However good the destination, a journey can often make you sick.
A ramshackle assortment of possessions – repaired, repurposed or rejected – scatter the breadth of Robin’s crashed escape pod in the casual disorder of a teenager’s bedroom. He’s been on Tyson III for some time now. Together with his AI companion, HIGS, they’ve settled into a routine of survival among the jungle foliage and the shattered, hulking remnants of his old ship. Stepping outside of Robin’s pod to see it all is genuinely wonderful; the beauty of the place is matched by its imposing scale, juxtaposing Robin’s vulnerable insignificance within it.
Robin is only a boy. And like the VR technology through which we experience his new world, Tyson III is unexplored territory. HIGS, in the tradition of Portal 2’s Wheatley, is a floating monocular orb. He regularly dispenses advice to Robin and is keen to play it safe, discouraging him from venturing too far. Of course, we’re sometimes going to ignore HIGS. In the wilderness lie answers among the wreckage, giving clues as to what caused the crash and, potentially, the location of other survivors.
Starting out in Robin’s camp it seems clear that the title is riffing on Robinson Crusoe. Makeshift shelters of tarpaulin and jutting metal poles are a pleasing contrast to the lush clifftop greenery that surrounds the site. Vegetation isn’t the only form of life, either. The centrepiece of Robinson: The Journey is its bestiary, which mysteriously includes all manner of creatures from Earth’s Jurassic period. That’s right: dinosaurs.
The first one you’ll see is Robin’s own adopted baby T-Rex, Laika. Living on the camp with him, Laika will follow and obey a handful of commands. Some for fun, others more practical in solving puzzles, Laika’s presence gives an early glimpse of the wonderful fauna that this world holds. From butterflies to velociraptors, the place is alive with movement, really making the most of VR’s ability to place you inside a world, rather than simply observe it.
Finding each creature is a major part of the experience, as Robin chronicles his discoveries. Scanning creatures adds them to his log, though this involves more than simply looking at them. A diverting minigame plays out in which your scanner sees red and green dots at various points on the creature’s body. Physically looking at every green dot completes the scan, though accidentally focusing on a red one means you’ll need to retry.
More critical to Robin’s journey is the discovery of other HIGS units, each of which contains important data that develops the story behind his stranding. Finding them involves exploration beyond the usual walking, including rock climbing and zip-lining. If you think that sounds ill-advised for a VR game, you would be correct. Puzzles are also in your way, involving manipulation via a kind of gravity gun that can lift and rotate objects remotely. This works well, but limited signposting means more backtracking than is sensible for a VR game.
What I’m referring to there is motion sickness. It’s particularly acute in Robinson: The Journey among everything I’ve tried on PS VR. While the head tracking is fine, the combination of this with traditional first person controls becomes increasingly unpleasant with extended play. Only regular pads are supported (despite Robin’s in-game hand holds something resembling a Move controller). Analogue sticks perform the same functions as a typical first person game; walking and strafing on the left stick, with turning on the right. Trouble is, turning your head with a stick and your actual head simultaneously is a really quick way to make you sick.
Crytek’s solution is to replace conventional, smooth turning on the controller with an instant rotation by degrees. Tap the stick left or right and you will instantly change direction by about 20°, reducing the impact of motion sickness. That said, you will quickly learn that playing Robinson needs some discipline if you really want to avoid feel ill. Looking around while you move is pretty much out of the question if you want to play for a reasonable period. You’ll want to turn, walk forward, stop, and look around in deliberately discrete movements. It’s kind of like living through a permanent hangover.
Being new to VR, I have to wonder if these symptoms are things we can overcome with experience, but when a game makes you ill it’s hard not to factor that into a recommendation. No doubt, the game is spell-bindingly beautiful; it’s among the most convincing of places I’ve seen on PS VR so far. The fact that I’ve wanted to stay there even during waves of nausea speaks to the allure of Tyson III’s world. In that context, the brevity of the experience (around 5 hours) is both a blessing and a curse. With virtual reality, we’re really at the start of the journey. However convincing a place Crytek has built here, there must be healthier ways of presenting it.
Robinson: The Journey was provided to us by Premier via a download code for PlayStation VR (played on PS4 Pro).