Ark: Survival Evolved PreviewPrice:
Studio Wildcard/Instinct Games/Effecto Studio/Virtual Basement
Out Now (Early Access)
Like a Pterodactyl caught in a volcano's updraft, Ark: Survival Evolved has been hovering around the Steam "Top Seller" lists for the last few months. Given that it combines survival gaming, which is incredibly popular right now, with dinosaurs, which are incredibly popular all the time, this is not remotely surprising. But is Ark worth exploring in its current Early Access state, or should you wait until it has evolved a little further? To find out, I donned a loincloth and set out on the search for dinosaurs.
Ark's take on survival is in a similar vein to the likes of DayZ, Rust and H1Z1. You play the game on a server, sharing a large landmass with roughly 50 other players, gathering resources, hunting/evading dinosaurs, and constructing bases. Encounters with other humans are rare, but sparks tend to fly when they do occur, alongside the occasional limb. Compared to those games, Ark has a slightly more MMO-ish feel, which works both for and against it.
A game of Ark starts with the character creator, allowing you to build your own caveman or cavewoman using a sequence of sliders. Because I wanted to get into the game as quickly as possible, I stuck all the sliders on the maximum possible setting and played as whatever monstrosity the game squeezed out the other end.
That's a face only a mother could love, and that's assuming the mother is a shaved bear who accidentally swallowed a tombstone.
Once you've created your character, Ark drops you into a random location on its island. In the case of my walking heart-attack, I awoke near a beach surrounded by player buildings, which caused me a little panic until I realised there was nobody around.
A big factor in a survival game's success is how quickly its world and atmosphere grabs you. If you're going to spend lengthy periods being knocked about by the game's systems, it needs to be in a place you want to spend time in. Ark arrested my attention before I'd even glimpsed a dinosaur. It blends prehistoric flora and eerie rock formations with towering alien obelisks reminiscent of Halo's level design.
Ark connects your character directly to this world by having them awake with a diamond-shaped implant in their hand, Clearly related to that alien architecture, this lends a sense of back-story to Ark. I haven't experienced that in a survival game before. Even in DayZ, the pre-zombie world is decidedly over, with little attention paid to what went on before.
Although the world feels distinct, your initial actions within it are much the same as any other survival game, including literal punching of trees to get wood. Amusingly, doing this actually hurts your character, so you need to build tools quickly to avoid dying from a mashed hand.
Flora pugilism aside, the survival logic is fairly robust, simulating hunger, thirst, health fatigue and even heat. These systems tie into one another as well. Step outside in the rain without suitable clothing, and you catch a chill that causes you to burn energy faster. Stand by a fire and you'll warm up, but stand there too long and you'll start to overheat, which makes you thirsty. You can hydrate yourself simply by standing in a water source or eating berries, which also decreases your hunger. Your character even defecates periodically, which you can then pick up and burn as a fuel source if you're feeling desperate and/or kinky.