Developer: Snail Games
Publisher: Snail Games
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): PlayStation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
Ever since seeing Jurassic Park for the first time as a kid, I’ve dreamt of being able to visit a park full of dinosaurs. I think the same applies for just about everyone, right?
Naturally then, when ARK Park was revealed I got very excited. Being able to get up close to dinosaurs in virtual reality, look after them, and visit these tropical locales which they inhabited seemed like an insanely good idea – the fact it was based upon ARK: Survival Evolved just added to the buzz given the quality of the world and the creatures you encounter there.
Unfortunately, the final product just doesn’t hit the mark. Sure, you’re exploring this impressive park full of dinosaurs, but the gameplay grows old fast, the control scheme is awful, and the visuals are blurry throughout.
The most obvious flaw in ARK Park is the poor control scheme. Much like other virtual reality titles, you teleport across the environment to get around. It’s typically not a huge problem – whilst I prefer free-locomotion, the teleportation scheme can work well.
However, in ARK Park you aim where you want to go by looking at it with your head. This not only feels clumsy in-game when comparted to the typical ‘point a Move controller’ method, but it can actually start to cause your neck to ache over time. There’s also the fact that you have to use your head as a pointer when using the in-game menus – at one point I was selecting an item in my inventory, but when I tried to move my head up to read the item description it would deselect the item because I was no longer looking at it. It’s so fiddly and awkward.
It makes it less fun to explore your surroundings, which instantly deters from the overall experience. ARK Park is all about taking in the world around you and getting up close to everything, so the fact that simple traversal is a struggle gets it off to a pretty bad start. Hopefully, it’s something the developer will address in future patches.
The bulk of your time in ARK Park will be spent exploring a variety of areas, encountering all of the different species of dinosaurs, and gathering resources to craft new items. It’s fairly simple in design, but there’s a satisfaction to be had from it because… well… it’s dinosaurs.
There’s an educational aspect to the game that teaches you about each creature you discover too, which encourages you to try and find each and every species in the game. You’re also able to look after dinosaur eggs and hatch them to have your own little pet, which might sound neat but in practice can be a little frustrating. You have to physically wait for eggs to hatch (and some can take hours), whilst there’s not a whole lot to do with them in the end anyway. Sure, you can ride them, but seeing as they all follow the same set path in the same environment, it becomes one of those things that’s only fun the first time you do it.
There’s certainly a neatness to the exploration, and discovering each creature in a natural environment where they behave independently is certainly both impressive and somewhat relaxing. It’s a world that’s great to be a part of – seeing some of these enormous creatures for the first time will leave you in awe.
With just six main areas to explore though, it can grow old fast. You’ll be spending time filling up your little log of the dinosaurs you can spot, but it’ll only take around about an hour to see everything across the game world. Each area does have a Pokémon Snap-like feel to them though thanks to the fact that each dinosaur’s actions are scripted, which makes it easy to miss out on logging them the first time around and forces the player to actively try uncovering them all themselves. It does give you an incentive to go through each area again, though at the same time it can also be a little tiresome to just see the same things all over again.
One of the biggest factors that deters from exploration is the fact that the visuals can be so blurry. When you’re up close to an object it looks clear, and admittedly it can look great, but when you’re more than a few feet away it just blurs. Some of the environments you explore are pretty big in size too, so you can expect to be squinting your eyes a lot as you glance across the horizon to work out whatever creature you’re struggling to make out in distance is.
When you can make out the visuals though, ARK Park can look superb. There’s a lot of detail in the environment, whilst the exotic locales themselves are full of flora and fauna that really help bring them to life. It’s just restricted by the hardware – I haven’t seen similar complaints on other virtual reality platforms with the game, so it seems like it’s just the PlayStation VR headset that can’t always handle ARK Park in a particularly aesthetically pleasing way.
The dinosaurs themselves look great too, especially when you’re right up close to them. I was a fan of ARK: Survival Evolved, so being able to see some of the creatures again but with the added immersion of virtual reality was something I could really appreciate. The scale on some of them is incredibly impressive too – seeing the likes of a Tyrannosaurs Rex or the Diplodocus is simply amazing in-game. It’s just a shame that the detail isn’t there when you’re looking at them from a distance…
Outside of the exploration, there’s also a shooting segment to ARK Park that sees you taking down an onslaught of dinosaurs that have gone out of control. Unfortunately, the choice of foe is the only redeeming factor (everyone wants to battle dinosaurs, right?), with the shooting mechanics themselves and the general level design feeling incredibly underwhelming. There just isn’t enough variety there, with the levels all feeling pretty samey in design and simply following a ‘wave-based shooting’ setup.
It almost feels like the developers rushed to include it in order to offer an action-focused segment to the game, though in honesty I think they would’ve been better off just fleshing out the exploration side – it’s when ARK Park is at its best. The shooting on offer just feels boring and with so many better shooters available on PlayStation VR right now, you’d be better off spending your time with them instead.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the game has multiplayer, so you can explore ARK Park with your friends. However, I’ve yet to try it out – I’ve not managed to find any other players online, whilst my friends aren’t interested in forking out the high price of £44.99 for what is a pretty flawed game. I think multiplayer could add to the experience, but it won’t fix the many issues the game has.