Ark Park: review

  • Format: PSVR (version reviewed), PC VR formats
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Snail Games
  • Developer: Snail Games
  • Players: 1 (offline), 2-3 (online)
  • Site: http://www.arkparkvr.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

It’s weird that there’s no commercially available Jurassic Park VR experience for the mass market, isn’t it? There’s a huge gap there. Snail Games certainly seem to think so, as Ark Park is pretty much that under a different name. It’s not quite a quick and directionless cash grab; it’s an Ark: Survival Evolved spin-off. With all the creatures and none of the complication, this was to be a dinosaurtastic adventure for anybody. That, at least, was the idea.

When the game first starts we find, to our horror, that teleportation movement and awkward, jerky left & right turns are compulsory. Traditional analogue movement is not an option. Even worse, teleporting is rarely a quick and smooth experience. You aim with your head (something that is never made clear) using a practically invisible cursor, and determine the direction you’ll face by rotating the Move controller or DualShock as appropriate. Deciding your direction in this way is so user unfriendly, it’s easier to teleport where you want to go without adjusting it, and then turn yourself around piecemeal once you’re there. On top of all that, the entire game is full of invisible bumps and walls that forbid teleportation to certain spots.

Once on the train that will take us to Ark Park proper (which takes much longer than it should for obvious reasons), we get it going and enjoy the ride. Travelling over a lake, we see a huge waterbound dinosaur on the way, which is nice (if not as impressive as we feel it really should be). We then disembark and start to explore the Park, hoping things will get much better.

They don’t.

No, the game looks nowhere near this smooth and shiny.

The controls continue to fight us ferociously in the Park lobby, which contains a small number of pretty (if unimpressive) hologram dinosaur exhibits. Still, there’s not really anything in the lobby to hang around for, and the real park – full of historic flora and fauna – will afford us much more freedom. Right?

Right??

There’s a small hub area designed to do most of the cool stuff you may have heard about. Hatch dinosaurs from eggs, feed them, watch them grow… and ride them once they’re big enough. Yes, you can ride dinosaurs! The first time you do this is undeniably satisfying… although the fact that you have zero control over the beasts, essentially trundling through a fairground ride, is not. There’s a small shooting range for target practice; maybe that will keep you amused for a moment or two.

Ah yes, weapons and shooting. A simplified version of Ark’s crafting has been crowbarred in here, and it’s not very welcome. Guns need to be crafted and, while they all magically have infinite ammo, they all break after a certain amount of use. Aiming and shooting the guns has been implemented quite well. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that gathering the resources needed means revisiting the same handful of areas over and over again. You see, the “Explore” section of the game is where you can actually toddle around in the middle of the jungle area, getting up close to the prehistoric creatures that wander around there. It’s not just a sightseeing tour; you can harvest materials and scan the wildlife. Scanning the dinosaurs and other creatures gives you info on them as well as gene samples, which are used to unlock new crafting items. The aforementioned limits on where you can go frustrate the most in these sections, tantalising paths through dense jungle and across shallow rivers forbidden just because. As a result, the chunks of park you can actually move about in are tiny, and there’s not exactly an immense variety of dinosaurs to discover.

If only it were as cool as this looks.

You’re in no danger at all while exploring. The need for weapons comes from the entirely separate Battle mode, where you defend what’s supposed to be a dinosaur-aggressiveness-suppressor-thing from waves of enemies. This can be a little frustrating when stuck with a piddly pistol (especially against one of the bullet-sponge bosses), but becomes much easier once you unlock greater firepower. It’s no fun having a gun break on you in the middle of a game. This wave attack mode isn’t, to be honest, all that fun anyway; and it’s somewhat bizarre that the only mode with a significant amount of animals to see demands that you kill them all.

Speaking more generally, we really do have to go back to the awfulness of the controls. Even bugs aside (such as the first time we played, when our second Move controller kept flying about everywhere on-screen, impossible to control), they needed to have been tested a lot more. Specifically, the distance allowance is terrible, apparently expecting you to be sitting across the street from your camera. At least, this is what we presume; perhaps the fact that you need to lean your head down so far that you pierce your own chest with your chin, desperately attempting to point at what you want to grasp from your inventory, is down to poor playtesting. In a similar vein, don’t be surprised to find yourself pointing the cursor at something in your item box, and finding the descriptive text that appears out of your field of vision.

It is, briefly, quite neat to wander around what little of the park you have access to, and seeing the weird and wonderful creatures that are there. It’s not nearly enough to make up for the fudged controls and severe lack of content, though. This would be difficult to recommend at half the price; charging £30+ is quite frankly ridiculous. Much to their credit, the developers are tackling the widespread criticism head-on via their social media channels, promising to bring improvements. As things stand, however, this puts the ‘wrecks’ into ‘t-rex’.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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