Reviewed on PC, copy supplied by publisher.
Before we get started I want to address the fact that this review may be unusual, but ARK is an unusual game. So, instead of a conventional piece, you can read about my attempts to make a pair of pants for a strangely proportioned woman.
Coming into the world in a fit of pain – trapped underneath floorboards and confused – Snek didn’t get the best start to life. Snek wasn’t exactly born in the conventional sense, but she did spawn unusually. My first randomly generated PVP character entered the world glitched into a hut and unable to move.
This is usually where I would shrug and mutter “well it’s early access” to myself. But no, no it’s not. It’s an actual game, with a physical release and everything. One of the first early access survival MMOs on Steam to enter the big boy world of full release and console ports, ARK has a lot riding on its shoulders – as does Snek.
After a while of button mashing and spamming jump, Snek popped out of her basement dwelling to greet the world in all her randomly generated glory.
So, obviously becoming trapped underneath a house has some issues. It’s not a great way to be initiated into a game. But hey, Snek is just happy to be alive. The next step is getting this woman clothed and fed. Figuring out what to do in ARK for the uninitiated is a bit of a head scratcher, there are no real objectives other than survival, and there are very few pointers on how you should be doing that.
Using her feeble T.Rex hands, Snek started destroying trees, gathering fibres and picking up stones off the ground. Most of this consisted of spamming left click and hitting E repeatedly. After a little while Snek was able to level herself up and learn how to build some fancy stone age tools to help her smash shit more effectively.
It became quickly apparent that to do well in ARK requires repeatedly grinding so that you can grind with less effort in the future, this includes grinding for levels to unlock better gear, not just for building materials. It’s not my favourite mode of gameplay, but sure, Snek needs clothes and somewhere to rest, so let’s put Snek first.
After punching through trees and collecting some fibres, Snek had crafted a pretty awesome shirt and hat. To celebrate this moment she soiled herself then stared pensively at the mess of her own making.
Yeah, so your character in ARK will defecate… and it’s not elegant. A loud cartoon fart noise followed by an animation of a strangely spherical turd rolling down their leg will let you know that there is now human poo nearby, poo that you can pick up. It’s a strange mechanic, and I’m not quite sure if it’s there for comical purposes, or whether late-game requires you to grind for faeces. But, okay, I’m on board I suppose – it’s a survival game with dinosaurs and salmon that can kill you – let’s roll with it.
So, now Snek was relatively clothed, all she needed was a pair of pants. I had done most of my fibre collection down on the beach, so I figured her pants would need the delicate cottons of the forest. Snek only likes the best for her freakishly long legs.
Off we trotted up a hill and into the forest, smashing that E button to gather fibre. Well, sad to say, this didn’t turn out well for Snek. A behemoth snake decided it was having none of this damn pant creation and bit the defenseless Snek until she passed out from poison. The screen went dark as I heard the large reptile ripping into her flesh.
Fortunately for Snek, the gods had other plans for her and she was reborn. I decided that no punk ass scale covered tube was going to dictate when I can or can not make trousers, so I marched back into the forest to collect the previous incarnation of Snek’s loot.
To get there it was quicker to swim across a bay from the beach she spawned on. It was a big time saver, but also the ocean was dark and presumably full of terrors. But hey, Snek don’t let nothing hold her back.
Yup, so a Megalodon made short work of Snek 2.0.
Now it, was Snek 3.0’s time to shine. She reclaimed the sweet sweet pant making materials and headed back down to the snake and shark free beach for some respite. Feeling peckish, Snek 3.0 smashed some dodos to death with a rudimentary hatchet and started cooking up some delicious extinct grub. As she ate her meal Snek let out a steamy poo.
After filling her gullet with bird, it was time to make pants. And make pants we did! It was at this point that I decided to retire Snek as a character. Her arc (ba boom chish) was complete. Since Snek retired I’ve played a lot more ARK, but nothing has matched those first moments of exploration.
In parts the game is still rough around the edges – like Snek – but there’s also something endearing about it. Seeing huts along the shoreline that all signify another player’s achievements is great. But the sense this isn’t a complete game still lingers.
The constant grinding and acquiring of materials quickly becomes overbearing, and as you spend more time exposed to the whimsical animals that inhabit the world, their effect is lessened.
The PVP elements might draw some players in, and to be honest I’m not really in a position to comment heavily on them. In my time with the game everyone I encountered was kind, offering advice and showing off their dinosaur riding skills – which is pretty damn rad. This is great from a community point of view, but from my game time there wasn’t a sense of foreboding threat that other survival games offer.
There’s a lot to like about ARK for those who like adventure, dinosaurs and base building, but for me it fell short at keeping its hooks in. That being said, I can see the appeal of a game like this, and once it evolves a bit more I might be tempted to take Snek out of retirement.