Dinosaurs are bloody amazing aren’t they? Unbelievable leviathans that capture the imagination of children and adults alike, their inconceivable size, ferocity and intelligence have remained a central talking point within scientific research for hundreds of years. You only have to look to Jurassic World’s huge box-office success last year to see that desire for dinosaur related entertainment is just as noteworthy, and it’s here that ARK: Survival Evolved enters the conversation.
Having arrived in early access on PC, Mac and Linux last year, Wild Card have now set their sights on letting console owners experience their dinosaur-infused survival simulator as well. An early access version of the game is now available on the Xbox One, with a final release on all these platfoms and the PlayStation 4 planned for the middle of this year.
Jumping straight into the game, you’re given a long list of servers situated all over the world, with up to seventy participants in each. As long as there’s room on the server, it’s a nice and straightforward procedure to connect and join. Your first step is to create a new survivor, but with that character being unique to that particular server, you have to be aware that you may find yourself waiting for a space when you want to return.
The range of customisable parameters in the creation hub is certainly robust enough to craft someone unique, and then, having created your survivor, you awaken on the island in various areas depending on where you chose your spawn point – each of which have varying difficulty levels – with the instruction that you’re cold and you should seek shelter.
You can achieve warmth in a few ways, all of which require the collection of resources to then craft useful items, ranging from clothing through to a campfire. Some of the initial collecting can be a touch rudimentary, including hitting trees to gather wood, but soon enough you’re able to craft tools to more effectively gain resources.
As the name would suggest, survival is the crux of the game. Developer Wild Card has worked in a number of systems to make sure you look after your survivor as much as possible, from keeping them fed and healthy to needing to house them. It’s possible to build simple homes made of thatch, all the way up to huge stone structures protected from the indigenous creatures and unfriendly humans by wooden spikes, with the construction tools proving functional.
Of course, it’s the dinosaurs that are the stars of the show. From grazing Brachiosaurs through to aggressive Tyrannosaurs, it’s a continual delight to turn a corner and discover an immense creature waiting there. There are a total of sixty dinosaurs in the game, all of which you can tame by feeding food, as well as various other creatures all of whom have their own ecosystems and predator hierarchies. From there you can ride them, and make use of their different strengths, whether it’s flight or brute strength.
Of course, if you can use them, so can everyone else, and on PvP servers battles erupt between dinosaur tamers in a prehistoric stand-off. Those not wanting to pretend to play the game like a budding Ash Kethchum can opt for PvE servers and avoid the whole thing entirely, but it’s nice to see the variation and the option.
Joining a tribe is as simple as receiving an invitation, or creating your own, and there are plenty of reasons to do so besides the sense of camaraderie. If you work together on any task you’ll gain extra experience, whether it’s gathering or hunting, and as a group you’ll progress much faster while being better equipped to fend off the larger predators.
As your character levels up, you can boost your basic stats as well as use engram points to unlock further knowledge about crafting. You soon build up a range of highly useful items, only needing to find the resources to make them. The menu system is relatively easy to use, though it will hopefully feel more natural on the console at the final launch, as it’s currently a very PC-centric layout. Holding down ‘B’ on the Xbox controller does bring up a selection wheel with a range of popular functions, though it feels a touch unresponsive at the moment.
At this early stage on console, the visuals are solid and display a keen desire to create a believable and enticing world to explore and inhabit. Some attractive lighting and water effects indicate the developer’s direction and you can assume that they’ll continue to make serious improvements as things progress, and are likely to eradicate the performance and framerate issues that currently exist.
There’s a fantastic sense of adventure in ARK, and simply exploring the island is a more than viable option. Just finding dinosaurs – and often running away – or marvelling at the structures that other players have created is a worthy time-sink. I often found myself simply taking it all in, before realising a Compsognathus was nipping at my ankles.
Despite its focus on survival, it’s a very welcoming experience, and even if you begin to starve, it’s a simple task to find a few berries to stave off the end. Progression seems to come at a steady pace, with a perpetual increase in your abilities and in the number of items you can craft, and with the promise of an enhanced endgame and player co-operation in tribes, ARK feels like a perfect fit for consoles. Certainly, there’s a world of promise here that the full release can hopefully live up to.