Ark: Survival Evolved Review – Get out What You Put In (PS4)
Ark: Survival Evolved was originally released in Steam Early Access form in June 2015. Fast-forward over two years later, and the open-world survival crafting game has been officially released on the PlayStation 4, after also spending almost 10 months in early access on this platform. It’s been a long, tumultuous path for developer/publisher Studio Wildcard, but the time has finally come to render our verdict for their debut game.
Good Looking Dinos
Ark was created using the Unreal Engine 4. As usual, this highly-optimized engine runs very smoothly on consoles. Generally speaking, the frame rate stays high no matter what action is currently taking place. The various biomes of the Ark are believable, and each more hazardous than the next. Bodies of water have some odd reflections going on, and there is the occasional pop-in if you’re running for dear life (which may be fairly often early on!), but it is a pleasing game to look at overall.
Studio Wildcard has ambiance nailed in Ark. One moment, things may be relatively calm as I’m busy collecting fiber and berries from nearby brush. Suddenly, a medium-sized dinosaur might burst forth from the deeper forest, with an accompanying growl. Startled, I readied my hatchet, only to turn around and see that it’s an herbivore that startled me, and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Whether in the scorched desert, tropical forests, or frozen mountain peaks, there is a believable and dynamic soundtrack to accompany each environment, which can also serve as something else to listen to as I try to determine if I am still being hunted by that raptor I fled frantically from.
There are a ton of open-world survival games available today. Few of them deal so extensively in dinosaurs, however, and that is the main hook in Ark: Survival Evolved. By this point in the game’s life, there are dozens of dinosaurs to fight and tame. A wide range of the beasts can be found throughout the island, from the small but surprisingly fierce Compy to the terrifying but iconic T-Rex. A surprising threat also includes gigantic insects, which can kill you if you aren’t paying attention.
Kill or Be Killed
To be frank, Ark’s whole attitude appears to be that you will be killed, and killed often, as you are forced to learn the many dangers of the world the hard way. When you die (this is not a question of “if”), you lose all items on your person, and are given the option of respawning as your current character, or creating a new look and truly starting over at level 1. Once you respawn, you do have a few minutes to run to the spot where you died in order to pick up your stuff. However, this strategy is also risky, since who or whatever killed you will likely still be in the area. This can result in some great tension as you try to claw your way back to your old inventory.
Some games that drop you in a vast world and tell you to learn as you go do so in ways that give you some semblance of a hint. Ark shows you a massive list of silhouetted engrams (item blueprints) that you will unlock at certain levels, but it doesn’t really hint at how some disparate pieces go together. Now, some things simply require the use of common sense. For instance, wooden walls connect to wooden foundations, door frames, doors and ceilings to make a dwelling. Many people who enjoy the sense of discovery this limited help system imparts will love this aspect. But for others, it may prove to create a steep learning curve that is insurmountable without referring to a guide or asking other for help. Perhaps that’s the point.
Ark: Survival Evolved really pushes you to play with others. Once you reach level 15 or so, the items that can be crafted start having higher resource requirements. At the same time, as you venture further inland, the dinosaurs and other creatures become tougher, requiring coordination between multiple people to have a hope of taking down successfully. There are a decent amount of official servers available, supporting up to 72 players on a single island. This includes Player-vs-Player (PvP) as well as Player-vs-Environment (PvE). PvP servers are only recommended if you have a group of friends whom you know are reliable and in it to play for the long run, because your character continues to live on even if you quit the game. They simply go to sleep in the exact spot in which you left the game, slumped over, and essentially lifeless. After a certain amount of inactivity (three days or so), players and their structures are killed and demolished automatically. Just simply coming back to the game within that time limit is no guarantee that your character and stuff is still safe, either, as you and your things are still open to receive damage while you’re not online.
Keep Checking In
The living world mechanic of the online portion of Ark: Survival Evolved is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s a unique mechanic that practically forces you to constantly play the game, at least twice a week. Yet PvP servers can feel frustrating, because just the simple act of sleeping in real life may wipe out all of your progress overnight if a terrorizing player finds your base, raids and kills you. Even if someone is far enough along that they have a small army of dinosaurs to defend their territory, the best AI in this game isn’t really much of a match against a particularly skilled player or group of players. It seems this mechanic is likely to sour the PvP experience for many gamers.
For those who do decide to take their game offline, the odds feel stacked against having the best of times. However, since Ark has such heavy PC roots, there are all kinds of knobs to fiddle with. Things such as player resistance level, average dinosaur strength, and overall game difficulty can be scaled up and down to your heart’s content, resulting in a game playing almost exactly how you’d like it to. So if you feel that your base attack is too weak, just turn the proper dial up, and bam! instant dino-carnage. Split screen is also available here, which is always, always, ALWAYS worth a mention whenever this oft-forgotten feature is included in any game, given its scarcity across the industry today.
Ark: Survival Evolved has a bunch of interesting ideas. But by attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades, it doesn’t really feel like it has mastered any particular element. This doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had in the ARK; if you enjoy the brutal survival mechanics on offer here, then you will likely spend many dozens, if not hundreds, of hours in the quite lengthy grind as you conquer the primitive world. For many people, however, the time required to really enjoy what’s shown on the cover art may prove too insurmountable.
ARK: Survival Evolved PS4 review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.