|Release Date||November 9, 2016|
Robinson: The Journey is a first-person, science-fiction adventure game that puts players in the role of Robin, a young boy who, following the destruction of his space ship, has been marooned on a planet that bares a striking resemblance to prehistoric Earth. Together with his pet baby T-Rex Laika and floating orb-shaped AI companion, Robin sets out from his makeshift, escape pod home to look for fellow survivors from the crashed ship.
It’s the perfect setup for a virtual reality game – wandering through a prehistoric land filled with dinosaurs. Robinson looks and sounds great. Taking in the surroundings, getting up close with well realised dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures and just generally existing in the world Robinson creates is a brilliant experience. For about five minutes. Then an AI voice will badger you about fixing a broken power cable or something and you’re reminded that you’re playing an incredibly tedious video game.
That’s Robinson’s big problem. As a world it’s great. It looks good, maybe better than any other title on Playstation VR right now. In small pockets, where the game simply lets you take in your surroundings for a moment, it’s an awe-inspiring experience. It’s when you’ve actually got to play the game – shuffling along the linear pathway, solving puzzles, climbing rock faces – that the dull and wholly uninspired game becomes apparent.
Robinson is a hard game to get into simply because the basic controls don’t really work properly. Everything about the game seems set up to have you interact with the world using Move controllers. You have to climb by grabbing handholds that stick out of various walls. You have floating hands in the game. Hell, the character even holds a scanner whose shape almost exactly resembles a Move controller.
Instead, you play using a Dualshock, to allow for full movement in the game world with analogue sticks, giving Robinson one of the most frustrating, confusing and awkward control systems I’ve experienced in a VR game. Basic movement works fine, essentially performed in the same way as any other first-person VR game. You walk with the left stick, move where you’re looking and can reorient your view using the right stick, either in increments or smoothly.
Everything else about Robinson’s controls is seemingly designed to be as awful as possible. Climbing is the worst. And you’re going to be doing it a lot. To climb you need to look at a handhold until a floating hand appears, then hold R2/L2 (depending on which hand you’re using) to grab it and move. Repeat until you’re wherever you’re trying to get to. Or until you’ve fallen to your death again.
The biggest flaw in this system is the game’s perspective. You’re in first person. As such, your face is pretty close to the wall your climbing. Looking around for the next handhold gets awkward enough as it is. There’s also no way to judge if your disembodied hand will actually grab the ledge it’s hovering over. For some reason the hand simply appears over whatever handhold you’re looking at, regardless of whether you can grab it or not.
What ends up happening is that a lot of the handholds I was desperately trying to grasp for were just outside my reach, usually outside of the playable area of the VR headset. So many times I needed to physically move myself towards the handhold just to grab it, literally having to lean forwards or even stand up, in an awkward crouched position to keep the headset in view of the camera, just to be able to make a tiny portion of progress. It’s immersion shattering, highly frustrating and terrible level design.
If the rest of the game was enjoyable I might have been able to overlook this issue, but climbing is one of the core components of the entire game. The only other major part of Robinson’s gameplay is solving puzzles, most of which are designed around either guessing what the developer was thinking or looking for hidden objects that have been scattered throughout the environment.
Solutions are generally unintuitive to boot. A “puzzle” involving a bird-thing (I’m not great with dinosaurs that aren’t in Jurassic Park) sees you, at a certain point, have to place a scarecrow in front of a nest to scare a bird-thing to fly away. A scarecrow I didn’t even know existed because I hadn’t seen it and the game hadn’t pointed it out to me. It was only after 25 minutes of plodding around the level trying to interact with everything I could see that I managed to pick up the weird looking Human doll and figure out what the game actually wanted from me.
What’s really insulting about how this puzzle plays out is how the surrounding mechanics supposedly work. I had to scare the bird-thing away with a scarecrow, despite having a baby T-Rex for a pet, whom the game specifically told me could scare away animals if I directed him to roar at them. Apparently bird-things aren’t scared of T-Rex’s? Or maybe there was just no thought put into the tools you have at your disposal and how they could interact with the gameplay being presented to you.
Almost everything you do in this game can be classified as busy work. Worse, you spend a big portion of Robinson completing what are essentially chores. Your AI companion even comments multiple times how boring the tasks you’re completing actually are, as if that somehow alleviates the sheer, mind-numbing tediousness that is playing Robinson: The Journey. No robot, I don’t want to fix the bloody wind generator. I want to go on an adventure and see some VR dinosaurs.
Robinson: The Journey is a virtual reality game that gives players the opportunity to explore a prehistoric world and look at some dinosaurs in VR. Somehow, it’s also one of the most boring things I’ve played all year. Instead of sending you off on an epic adventure of survival, or at the very least letting you explore its prehistoric world in awestruck wonder, you get left to do the chores. The “puzzles” are obtuse and outright uninteresting, oftentimes going against the mechanics the game taught you half an hour earlier, and the climbing (which accounts for a lot of your movement in-game) is incredibly awkward. Robinson is a thoroughly boring experience that just happens to look really, really pretty. I mean, the dinosaurs look great, but it’s not worth enduring the rest of the game to get a look at them.
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