Dinosaurs, man. I love ’em! Ever since I was a kid I’ve been all about them, especially when Jurassic Park came out. They’re fascinating creatures and I’m sure they were a sight to behold when they roamed the earth.
Unfortunately, when Jurassic Park came out and dinos were more mainstream, the consoles on the market weren’t powerful enough to render believable environments or dinosaurs, let alone polygons at all. Instead we got licensed titles on NES, SNES, Genesis, PlayStation, and so on. Well, unless you count this T-Rex demo for the original PlayStation. These titles weren’t bad for what they were, but nothing lived up to my dream of a beautiful 3D game teeming with dinos. Hell, there hasn’t even been many dinosaur games in the past decade. Off the top of my head, I can name a few; Turok, Dino Crisis, Primal Carnage, and most recently Ark: Survival Evolved. Out of them all, Ark is the standout title, but it’s gameplay can be demanding and in order to truly experience it in all it’s beauty you need a beefy PC, although it is available in Preview on Xbox One it doesn’t run all that well. If you own a PS4 Pro, however, it runs great! Anyway, it looked like my dreams of living among realistic dinosaurs were about to come true with PlayStation VR (review here) and Robinson: The Journey, and in some ways it did and in others it was a bit of a letdown.
For over two years, I’ve been following Robinson back when it was a proof of concept to display how Crytek’s impressive CryEngine could power believable VR games. The moment I saw it I wanted nothing more than for someone to give the green light. Someone to say ‘Hey, let’s make a killer dinosaur game because zombies are overrated!” Thankfully someone did just that, and if you watch the developer diaries it’s clear the team put a lot of love into Robinson, but in the end I can’t help but feel it could be so much more.
Let me explain:
You play as a twelve year old boy named Robin who’s been surviving for a while now on a planet inhabited by dinosaurs after the spaceship you were on crashed; pretty standard stuff on the surface. There’s more to the story, but I’m not going to ruin it. While you may be the sole human survivor, you’re not alone and are accompanied by a floating AI sphere named HIGS as well as your baby pet T-Rex named Laika. The moment I saw HIGS I immediately thought of Wheatley, that dear comedic orb from Portal 2. HIGS can be funny at times, but he’s no Wheatley. Thankfully, he’s not a jabbering pain in the ass either and will somewhat guide you to your next objective or give you visual cues to solve a puzzle if you get stuck. Laika is goddamn adorable and every time she’d look up at me with those big puppy dog eyes my heart would melt and the next thing I knew, I was talking to her like she was my real pet. It’s a shame then that she’s severely underutilized and only helps out in a couple puzzles later on.
So the characters aren’t bad, but what about everything else? Well, as you’d imagine, Crytek nailed the environment and ambience. While your path throughout the game is linear, the world feels vast, open, and very much alive with mosquitoes and butterflies all around as well as bugs and lizards scurrying about. The real showstopper is obviously the dinosaurs and I guarantee you’ll have your very own “It’s a dinosaur!” moment when you encounter one for the first time.. It’s a bit of a disappointment that these moments aren’t all that common. Throughout the four to six hour campaign you’ll run across three or four different types of dinosaurs. That’s it! Jurassic Park this is not. Don’t expect to get to interact with the few dinosaurs in the game either. You’ll obviously interact with Laika and can give her commands, but the most exciting thing you can do is feed her potatoes and watch her eat them (I know I know, weird right?). You’ll eventually come toe to claw with Raptors, but they’ll kill you before you can even take the moment in.
Okay, okay, okay Antonio. So HIGS is forgettable, Laika is adorbs, the world is gorgeous, and there aren’t as many dinosaurs as you were hoping. But what about the gameplay? Surely that’s the redeeming factor which justifies the $59 price tag right?
Much like when I ate dinner as a kid, I saved the worst for last.
This is what really kills me and hurts my heart about Robinson. I wanted this game to be so many things. I wanted to live among dinosaurs. I wanted to have to build some kind of cool sci-fi gadget or weapon. I wanted to upgrade my life pod somehow. I wanted to feel as if there was a threat at every turn. What did I actually do?
…and climbed some more…
Other than finding HIGS units to unravel the story, you’ll also be scanning dinos to further your research. Each dinosaur type will require multiple scans until you learn enough about it to fill out a full profile in your database. Scanning takes place in the form of a minigame where the objective is to hit all the green points without hitting a red point. If you do that, then you must start the minigame over. It’s not much, but it does add a bit of replayability other than wanting to enjoy the world. And that’s really it. Climb, find, scan, climb, repeat.
Overall, I found Robinson to be one big dino cock tease—especially at the very end where you’re put in a certain situation that add heightened tension. Unfortunately it’s a brief segment and it made me reflect on all the damn climbing I did. The ending is fantastic and memorable, it’s just the slog getting there that’s the problem. It’s hard for me to recommend this game at the asking price of $59, but if you can get it for half I say go for it. If you want dinosaurs on your PS4 then I’d suggest picking up Ark: Survival Evolved on PSN for $55 and throw your headset on. It may not be in VR, but it has a hell of a lot more dinosaurs and gameplay to enjoy. If Robinson gets a sequel, I hope everything is expanded on. But that’s easier said than done.