If you’re a fan of virtual reality, you might be wondering what game will be the first one you show to your non-believer family and friends. What VR experience will be the one you use to introduce the technology to skeptics? It’s not a shooter. It’s not a horror game. It’s Crytek’s Robinson: The Journey (opens in new tab) for PlayStation VR.
Robinson is a narrative-heavy exploration game about a boy – named Robinson – who is stranded on what seems to be a prehistoric Earth when his spaceship crashes. Along with your robotic companions, you’ll explore a jungle teeming with flora and fauna of the Cretaceous variety, avoiding raptors and saying hello to friendly brontosauruses (Brontosaurs? Brontosauri?).
The brilliance of this approach is two-fold: One, the game is, by and large, about dinosaurs. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill animals, they’re wondrous beasts. You can’t see them in the flesh, but we all have an idea of what they look like. They’re a shared social imagination – something everyone knows about, even though we can’t actually know everything about them. This makes them instantly relatable.
Second, Robinson is not “gamey.” Don’t get me wrong, I love getting the high score in an arcade game, the biggest killstreak in an FPS, unlocking the best armor in an RPG. But gamer jargon can be a hindrance and a turn-off to those unfamiliar, and remember: we’re talking about what VR game we’re going to use to get non-gamers interested. We want to ease people in, not toss them into the deep end.
I did a lot during my brief demo: I approached the aforementioned brontosaur with genuine wonder, desperately wanting to reach out and touch it like I was Dr. Grant listening to the lungs of a sick triceratops. I inspected pangolin-like critters that hung from tree branches with playful glee. I gazed out over a cliff face with awe at the scope of the world.
But despite the immense size of these creatures and the overwhelming sense that any number of them could eat me, one thing I never felt was uneasy. I wasn’t scared, and I didn’t feel rushed. That may be different in the final build, but for now it seems that Robinson builds up tension without being stressful, and Crytek has done extensive work in making sure that the game doesn’t make players nauseous.
Movement is slow and leisurely, and turning with the right thumbstick feels more like teleporting than the dizzying swirl that it can feel like in other VR games. You also won’t end up walking “forward” with your neck craned looking to the side, as can also sometimes happen as you lose your sense of self in a digital world. It’s the most comfortable experience I’ve ever had in VR.
Robinson may not appeal to the hardcore crowd looking for intensity and excitement. But as a demo for a new frontier of technology, it’s fantastic. Ever since I first strapped on an Oculus dev kit in 2012, I’ve wondered what I could show my mom, dad, and grandma that would properly introduce them to virtual reality. Robinson: The Journey is the best answer I’ve found so far.