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Robinson: The Journey review: Hands on with one of PSVR’s most promising games

 Crytek made its name with its stunning, superbly crafted Crysis shooters, but its roots stem back to something a bit more prehistoric – dinosaurs, to be precise, and it’s these giant reptiles that Crytek’s returning to in its very first PlayStation VR game, Robinson: The Journey.

A futuristic take on Robinson Crusoe, The Journey sees the titular Robin crash land on a planet called Tyson III that also happens to full of rampaging dinos. Luckily, one of them, Laika, seems rather friendly, and playing catch with a waist-high T-Rex is quite unlike any other VR experience I’ve had.

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It helps that Crytek has absolutely nailed down Robinson’s movement system. Despite having a rather Move-like control clamped in your in-game suit glove, Robinson uses a traditional DualShock 4 controller for traversal and interaction. A push of the right analogue stick sets you going straight, but you can click the left analogue stick left and right to switch to a number of pre-defined angles off the central axis. It takes a little getting used to, particularly if you’re the kind of person who likes to strafe in first-person games, but it didn’t take long before it became second nature.

Your pace is fairly glacial, but that’s to help keep motion sickness at bay, which Robinson’s executive producer Elijah Freeman told me has been one of the major challenges throughout the game’s development. He himself is particularly susceptible to the effect, so makes for an excellent test subject for every new build the team brings him. Indeed, while I experienced a fleeting moment of nausea right at the start, it quickly abated and I was able to play the rest of my demo without any ill effects.

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It’s just as well, as it would be a shame for Crytek’s incredible jungle of lush fauna and towering trees to be spoiled by recurring dizzy spells. Yes, it’s not quite as highly detailed as your typical Crysis game, but the sense of place it creates is unmistakable. The opening area alone is sizable encampment perched on the edge of a cliff, looking out over a vast valley of greenery, and a strange, circular structure looms high in the distance, a constant reminder of your end goal and ultimate destination.

The camp is chock full of things to do and puzzles to solve as well. You don’t necessarily have to complete all of them in order to progress through its linear story, but there’s plenty of depth here for those that go looking for it. Admittedly, my attempts to catch a few fish in a saucer weren’t wholly successful, as its confusing set of prompts and tricky set of controls made it quite difficult to accurately judge a sense of depth. It’s certainly not as intuitive as using a mouse and keyboard, for instance, so it’s clear there’s still some way to go before Robinson’s smaller quests and mini-games are as easy to pick up as a traditional console offering.

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However, that small hiccup was soon rectified by the next task which involved restoring energy to a nearby generator. By assuming control of your ship’s robotic AI modules, HIGS, you’re presented with an overhead view of your overall environment, allowing you to see the world in miniature as you direct the current from one power point to the next. It’s certainly more immersive than simply looking at a flat 2D monitor, and this blend of first and third person puzzles really allows Robinson to make great use of its new VR technology.

You can also see glimpses of Crytek’s other VR titles in Robinson, as my second demo involved climbing a huge tree to get to a nearby viewpoint up above. While nowhere near as visually impressive as Crytek’s Oculus-based The Climb, the feeling of gingerly directing my hands over each grip point was just as unnerving.

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Without any motion controllers at my disposal, the only way to move forward was to use my head-mounted display to look for my next hold, which I then latched on to using the respective trigger button on the Dualshock 4. It sounds simple, but when you really feel like you’re hanging 60ft in the air with rabid raptors snapping at your heels down below, letting go of the next trigger button becomes a surprisingly tense exercise of fine motor control.

The ordeal didn’t end there, either, as I then managed to draw the attention of a rather curious Brachiosaurus, who simply wouldn’t move his lumbering snout out of my way unless I chucked a large piece of fruit at him. Again, simply looking to grab and throw an object isn’t a particularly complicated manoeuvre, but in VR, with a giant dinosaur bearing down on you, your levels of concentration have never been so high.

Of course, the launch of PlayStation VR isn’t far off now, but we’ll have to wait a little longer before the final version of Robinson: The Journey hits our headsets, as there’s currently no word on a final release date. However, from what I’ve seen so far, it certainly looks as though it could be one of the most promising titles in Sony’s VR line-up. I’ll bring you a full review closer to the game’s launch.