Developer: Instinct Games, Studio Wildcard, Support: Efecto Studio, Virtual Basement
Publisher: Studio Wildcard
Platform: PC [Played], Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Release Date: Available Now [Early Access], Global Launch June 2016*
Price: $29.99 [Early Access]
ARK: Survival Evolved is the latest collaboration of four development studios (Efecto Studio, Virtual Basement, Studio Wildcard, Instinct Games) in which a player is dropped on to an island with but one goal: survive.
After being introduced to the island, you must hunt, gather, and eventually fight in order to transverse the massive slab of land simply known as the ARK. Within this world are looming fears, such as dinosaurs and panthers that would like nothing more than to make you their next meal. However, these aren’t the only thing that will be on your mind. With a heavy focus on pure survival, managing simple things like body temperature and hydration level are yet another task to attend to.
The moment I woke up on the ARK, with my character in nothing more than his briefs, I was immediately immersed in its environment. Without any explanation “who” or “what”, the only thought that came to mind was: “What am I doing here?” I was surely going to explore and find out just that.
The lack of explanation is a bit daunting, making me almost feel like I was somewhere I didn’t belong. However, this works to the advantage of the game, being that each person enters into the world of ARK with the underlying emphasis on its foreignness. Much like my situation, it caused me to rely on intuition instead of using menus and tutorials as a crutch. In essence, my survival instincts kicked in and it was time to put them to the test.
Despite the ARK emphasizing survival as its core mechanic, this isn’t exactly a new idea. Dropping a character into a sandbox and allowing them roam free has risen in popularity in the last few years. Again, what makes this iteration of survival any different than those who have come before it?
Old is New
Instead of falling back on a formula that has grown stale, ARK brings a fresh life into the dense genre. Each interaction feels the way it’s expected to, with behemoth herbivores not giving you the time of day, and small reptilian predators nipping at your heels. It delivers a sense of scale, alienation, and survival in each interaction. Even such natural tasks as eating deliver a high sense of realism. Food spoils, nourishment is needed, and even defecation becomes a frequent occurrence.
A Manager’s, Manager
Still, even in a game with such an extensive management system, none of it seems annoying. There is an underlying natural flow to these experiences. And, instead of being bombarded with these in a lengthy tutorial session, it is all learned by simple trail and error. This creates a sense of mastery simply by doing.
For many, the intricacies of ARK seems more fitting of a AAA title from a much larger studio. You might even start to question why it would release on Steam’s Early Access platform, a practice that infamously grown in recent years. At times, people purchase games that never reach the full term of the development cycle, leaving some to feel like they paid full price for an unfinished game. The developers explained their choice in Early Access best on the ARK Steam page saying:
ARK is a huge game, in terms of geographical space, scope of content, features, technology, and just about every other metric. We’re a veteran team with some major hits behind our leads, and much of the core challenge is already met, but this is still an ambitious one for us.–ARK Steam Page Description
But can it run Crysis?
With the current state of the game, it’s difficult to judge where the final product will find itself. However, having spent almost two-weeks with the game, I’ve witnessed at least three updates to the current build, suggesting that the game is almost growing on a daily basis. Even with growth, there are certain hindrances, such as the poor optimization, causing even mid-level machines to stumble on modest settings.
So, if you have been sitting on your build for a couple years, you may want to wait to lay down your hard earned cash until the final release.
It’s all for the experience, right?
Even with the game’s early build, it is stunning as to what it achieves. The ARK is massive, and while it is currently the only map to play on, it is more than enough for countless hours of play. Each area seems to always have new things to discover, and in a world that is constantly moving, new situations and predicaments to find yourself entrenched in. While you may be going deep within the jungle to gather berries, a panther may be looking to gather you.
Upon gathering and crafting new items, players are rewarded experience points (XP), which turn into stats boosts and engrams (in game currency for purchasing new craft-able items). These become available at each level-up.
The leveling system is fairly extensive, giving players motivation to continue until each stat is maxed and every item is unlocked. Within each level, new items such as shelters, weapons, and clothing become open for purchase. This might be something other role-playing games implement, but is more so geared to reflect the atmosphere of the game.
While leveling-up isn’t difficult, finding resources that are useful can become painstaking. You might find yourself harvesting useless resources just to gain additional XP. However, there is more to do than just grind out resources for experience.
We want the player community’s help to ‘evolve’ ARK into the dinosaur world game that we’ve been dreaming about since the days we played with plastic green T-Rex toys during elementary school recess, since we shed a tear to ‘The Land Before Time’, since we wistfully imagined the towering cities of ‘Dinotopia’, and since we nearly choked on our popcorn to the thrills of ‘Jurassic Park’.–ARK Steam Page Description
The ARK is a huge island without a lot of different things to explore. Each time you jump into a game, you can host, join, or play a local server, offering the chance to experience survival on their own or with friends. Meet ups come in the form of tribes, marking their territory by tribe name. Within each server, tribes and players have the option for harmony or hostility towards one another. This further emphasizes the natural human instincts and circles back to the core mechanics of the game.
The Bottom Line:
The game has already proven that it can stand on it’s own in such a crowded genre with the sales and player response to back it. There is a lot more work that needs to be done in ARK: Survival Evolved, but the developers delivered on their promise that was emphasized in the quote seen above.
The core of the game is pure fun. If you’re looking for a giant world to explore and you have the machine to run it, ARK: Survival Evolved may be for you.
The game is available on Steam as Early Access, with a full release expected in June of 2016.
Disclaimer: Steam Early Access titles are games that are currently enrolled in the development process. While it wouldn’t be fair to give the game a complete score, we will do our best to offer a current critique for the current build at this time.