Review: ARK: Survival Evolved27 Jun 2018 0
Review: ARK: Survival Evolved
Released 14 Jun 2018
I still fondly remember watching One Million Years B.C. for the first time and staring in awe at the spectacular sight of Ray Harryhausen’s ferocious animated dinosaurs (I was still too young to be awed by the equally spectacular sight of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini). I was really disappointed to later discover that the filmmakers had in fact taken a dreadful liberty and that dinosaurs and humans never actually coexisted.
Ark: Survival Evolved works with a similar premise; you wake up on a strange prehistoric island with nothing but your underwear and a strange implant embedded in your arm. You soon discover that the land is crawling with dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures and that in order to survive you had better get crafting.
So, showing scant regard for my knuckles, I naturally enough began punching a few trees. It hurt, but the rewards were worth it, allowing me to gather some wood and thatch. Next, I collected some stones. This required a less sadomasochistic approach as instead of having to head-butt a cliff, stones are scattered around the landscape just waiting to be picked up. At last, I was now in the position to craft my very own stone pick. I had also gained enough experience to unlock a blueprint for making a campfire. Off I went again, gathering more wood and thatch and then using my stone pick to chip some flint from nearby rocks. The flint provided the vital spark to start a fire, allowing me to stay warm and consider a bit of hunting and cooking. If all goes well I will soon be in the enviable position of being able to roam the island wearing more than just my pants.
From these humble beginnings the vast scope of Ark begins to reveal itself. Soon your survivor will be able to build a shack, join a tribe and even find a mate. However, the real draw is the eighty-odd types of dinosaurs that can be hunted for food and resources or, more interestingly, trained and reared. The game supports different ecosystems, so you will not only find creatures on land but also swimming in lakes, soaring through the skies and skulking in subterranean caves. Like most things in Ark, winning the trust of one of these creatures takes time. It begins by smacking your unfortunate victim on the head to render it unconscious; you then have to win its trust by looking after it. Best of all, if you have a suitable saddle then you have a new form of transport.
The offline solo campaign is wide-ranging and challenging, as you seek to uncover the island’s secrets. Technological progression is wide-ranging and logically arranged, with items ranging from prehistoric tools and straw huts to modern fortresses and GPS. The overarching quest involves acquiring artefacts to summon and then defeat the various boss creatures. Beware, these are tough, and defeat can waste hours of preparation and crafting. You can also team up and play as part of a team with up to 50 other players, but before going online it is recommended that you learn the ropes by advancing to at least level twenty. Joining a tribe has the advantages of shared resources, experience and respawn points. Before long, you will be able to lend a hand in the construction of sprawling cities. The flip side is that looters can ransack your camp, stealing all your hard earned resources.
When simply exploring the island the touch controls work reasonably well, although it is rather disconcerting that our survivor always seems to be ready to take a shameless poop. Tapping the left of the screen will move you forwards, whilst dragging your finger on the right side will allow you to face different directions. A swipe will bring up a quick access menu and holding a double tap will let you interact with objects. It is not perfect, and actions will not always work on the first attempt. This is particularly telling when fighting, as the controls feel especially clunky and unresponsive. Thankfully, the famed lack of dinosaur brainpower is on display here, meaning that they often get stuck in the scenery. Maybe this is why dinosaurs really became extinct.
Ark’s lofty ambitions and 3D graphics make for a demanding game that can make your battery beg for mercy. Assuming that your device isn’t too prehistoric (the last couple of generations only need apply) then you can download and begin playing for free. The developers state that it is possible to obtain every available structure, item and enhancement without having to spend any money. Free gifts pop up every couple of hours that can be redeemed by watching ads. The game currency, amber, can be acquired for free, sometimes as a reward for defeating dinosaurs, at other times you may find some just scattered around the island. However, it is generally rarer than dodos’ teeth and obviously the developers want you to take the easier and less time-consuming option of spending cash to supplement your amber supplies. Amber can be used for purchasing various special items, such as a soothing balm that makes creatures much easier to tame. Also, on offer is a subscription ($3.99 per month, or $34.99 per year). This doubles the amount of experience you earn, removes ads and entitles you to reserved slots on the game’s servers. I cannot say that during my time with Ark that I felt that I really needed to stump up cash to advance.
Ark is a game suited to a considered and patient approach. Getting into fights too early will usually mean a messy death, followed by a trip back to your respawn point, before tracking back to your dead body to reclaim your processions. Preparing for a major battle takes time and patience and defeat can be extremely frustrating, meaning that you lose all of your equipment and have to start the whole preparation process from scratch. You cannot help but be impressed that a game of such ambition has been squeezed into mobile form.
However, it is not a perfect fit and fails to replace Crashlands as mobile survival game of choice. Ark has its merits, chief among them being the fancy 3D graphics, well-executed cooperative gameplay and an intriguing plot that involves everyone’s childhood favourite – dinosaurs. Yet, for the less persistent, even the stupendous prospect of riding a giant pterodactyl into battle, with your flamethrower primed, just isn’t going to be reward enough for the hours of slog that it entails.