Release date TBC, for PS4 (with PlayStation VR) and PC
All virtual reality games have to provide an immersive experience, no matter what kind of game the developer's trying to create. To trick my mind and make me forget I’m surrounded by people judging my goofy head movements while a black box is attached to my face, the game needs to completely draw me in. Robinson: The Journey does a brilliant job of building a world I want to discover: it’s Portal meets Jurassic Park. But the gameplay is so uncomfortable and jarring that I find myself unable to enjoy it.
Robinson: The Journey tells the tale of a space shuttle that’s crashed on a strange planet. The reasons why Esmeralda fell out of orbit and onto Tyson III are unknown. As Robin, the pilot, you must explore this strange planet and learn about the flora and fauna within, aided by your levitating robo-sidekick – HIGS – who is exactly like Wheatley from Portal 2. Seriously, the spitting image of Wheatley. Like, if you stuck some Stephen Merchant stand-up on and muted the game, it’d be Wheatley. Not Wheatley though.
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Potential copyright infringement aside, HIGS has a much more mature tone to him, with a deep and instructive voice. The demo starts with me deep in the forest of Tyson III, atop some large vines and trees. HIGS encourages me to walk forward, across a large, fallen log. In the foliage below lie some very hungry raptors. They’re close enough to be able to jump and nip at my feet, but not close enough to be able to jump to my level.
The lushness of the forest, the engrossing musical score and the fact that I’m surrounded by dinosaurs on land and pterosaurs in the air makes me feel like HIGS is one step away from saying, “Welcome... to Jurassic Park.” It’s all very enthralling. I'm looking around with mouth agape. However, once I reach the end of the log, the game requires me to rotate, and this is when things take a very bad turn.
Rather than use the right analogue stick or turn my head to rotate Robin, my virtual self, I instead have to flick the analogue stick left or right. At this point Robin does a very aggressive 15- or 20-degree spin in that direction. It’s completely jarring, and immediately makes me feel motion sick. What’s worse is that some of the platforms I'm walking across don’t line up perfectly with any of the pre-determined angles in which Robin can turn, meaning I have to snap left and right continuously while walking. I even have to close my eyes for some of the journey to avoid being completely disorientated and sharing my already-eaten lunch with the raptors.
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Why you can’t simply rotate like a normal person I don’t know, but the current setup is almost unplayable from a comfort perspective. I hope the turning isn’t so aggressive come final build, or at the very least the motion blur is turned down significantly.
After making my way through a hollow log I reach some debris, which HIGS informs me I can move using a scanner contraption. By pressing L2 I can pick up the pieces, and with a quick hair-flick motion of my head I can discard any lumps of metal blocking the path. Then Robin must climb up a tree, done by alternating L2 and R2 to grip onto lumps of foliage. Imagine first-person Uncharted and you’re almost there: press L2 to grab with your left hand, move your head to see your right hand reach for a nearby rock, then press R2 to grab on, and release L2 to then reach with your left. Rinse and repeat.
It sounds dull, but it’s not too bad and doesn’t last long enough to outstay its welcome. It does, however, happen often enough during the demo to become tedious and become a worry that this is one of Robinson: The Journey’s very few tricks.
Wandering atop this lush forest, I come across a brontosaurus – I think, I’m not very good at archaeology. (Editor's note: It's paleontology, Brett. And there's no such thing as a brontosaurus any more. But apart from that...) It's blocking my path as it forages on the trees.
HIGS encourages me to find a way past. To my right dangle huge green bulbs, seemingly the food the dino is feeding on, and at my feet lie some packaged foods, presumably remnants from the crashed shuttle I’ve just exited. Plan A goes awry, merely chucking the packaged food at the dinosaur’s face does nothing but annoy it, and HIGS informs me this isn’t a good idea. I then have the lightbulb moment of throwing the packs of food at the bulbous orange plant to make it fall to the floor, leading the dinosaur away from my path. Onwards I go, feeling very stupid for having thrown what looked like a pack of Coco Pops at a dinosaur.
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After moving past the now well-fed creature, HIGS and I come to a clearing, and it seems this presumably prehistoric land isn’t so prehistoric at all. Looking out onto the horizon from high up reveals that, in fact, this strange new world is as space-age as the shuttle I just crashed into it. There are huge sky-scraping arcs of metal-like structures straight out of Mass Effect. HIGS is on a rant about something but I’m too busy gawking at the view to pay attention.
Pterosaurs fly from beneath, and more giant dinos walk beneath, and then there’s a roar, just like you’d expect at the beginning of the second act of Jurassic Park. Then the demo ends, but that teasing roar doesn’t hook me into the story nearly as much as the developers would clearly like.
While the world of Robinson: The Journey is certainly a sight to behold, the gameplay mechanics make it such an uncomfortable experience that I find it tough to imagine I'd persevere. The harsh turning in VR and laborious climbing mean it’s a real struggle to enjoy what is undoubtedly a beautiful Jurassic Park/Mass Effect/Portal crossover.
I fear the limitations in gameplay will hold back the world in which I’m trying to explore, and that’s a shame because it looks very beautiful.