Crytek are arguably one of the most ambitious development studios in the virtual reality (VR) videogame scene. A sequence of regular technical demonstration reveals eventually lead to the release of debut title The Climb, which is about to receive a significant update (and notably, a huge improvement) through the addition of Oculus Touch controls. The company’s second VR release, Robinson: The Journey, takes the lessons learned from The Climb and wraps them into a much bigger VR experience.
Robinson: The Journey is a first-person adventure videogame not too dissimilar in construct to that of nDreams’ The Assembly. Though the theme and settings is entirely different, the pacing and central mechanics are parallel. Despite some missteps, Robinson: The Journey often demonstrates just how far VR development has come in the short few months since The Assembly’s initial release.
The plot of Robinson: The Journey flitters between intriguing and paper-thin with aplomb, rolling in trite endeavour as an excuse for exercising specific mechanics. The player takes on the role of Robin, a young boy stranded when the Esmeralda crash-lands on Tyson III. Devoid of human companionship, Robin must venture through an unwelcoming environment with only HIGS, an AI unit from the Esmeralda, to guide him as he attempts to find the lost crew.
Despite the hostile environment, Robinson: The Journey errs on the side of caution when it comes to action sequences. The pacing of the videogame is more concerned with player comfort – as it should be during these early days of modern VR – than adrenaline pumping action sequences. And, given that the experience takes place entirely in first-person, Crytek has clearly invested significant research into locomotion.
Using a DualShock 4 controller on PlayStation 4, the player moves with the left analog stick as would be expected. The right analog stick allows for snap rotation – instant turning at fixed degrees – while the PlayStation VR head-mounted display (HMD) controls the entirety of the player’s head movement in-game. To that end a technique has been introduced that may sound somewhat disconnected on paper, but in practice is hugely successful.
The player’s movement speed is controlled directly by their viewpoint. When looking directly ahead the player can move at full speed, however this momentum is then reduced when off-centre. For example, if the player looks upwards at 45 degrees their movement speed will be halved; looking at the floor will reduce them to a crawl speed. How does this benefit the player? Simply by reducing the chance of discomfort through unexpected travel: in first-person videogames the player can often move further than expected when not looking at the horizon, which in VR can have disastrous effects. Robinson: The Journey does not suffer from this concern-adding issue.
Other mechanics see the climbing from The Climb boiled down to a component opposed to a full experience – perhaps as it should be – and lightweight puzzle solving. Players can pick up objects and throw them, interact with designated aspects of the environment and generally carve themselves a path along the linear route under the occasionally imposing guidance of HIGS. Robinson: The Journey is hardly groundbreaking in this respect, but tying each disperate mechanic together in an enjoyable adventure is more than many have achieved in VR thus far.
Perhaps Robinson: The Journey’s biggest issue is its price tag. Despite Oculus VR co-founder Palmer Luckey’s suggestion that VR videogames may attract a higher price point upon launch this has not been the case. In fact, a number of VR exclusive releases have seen their price drop shortly after release. Robinson: The Journey being priced as a full retail videogame release may cause concern for some, but for those keen to follow the evolution of VR as a medium its worth jumping on board.