It was a warm Spring day. I was in the office, reviewing away when Geoff came into the office. He looked upon my works, and launched a scathing war of words on my latest project. “I’ll tell you the problem with the PlayStation power that you’re using here, it’s that it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step, Darryn.”
“You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourself, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic PS4 DVD case, and now…you were so preoccupied with whether you could, that you didn’t stop to think if you should.
My response? I stared at Geoff, and then picked up my collection of meticulously-crafted assault rifles as I hopped onto my tame Gigantosaurus and ran off to slay the most deadly of pacifistic dinosaurs, the lethal Parasaur. Welcome…to Jurassic Ark.
After slumming it around on PC in the Early Access dungeons, Ark: Survival Evolved finally escaped captivity. It may not be the originator of the idea of surviving against the odds when fatal flora and fauna start hunting, but it’s certainly the most prolific one in a genre that has become prevalent over the last couple of years.
Ark set the template for what the survival genre could do, tossing all manner of danger at its players. Spent too much time crafting hatchets out of rudimentary items instead of outfitting your ass in some threads? Congratulations, you died of exposure. Focused on resource gathering instead of picking a few berries? Well done, you just died of starvation. Didn’t pump a few experience points into your mobility? The Must Go Faster award goes to you for failing to outrun an angry Iguanodon.
So what’s the appeal then? Why would you play a game that’s essentially Dark Souls with even more death and gear that’s a chore to craft or even obtain? I asked myself the same question, having been murdered by various gangs of Compsoganathuses during the course of my adventure. What was I doing with my life? Why am I stuck on a mysterious island? Will the dodos come for me at night?
Truth be told, Ark: Survival Evolved is a complete grind in those opening hours. You’re not just learning the ropes, you’re pondering if you can hang yourself with them to escape this hell. A few hours later, Ark: Survival Evolved was still a grind. Only now, it was an utterly engrossing grind. With enough experience, everything clicked.
Every system on the Ark was connected, every resource had a purpose and a larger endgame began to unfold before me. Whereas I’d previously struggled to reach the stone age of achievable technology, surviving against the odds saw me outfitted with some flak armour and actual guns. Technology marched forward, my kingdom of science was established and I began to become more adventurous as I sailed away in search of more plunder.
This took hours though. Hours of resource-gathering what was around me, fending off intruders to my hut and eking out experience points so that my character could learn how to craft everything from narcotics through to iron axes. You come across a Triceratops having the mother of all dumps and you don’t just think to yourself “that’s a big pile of sh*t.”
You think of using that fertiliser to grow your crops, which in turn keep you alive in a very unforgiving world. Ark: Survival Evolved is peak brutality, a game that requires the muscles of a WWE wrestler to survive and the brain of an accountant to understand as you juggle multiple resources. It all sounds good then, right? What’s the catch?
If I had to liken Ark’s visual presentation, I’d call it the SnapChat of console and PS4 games. Because it’s quite often godawful to look at. If it was a dinosaur it’d be a T-Wrecks on my eyeballs. I’ve seen Pteradons flap through entire mountains, Compys get lost on their automated trails and stacks of visual glitches pour out of the screen. Textures quite often fail, leaving Ark to look half-baked and there’s very much a lack of optimisation running on the console versions that results in numerous slowdowns.
Maybe the biggest hurdle for Ark isn’t its multitude of bugs, but rather the daunting gap between the haves and have-nots who jump into a populated server. Get used to being clobbered to death by a gang of high-level Russians, decked out in shining armour as they ride their mighty Diplodocus. Still, for the survival genre this is kind of…normal, isn’t it?
The weird thing, is that despite the bugs, despite the massive gap in the technological arms war raging on PVP servers where you better tribe up or prepare to die, Ark: Survival Evolved is still enjoyable. It’s like a 90s VW hot hatchback. It doesn’t look pretty and it certainly won’t pull in any admirers, but behind the wheel beats the heart of something competent.
There’s an addictive grind at play here, albeit one which requires complete dedication to understand. There’s a thrill in taming a Velociraptor, a joy in refining metal ingots that can be used to craft a shotgun. Make no mistake, Ark: Survival Evolved is a hellish slog at times that is overstuffed with ideas and bad bugs. If you’re willing to put the time and effort in, however, you might find a pretty decent and intricately balanced game hidden beneath all of the fluff.
Last Updated: September 8, 2017