ARK: Survival Evolved - PS4 Review

ARK: Survival Evolved is an interesting game that spent a great deal of time in Early Access / Beta. The developers used this time to try and polish a title that has long had a lot of potential - but the question I had was this: did they polish it up enough? The answer is kind of a mixed bag.

When ARK: Survival Evolved first roared onto the Early Access scene, it carried with it that must-have yet worrisome buzzword: potential. The sandbox / survival genre has seen some pretty cool activity over the last year or so, and Ark seemed poised to tap into that with its unique blend of technological and prehistorical setting. Back when I previewed the game, rough edges abounded, but I held out hope that with a lengthy beta stage, the devs would work out the numerous kinks in their game and allow Ark to realize its potential.

The good news is, ARK: Survival Evolved has clearly improved since then. Some of the earlier issues I encountered were cleaned up - but unfortunately some persist even today, which is a real frustration given all of the time the devs at Studio Wildcard had to improve upon the title. For better or for worse, Ark has always been a big concept game - something that really shot for the stars. When its various systems click, it can be a fascinating experience. Unfortunately, there are a lot of times when things fall on their face and frustrate - probably too many times for the title's own good.

So when you start off, you spawn in one of three different kinds of environments. They are geographically very different from one another, from neat flying island concept to a barren desert, the variety between those environments works well to keep gameplay fresh. When you begin the game, you are dropped off in the middle of nowhere doing basic things like punching a tree (ouchie) with your fists to gather up wood that when combined with other natural items such as stones, allow you to make a pickaxe. This serves as a clumsy weapon or a better way of harvesting more materials that allow you to work your way up a sort of materials hierarchy that with time allows you to build your way up from primitive tools to firearms.

This kind of tried and true progression system has worked in other survival games from Minecraft to Don't Starve to Dead State and more. And if you have played any of these or similar titles, you have a pretty good idea of how the game works. For one, you're going to die - a lot. This is very true in ARK: Survival Evolved as well. When you die, you spawn again in a new location, with some small carry over in your abilities. To this end, there is a very roguelike quality to the game, because you lose your hard earned inventory, but your character gains levels and skills that make - in theory - each subsequent spawning just a little more survivable. Of course, this is all in theory. One of the frustrating things for me in Ark is just how uneven the spawning points can be. Sometimes you find yourself in a virtual land of plenty. All of the resources you could want right there at your disposal. There are other times I have spawned, walked about twelve steps when something big and angry decides to eat my face and I'm starting over at a new spawn point. It can be a wildly inconsistent part of the game experience.

The theme of ARK: Survival Evolved is one of balance. You need to craft tools for gathering and defending yourself, but if you overdo it and forget to find food? You're going to die. Focus your efforts on being well-fed, and you may neglect the proper clothing to survive the harsh elements. Put all of your efforts into being well-dressed and you may very well find yourself providing the closest raptor a little extra fiber in its diet because you didn't have the proper weapons to defend yourself. You are forced to constantly evaluate your situation and adjust on the fly. It's a tightrope between planning ahead and reacting to the current threat on-hand. Ark actually navigates this aspect of the game rather well, even if it can be a lot to take in and sets a ridiculously challenging and sometimes uneven learning curve.

Of course, there is an additional level of unpredictability that is both part of the allure and a major aspect of the title's frustration: other players. You are participating in a bigger world, on a server with other players. Playing Ark with your friends is actually pretty cool - if you can get them all to join you. It's obviously a pretty big investment, but when you have a collective working together to help build up a society... well, it's actually pretty rewarding. However, if you have to work with random people - well, anyone who has played with PUGs (pick up groups) in the past knows you get some wildly inconsistent results that often end in failure due to one person's antics. If you are into ruthless player vs. player, there is plenty of that here.

Unfortunately, and maybe this is just reflective of my changing tastes as I get older, but there is a very large gulf between those who are well established and not. Groups will form, and woe be the under equipped person who stumbles upon players with pet dinosaurs and firearms. Early on I found it interesting, and I even sort of liked the concept of survival of the fittest, which in a lot of ways represents Ark very well. However, the sheer frustration of that play loop began to grate on my nerves and I found myself not wanting to interact with other players at all, which is sort of the opposite of what you want from an online game such as this.

Additionally, there are still some pretty rough edges to be found here. I have seen all sort of bugs, from stuttering frame rates to animals stuck in chunks of the environment to graphics that look great in still screenshots but look terrible as a flying creature clips through a tree or rock. I have had bouts of lag that at their worst can last close to half a minute of jittering, unresponsive gameplay. Now, I will say that the stability of the game is certainly improved from when I played it during the preview time, but bugs and a general sense that the game is not quite 'done' make it feel as though it is in a strange limbo between Early Access and ready for Prime Time.

There is a lot to like about Ark, and I suspect that in time, it will continue to get better. However, now that the game is actually released from beta, I have to score what is in front of me. That game is one that still has the potential to be a lot of fun, but the execution is also somewhat lacking. I understand that Studio Wildcard probably felt as though they were in a tough spot, because they did not want to b one of those studios that felt as though they were keeping their game in Early Access forever, but at the same time probably could have used a bit more time to improve the overall experience. I am sure Ark: Survival Evolved will continue to grow and improve, but it's not quite there yet.

Game Information

PlayStation 4
Studio Wildcard
Studio Wildcard
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
Xbox One

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick
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