Over recent years there has been something of a resurgence in the survival genre. From the highly acclaimed Mincraft to outings such as The Long Dark, Don’t Starve and Terraria lookalike Starbound, gamers are practically spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a harsh environment to master and conquer. So with so much competition out there, developers Studio Wildcard (those of Ark: Primal Survival fame) have something of an uphill struggle when it comes to persuading gamers to invest time and money in their latest offering Ark: Survival Evolved. Have they succeeded? Read on.
Before we dive into this review, a little background which should help you get some perspective.
Ark: Survival Evolved was first released two years ago (back in June 2015) on Steam Early Access. After much tweaking under the hood, it then made its way to early access on the PS4 for almost a year or so. More changes were made before Ark: Survival Evolved was finally announced as a full release on the PS4.
The premise of Ark: Survival Evolved is a simple one; you’re dropped onto an island populated by both herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs and your task is to survive the hostile world by crafting shelter, tools, weapons and killing or taming predators. The fact that the predators in question are dinosaurs and particularly dangerous insects is what helps Ark: Survival Evolved hold its head above the crowd.
A word of warning: Ark: Survival Evolved comes with a particularly steep learning curve. From the very beginning you’re left pretty much to figure things out for yourself. And, with the in-game dynamic day and night system and tonnes of things out to kill you, you have to figure things out fast if you hope to survive. Wait, perhaps we should re-phrase that last sentence; ‘if you hope to survive a little longer.’ That’s the one thing that’s almost guaranteed in Ark: Survival Evolved. It’s not ‘if’ you die. It’s when. With so many things likely to kill you, it’s only a matter of time before you bite the bullet and are presented with the choice of respawning as your existing character – minus your inventory – or creating a whole new character and starting again from scratch. It’s worth pointing out that, if you decide to respawn as your existing character, you can make your way to wherever you died and pick up whatever you left lying around. But to do this you have to make sure that whatever killed you in the first place has moved on. Otherwise, you’ll be pushing up daisies again and again. Yes, you can guess how we learnt this little lesson… This harsh learning curve could put off some gamers. We, on the other hand, welcomed the challenge of trying to stay alive for as long as possible while crafting our home in the wilds.
Ark: Survival Evolved features a robust living world mechanic which means that, even if you’re signed out, the game continues in your absence. At one point we left our character asleep in a cave and logged out for just over a day. When we got back we found that another gamer had found our cave and killed our character while he was sleeping. This unforgiving mechanic means that you’re virtually forced to keep playing Ark: Survival Evolved or face the unpleasant consequences.
Although offering an offline mode, Ark: Survival Evolved is essentially a multiplayer game. After you get past level 15 you’ll find that predators have become harder to kill or tame and most things you need to craft have such high requirements that you’re going to need to work with others in order to make any progress. Luckily, with all of the tweaking and early access the games had, there are now pretty reliable servers capable of accommodating up to 72 gamers on a single island.
Graphically, Ark: Survival Evolved is a fantastic looking game. Built on the Unreal Engine 4, the island is a gorgeous visual feast that instantly reminds you of the first time you ran Crysis on a ninja PC. There is virtually no pop up or frame rate issues, the water effects are a joy to behold and the luscious green forests and dry deserts are good enough to print out and frame.
Studio Wildcard have also done a stand up job with the ambient noise of a beautiful, savage and unpredictable world. Every creature has its own unique sound and, quite often, you can tell what’s around a corner by simply standing still and listening. Excellent.
If we had any issues with Ark: Survival Evolved it has to be with the games hands off approach to survival. A lot of the time you’re wandering around this gorgeously realised world trying to work out what to do next. Granted, some of the challenges only require a bit of lateral thinking and common sense, but some sort of diary or hint system would have been a great help.
Apart from that minor niggle, Ark: Survival Evolved will easily eat up a few hundred hours of your life. The game is tough, unforgiving but enormously rewarding once you’ve got a foothold and invested some time and effort. If you enjoy survival games then Ark: Survival Evolved has to be at the top of your list. Highly recommended.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.