Ark: Survival Evolved might seem like your run of the mill sandbox survival games, but it has dinosaurs! I had all too easily passed over Ark when it had first come out as another offshoot of the survival simulation genre, which I could easily experience by booting up Minecraft. However, it was on the Steam Summer Sale so I thought I’d give it a shot.
You wake up on an island, with a loud and unskippable cutscene, looking at a thing embedded in your arm. Don’t worry if you missed it first time though because it plays every time you have to respawn which, if you’re as bad at surviving as I apparently am, you’ll do a lot. As per survival sim tradition, your first objective as a newly awoken test subject in the wild is to punch a tree for some wood, pick up some stones and fashion some sort of crude tool so you can hatchet trees instead!
Much like a fully grown and intelligent human, you enter the world and perform these activities without being told how to do it. Having run up and down a beach several times, mashing every key I could it turns out I could pick up stone with ‘E’ and punch a tree by clicking.
In addition to your regular, “basic” resources of wood and stone, you can also collect thatch, fiber, flint and metal in smaller amounts from the same resource point – thatch from trees, flint and metal from rocks, fiber you’ll find by molesting plant life. There’s an interesting dynamic in to resource collecting, that would make Minecraft Steve bawl: you can use different tools to increase collection of different resources. For example, hitting a tree with an axe increase your collection of wood, with a few slithers of thatch. But if you were to hit the same tree with a pickaxe, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed with thatch with some wood on the side.
It’s a trick that works on most resources, so worth remembering when you’re farming ingredients.
All of the items you craft will use a combination of different resources, so make sure you keep a good stock of everything for the future. You’ll have to be careful with your meat and berries though, as they will spoil after a certain amount of time. This happens when you’re out of the game as well, so you’ll need to spend the first few minutes of any playtime chasing local wildlife to collect new meat for the campfire. With time and effort, you’ll eventually be able to preserve cooked meats for your next day’s activities.
Where the gameplay may emulate Minecraft’s sturdy formula, the environment and other activities are much improved. The environment, for starters, is not all squares! It’s a lovely, lush island surrounded by clear waters – there are a steady supply of resources, from large rock formations to little forests that you can strip down in minutes. If you give it some time, you’ll start seeing trees and foliage creep back towards your home.
It’s not all love and peace on the island though; in one of my worst moments, I spent many (in-game) days being tormented by an overgrown mosquito, with what I can only assume was a broadsword on its bum. Having legged it away from it on one of my shorter adventures, it decided that the roof of my humble abode was a perfect place to settle down and spawn camp me until I rage-quit. Once a friend found me and disposed of the hacking bug, I was able to hit the beach and attack defenceless dodo’s in peace.
Combat in Ark is quite simple; you can attack with a click and strafe around with the usual WASD keys. You can equip yourself with your crafted tools for an edge, but it will boil down to holding down your mouse button and chasing a little bird across a beach. As the animals get bigger, they pack a bigger punch if you’re ready for the challenge – some others will nip at your ankles, or spit poison at you. There is PVP in Ark (apparently) but I haven’t had the chance – or perhaps, the misfortune – to take on a strafing, axe flailing person yet so I can’t comment on that.
Should you feel adventurous enough, you can tame some of the animals of your new home. Taming a dinosaur comes down to putting it to sleep, then shoving as much food as you can into its mouth, then sitting back and hoping it works. Once you’ve claimed a dinosaur for yourself, you can easily stock up on resources by attacking various nodes. However, this does seem to immediately encumber your pet to a point where they will be stuck in place – although once you dismount, they seem to be fine…
In my other attempts to tame something smaller and quicker – a Trike is a large, lumbering beast with low stamina so not great for exploration – I’ve come across a problem; tamed animals set to follow you are stupid. Twice I’ve run back to my hut to grab a new saddle for my new dino, only to come outside to find my new pet has impaled itself on my wooden spike wall. Outstanding.
For now, Joe the Survivor is resting peacefully, sprawled out in naked glory on a beach because a ‘Megapiranha’ mega-murdered me. Even if I’ve sounded harsh on Ark, I actually think it’s a really good survival simulator. The dinosaur aspect of the game adds a cool gameplay mechanic, taming different dinos to do different jobs is very helpful. It really adds to the story of man vs. nature, as our relationship with animals really changed our grasp on the wild. It’s definitely a nice change from zombies, or whatever Rust has now.