After extensive early access periods on both PC and Xbox One, Ark: Survival Evolved finally comes to PlayStation 4. Is this still-unfinished game worth picking up ahead of its final release date in the spring?
The main goal in Ark: Survival Evolved is, rather unsurprisingly, to survive. You start off as a barely clothed caveman or woman who's stranded on a desert island surrounded by dinosaurs. Immediately, you'll need to start gathering resources and crafting them into useful items (such as tools, weapons and shelter) in order to not go extinct before the first day is over. On paper, it sounds like a lot of fun but in its current state, it's a very trying experience.
Before buying Ark, it's important to note that the game is still in development. It's clear from the moment you load it up that there's still a lot of work to do. The welcome screen states that there are potential display problems with certain languages as well as detailing features that are yet to be included such as PlayStation Pro support and a new game mode. Before hopping onto a server, you'll need to create your character but this feature is largely pointless as you can't really make your creation look like you. Instead, you can just enlarge or diminish the sizes of various body parts until you resemble some kind of exhibit in a freak show.
Once you've settled on your own particular Frankenstein's monster, it's time to go surviving. The first thing you're likely to notice is that Ark, much like its protagonists, isn't much in the looks department. The graphics are poor for PS4 standards with a jarringly jagged look to them. There's a fair bit of texture loading and pop-in while you're playing, too. The dinosaurs themselves even frequently glitch through buildings and scenery or get stuck in tight spaces. Hardly the awe-inspiring sights they're supposed to be. The worst aspect of the presentation is the lack of any kind of instructions or tutorial as to how to play or even how to navigate its awkward inventory screen. This makes doing the simplest of tasks (such as equipping an item or lighting a fire) far greater ordeals than they ought to be.
This wouldn't be as bad if you didn't have so little time to figure things out before you end up dying of starvation, thirst, or exposure to cold or heat. As soon as you join a server, you're usually bombarded with messages that you're too hot or cold and need to do something about it. A few moments later, you're told that you're starving and need to eat immediately or you'll perish. Once you've worked out that you can harvest berries by pressing triangle while next to the bushes, you'll probably be told that you're about to die of thirst... and on and on it goes. It feels like it's nagging you constantly to do something yet it gives you no instruction on how to do it which leads to repeated and frequent deaths. Your only recourses are to either look up basic gameplay tips online or learn through trial and error via random button presses. Neither of which is exactly enjoyable.
Another annoyance is that you frequently get spawned right next to hostile dinosaurs, some of which are ridiculously high-level, resulting in an instant death then a wait until you're allowed to respawn. Furthermore, any time you die, you lose your entire inventory (although you mercifully keep your level-up perks) and having to harvest the same materials all over again soon becomes incredibly tiresome.
Despite all of these problems, Ark certainly isn't lacking a player base on PlayStation 4. In fact, it's often hard to even get into a game in the official servers because they're all full. If you manage to stay alive long enough, you can partake in more advanced activities such as building houses and taming dinosaurs to ride. These tasks are made easier if you join up with other players in a tribe. However, in my experience, approaching other survivors online almost always resulted in them beating me to death with their fists on sight, even when I tried playing as an extremely busty and somewhat attractive female (purely for research purposes, you understand).
Ark: Survival Evolved might be more fun if you have a group of friends to play with. In fact, one thing it has in its favour is that if you're creating your own server, there are a huge number of customisation options available that can make the game go a little easier on you (amongst many other configurations). However, in its current state, I can't recommend purchasing it. There are several important features and optimisations that need to be added first and a lot of bugs that have yet to be squashed. It's best to hold off until its supposed completion date in spring next year and see how it shapes up by then.