Before I give my impressions for Robinson: The Journey, I want you to know something about me. I love dinosaurs (and palaeontology generally), and not just in the I-like-the-Jurassic-Park-movies kind of way. I have enough dinosaur toys to make a killer diorama, I’m seriously considering getting a tattoo of a pachycephalosaur, and if I could, I’d be studying coprolites in England right now. If Robinson: The Journey has a target player in mind, I’m it, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt if you must.
Robinson has a lot of problems, but the problems aren’t in the concept or execution, they’re in virtual reality itself.
Check out Sony’s LiveCast above to get a look at the same stretch of Robinson I played myself using PlayStation VR. Host Anthony Carboni calls out the obvious: it looks gorgeous. However, that is not how it looks in VR. Distances blur while wearing the goggles and textures look bland up close. Movement effects look patchy as well. The visual grandeur of a massive dinosaur in your face, enhanced in VR, is undermined by the poor resolution as you move around it. The game is still early, and I couldn’t tell if the game was running on a retail PS4, a dev kit, or perhaps even the new Neo hardware, but I was having similar issues in other VR games.
There’s also the question of nausea. I’ve tried VR several times now and have never suffered from nausea, but it’s a real concern among players and developers. Horizontal movement, in particular, is rough in VR, which is why some reporters complained about motion sickness in the Resident Evil VII E3 demo. Crytek knows this, and their solution was to prevent full horizontal movement in Robinson. Instead, you can move forward only along set axes. Hitting left or right on the left thumbstick snaps you to a different path, letting you move forward along that path and look horizontally only with your head movement.
Presumably, this strategy works, or at least I didn’t suffer from any motion sickness whatsoever. However, this fixed-direction solution is undoubtedly immersion breaking. Robinson feels like a game on rails, like I’m touring Jurassic Park in that iconic on-rails jeep — it’s amazing to see dinosaurs in a 3D environment, but it’s not the ideal VR experience you’re expecting from the trailers.
There is still time to perfect VR, and who knows how the PlayStation VR will look when Sony releases their upgraded PS4 Neo console. Robinson might still be a great game. But until VR works out all its kinks, no game will shine as much as it deserves, no matter how much of a childhood dream it recreates.