Ark: Survival Evolved – Xbox One Game Preview

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Game code provided by the publisher

At just one penny shy of twenty eight quid, Ark: Survival Evolved is pretty expensive for a game that’s not even finished yet (and remember, this early access thing is still a relatively new concept to console gamers, if you don’t count Bethesda games). How does the unfinishedness manifest itself here? The frame rate is dodgy, there are a few server issues, some animations are poor, combat feels off, and it’s just generally a little shonky. The whole point of course is that the developers are still working on these issues before the ‘proper’ release, so it’s arguably unfair to concentrate on all this too much. After all, the experience overall holds together very well, and it’s a very nice-looking game. What about the gameplay?

The first thing you do is create your character (and you have the option of creating a new one every time you die). No matter what height you choose for your neanderthal guy or gal, you just seem too short (mainly when playing in first person), which feels really weird. This is presumably an adorable way of trying to make the dinosaurs look bigger. Hopefully that’s one of the things that will get fixed.

You’ve seen the main promo image, right? The one with a lady holding an assault rifle riding a dinosaur and a chap holding a bow riding a sabre toothed tiger? Yes, you can totally do that. If you think you can start doing cool stuff like that within minutes of picking up the controller, however, you’d best think again. My first half an hour of play went something like this:

No, you don’t get Force powers. Sorry.

Oh, I’ve woken up on a beach. Hey, this is pretty, kinda looks like Far Cry. Oh, dinosaurs – awesome! Right; now what? I have… no weapons and no items. Hmm. Well, wait – what’s that in the distance? Some weird light reaching up to the sky. Pretty clever way of showing me where to go without tutorials. Okay, off I go through this little wood. Hmm, is that dinosaur coming –

I’m dead. Bugger.

Waking up on the same space in the beach. Think I’ll avoid those trees. I wonder if… yep, repeatedly punching this tree has (a) made my character cry out in pain and rapidly bloodied his knuckles, but has also (b) provided me with my first materials. Yay! Now, er, I wonder what I can do with them and how I do whatever it is? Well, I’ve levelled up! Which means… I wonder what that means? But oh, wait, I’ve figured out the button to pick up stones from the ground. I’m starting to get a nice little collection of stuff goi- no, no, nice dinosaur, pretty huge dinosaur, who’s a good boy-

I’m dead. Bugger.

Waking up on the beach again. Oh, here’s my inventory, which is… empty?!!? Oh man, you must lose everything each time you die. Well, you know what? I’m just going to wait right here and explore the menu before – wait, why is my character crying out in pain and

I’m dead. Bugger.

Killed by a small group of piddly little dinosaurs? That’s just insulting! I didn’t even go anywhere near them and – what was that suspicious-sounding sound effect?

[you defecated]

Oh, lovely. I picked up some dinosaur poo earlier. Can I pick up my own poo? Should I pick up my own poo? And when it comes to it, why would I want somebody else’s poo, never mind my own? Which is weirder to carry around; your own poo, or somebody else’s poo?

I’m dead. Bugger.

I never even saw what the hell that was that killed me!!! This does seem a tad unfair, if I’m honest. Okay, fine, forget the land for now. There’s another one of those lights coming up from the sea bed; that wasn’t there before… was it? Let’s go investigate! Nearly there… okay, here we go. Dive down and… what the heck’s this? Some kind of box? Well I can’t work out how to open it and I’ve started drowning, so I’d better get back up to the surface and

I’m dead. Bugger.

Whatever that was in the water that killed me, it was huge.

You get the idea.

If the torturous and unforgiving world of Dark Souls makes you unnaturally excited, the prospect of this game is probably making you slobber a bit and possibly sending blood rush to places it has no call rushing to in such a situation. The thing is though, so far as games that hate you and make no attempt to hide it go, A:SE does it all very well. The Dark Souls comparison is apt, though there’s a fair chunk of Minecraft in there too. It can be played online – and arguably that’s how it ‘should’ be played – but at the moment, even if you manage to get into a game with other players and the servers hold out, there’s not much benefit if you don’t have friends to join and especially if you don’t have the experience and items to contribute to a group.

The ‘evolved’ bit hints at the fact that you can – eventually – craft and maintain complex dwellings and modern weapons, armour, traps, and turrets. While you lose all your held items each time you die (though like the Souls games, you have a chance to recover what you drop), your XP and ‘engrams’ – basically knowledge of what you’ve learned to craft – persist. You’re essentially working a constant grind, working toward the point where you eventually won’t be so easy to kill and have a wide variety of cool stuff you know how to build.

Even this very basic summation of the experience is poorly explained by the game. There’s a series of clunky explanations of the game’s systems squirrelled away in the menu; but without talking to other players or spending lots of time on Google, your main enemy will be the game’s obtuse refusal to explain itself. There’s a lot of depth here, and the payoffs for sinking time in are huge. This is an extremely demanding game though (I haven’t even mentioned things like keeping warm), and there’s still a lot of tidying up to do from both technical and design perspectives – so be aware that this will be an investment of time rather than a purchase with money.

It’s still a purchase with money though.

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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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