but these beasts are criminally under-utilized throughout the entire game- for the gameplay parts at least.
And so I circle back to something I said earlier in this piece. Robinson: The Journey would have been a much better experience if it was just a non-interactive journey into this lush, beautiful world where we get to look at dinosaurs and get up really, really close to them. Unfortunately, that is not what it is. It tries to include a lot of gameplay stuff to give it the illusion of mechanical depth, but sadly, that’s all it is- an illusion. None of these mechanics have a lot of depth, and neither of them work very well. Robinson: The Journey is beautiful to look at, and the wonder of looking at dinosaurs and the beautiful world they inhabit never goes away, but there’s a lot of other poorly designed stuff that unfortunately pulls you away from the parts that actually work well.