Every time I’ve looked at gameplay footage from Crytek’s Robinson: The Journey, I’ve come to a swift, sweeping conclusion: there’s no way it can really look that good running on PlayStation 4. As much as I want it to, it just can’t possibly be done on this hardware, right? Just take a look at the video below; its textures are pristine, its forests are lush and richly detailed, and its prehistoric monsters are every bit as intimidating as you’d expect.
Surely this can’t be running on that little console? That tiny, modestly powered box that both Rift and Vive owners scoff at?
Well, believe me, it is. I’ve played Robinson for myself. I’ve walked along its hollow tree trunk bridges and climbed its leafy ivy walls. I’ve jumped at raptors snapping at my heels and I’ve tried to reach out and touch a giant beast’s scaly skin. We first went hands-on with Robinson at E3, and it still impresses in its latest outing.
Robinson is a powerhouse showcase for PlayStation VR, and proof the PS4 can handle itself in the VR arena. You do lose some of the visual fidelity on PS VR’s 1080p screen, sadly, but it’s still easy to see just how much effort has gone into making this game a visual showcase for Sony’s headset.
But enough gawking at graphics; there’s a game to be played here too or, more accurately, there’s a path to be walked and clambered over, with only a hint of some deeper mechanics for now. Much of my time in Robinson was spent navigating a fairly straightforward path that was occasionally interrupted by some puzzle elements and a climbing mechanic that will be more than a little familiar to fans of Crytek’s past work in VR with The Climb.
Everything’s controlled with the DualShock 4 gamepad, though your character, a young boy named Robin, holds a scanning device in his right hand that looks suspiciously like a PlayStation Move controller, perhaps hinting at possible input updates to come. It can also be used to levitate objects, which forms the foundation of many of the game’s brain teasers. At one point you’ll have to pull on a branch to let water trickle down a tree for example, or knock strange alien fruit onto the floor to distract a plant-eating dinosaur.
Physics-based puzzles aren’t anything new to VR, but they’re also not really what Robinson is about. This is a game that wants to put you in the shoes of the early scenes in Jurassic Park movies when everything is going well. You know, the bit before everything goes wrong and people start getting eaten.
Still, there are occasional signs of survival mechanics that could inject Robinson with a little more excitement for those that seek it. Early on in a demo I fell into a pit of dinosaurs and was instantly met with a decidedly non-violent demise. The screen comfortably faded to black. At another point my AI companion gives me strict instructions to remain completely still as a pack of pterodactyls soar overhead, and I freeze in real life too. If Crytek can deliver not only the majestic lakeside scene of Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1993 classic, but also the intense kitchen sequence too, then Robinson could be something special.
Even if the game does end up favoring exploration over mechanics, though, it’s shaping up to be something I’d happily sit through, even if it doesn’t always feel like you should be sitting. The climbing mechanic, for example, makes you want to stand up out of your chair and really get into the zone. You’d expect nothing less, though, considering the system is very similar to the one seen in Crytek’s other VR game, The Climb. It does add an extra layer to the exploration that many of Robinson‘s rivals don’t have, but it’s hard not to feel a little short changed by the familiarity of the system.
That is the challenge with VR, though, isn’t it? If you’re going to climb in VR, why wouldn’t it look and feel exactly the same as it did with your previous climbing game? There aren’t really any controls to tweak and any kind of grip systems or power ups might come off as feeling fake in a world you’re meant to believe you’re actually in.
Standard navigation had a few issues too. When I came to some ramps I found myself slowing to a crawl, as if the game was gradually trying to stop me from getting to the top. It struck me that this was most likely a bug rather than some sort of unnecessary mechanic, as at one point it even caused me to tumble off of the side. When I restarted, I was able to ascend a little easier, though it still wasn’t as seamless as I’d expect.
For an early PS VR title, though, Robinson is still a few steps ahead of where I thought it would be. Simply marveling at the virtual beasts, I can tell that Crytek has no doubt poured hours into making this a sheer delight, and at times I was desperate for a Move controller so that I might reach out and pet some of the less bitey ones.
What’s really exciting right now is that we don’t know where the titular journey is going to take us. The end of my demo hinted at a strong sci-fi vibe, but we’ve only seen a very slim slice of Robinson thus far. I’m hoping for something that surpasses the experience-type software we’re seeing from established franchises, and instead getting a four to five hour campaign at the very least, though I’m fully aware that just might not be viable right now.
Robinson: The Journey will be a launch title for PlayStation VR, hitting on October 13th. We don’t yet know how much it will cost.