Thursday, July 28, 2016

ARK: Survival Evolved Preview (XONE)

Ever wanted to play Minecraft with better graphics and a world full of dinosaurs and guns and awesomeness?  There’s more to it and I don’t meant to be too reductionist, but that’s pretty much ARK: Survival Evolved.  You get to collect materials and build cool stuff to help you survive all in a world full of dozens of species of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.  If that sounds like a dream come true, ARK: Survival Evolved is worth a look.  Since it is still in Xbox Game Preview, here are our preview impressions because what kind of janky websites assign review scores to games still being built?  Yeah, I’m calling those other guys out.

What is ARK?

ARK: Survival Evolved page on Xbox.com

Released in the Xbox Game Preview program in December 2015, ARK: Survival Evolved has seen steady progress in the 8-months since then but there is still no clear date for a final release yet.  It was originally scheduled for a “Summer 2016” final release, but Fall 2016 seems far more likely at this point.  A PS4 version is also coming, but PS4 doesn’t have an early access program, so you’ll have to wait for the final release to play it.

The Xbox Game Preview version of ARK: Survival Evolved costs $34.99, which is kind of a lot for an early access game, but you’re getting a stunning amount of content for your money.  Dozens of species of dinosaurs and other animals.  Two full maps to play on.  A fully implemented MMO multiplayer mode where tribes of players all play on the same server together.  And a single-player mode for when you want to play by yourself.  You can easily spend dozens and even hundreds of hours playing the game – I know I have already – so the $35 asking price, even for an unfinished product, is pretty darn fair.

Gameplay

So what do you actually “do” in ARK?  Similar to Minecraft, your objective in ARK: Survival Evolved is to survive by collecting resources that allow you to build increasingly complex and stronger structures, items, and weapons to fend off the dangerous creatures around you.  You start off by building simple straw huts and spears and bows and arrows but eventually work your way all the way up to steel buildings and guns and rocket launchers.  And, oh by the way, you can actually tame the dinosaurs and other animals and then ride them into battle.  How awesome is that?



Before you can do any of that, though, you have to collect resources.  You do this by getting wood and thatch from trees, stone and metal from rocks, fiber from plants, pelts from animals, and more.  You earn XP by doing all of these tasks, and when you level up you gain access to new engrams – plans to build new stuff – so you have a steady stream of new toys to play with.  You still have to collect the resources necessary to actually build all of it, but the progression in the game is very smartly laid out to keep you hooked even if collecting resources is a bit tedious.



ARK: Survival Evolved can actually be a pretty hardcore survival sim at default settings.  You have to eat food, drink water, sleep, and maintain your body temperature in order to survive.  Honestly, I find all that to be kind of a pain in the butt.  Thankfully, in the single-player mode, at least, you can adjust a huge number of sliders to make the game a little more fun.  You can adjust the damage you take, thirst or hunger levels, day / night cycle speed, how easy it is to tame dinosaurs, and even how many resources you collect at once.  Changing these sliders makes the game much easier and a lot more fun.  The sliders aren’t explained very well, though, so check out our video that explains what each slider actually doeshere.

I am super grateful that there is a single-player mode – that has splitscreen multiplayer, by the way – because I’m not much a fan of MMO-style games, which is what ARK: Survival Evolved is really meant to be.  You are meant to play online with groups of other players, forming tribes, building bases, and going to war with each other with your armies of dinosaurs.  If you want to play that way, more power to you, but it isn’t really my thing.  I will say that it works very well already even here in Game Preview, so if you’re looking for a new multiplayer game with a few twists, ARK is worth a look.  Or, if you’re like me and would rather play alone, ARK has a robust feature set there as well.

Dinosaurs!

Oh, yeah, there’s also the dinosaurs in the game, too.  That’s kind of the most important thing and why you want to play it anyway, right?  ARK features all of the big names like T-Rex, brontosaurus, raptors, spinosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus, and dozens of others on the land, in the sea, and in the air.  There are also other prehistoric animals like mammoths, wolves, saber tooth tigers, giant insects, and many more.  You can build saddles and actually ride all of them, too, which is awesome.  Each species of creature has different abilities that help you survive such as triceratops collects tons of fiber and berries from plants and ankylosaurus can harvest tons of metal, just for a couple of examples.  It should be noted that the dinosaurs are mostly of the “Jurassic Park” style without too many features, but I’m okay with that.  Feathers are dumb.

Performance Issues

ARK: Survival Evolved does have some issues, however.  The game has some serious performance issues with a very unstable framerate at the best of times and drops all the way to zero FPS at its worst.  Also, there is no V-Sync present, so if you move the camera (which you will be doing constantly considering it is a first-person game …) there is massive screen tearing everywhere.  There is also a lot of pop in as environmental objects materialize right before your eyes.  Textures also take a while to load, which can make the game look kind of barren and ugly until they do.

All of these things have been present since the start of the Game Preview release, so I’m sort of becoming worried they might not ever be fixed.  The developers have spent a lot of time over the last 8-months adding a ton of content – many new animal species and a new map, plus a lot of other stuff – so perhaps the performance simply hasn’t been a priority yet.  Hopefully, by the time it sees a final release, these things will be fixed up a bit.  It isn’t that the game is unplayable – no, I’ve spent lots and lots of time even with the issues and have had a good time – but it really, really needs to be better.

Presentation

Visually, though, ARK does look pretty darn good already.  You may have seen some early YouTube footage and articles on other sites about how the Xbox One version doesn’t look very good, but those are all based on seeing the game before the textures load in and are, frankly, blatant lies.  When the textures actually load properly, ARK looks awesome with lush foliage, awesome looking water, detailed ground cover, and some truly incredibly looking animals.  Seriously, the dinosaurs look incredible.  The animation is a little stiff, but seeing a valley full of different dinosaur species all wandering around is enough to bring a tear to your eye.

The sound is fairly good as well with each species making distinct grunts and roars and some solid sound effects for all the collecting and building you do. 

Bottom Line


All in all, ARK: Survival Evolved is coming along quite nicely.  The core gameplay is solid.  The crafting system is deep and awesome.  And the sheer variety in the terrain you can explore and creatures you can encounter is absolutely stunning.  We’re optimistic that the performance issues get ironed out when the final game launches, but even then they’re not a deal breaker.  You can still have a lot of fun even as stuttery and janky as ARK can be sometimes.  If you are sensitive to framerate and that sort of thing, though, I’d recommend waiting to see how things are fixed in the final release.  On the other hand, if you don’t mind performance hiccups and just love survival games and especially love dinosaurs, ARK: Survival Evolved is an incredible experience already even though it is still in Game Preview. 

Disclosure: A code for the game was provided by the publisher.

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