Tuesday, December 4

Review: ARK - Survival Evolved [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Oh ARK, if ever there were a game that was simultaneously awesome with promise but aggravating in execution it’s you. This is a title I’ve kept an eye on through the eyes of my daughter on PC since it was in Early Access. I’d tried way back when to play it with her but its somewhat wonky nature and quirks were enough to put me off in the hopes once it hit full release things would be better, though she still sticks with it to this day and enjoys what is unique about it… namely surviving in a world of dinosaurs and there being a means to eventually taming them to use as mounts and other prehistoric fun. Since its performance has never been stable even on PC when I heard it was coming to Switch I was a bit surprised, but now it’s here with the promise of taking the dino survival experience on the go… but if you’re looking to dive in you need to be aware of a number of caveats or you’ll likely be very disappointed.

Starting with what the game does well there’s no doubt that at the elevator pitch level it absolutely has a ton of appeal. Played in a first-person perspective you’ll be trying to survive as a human starting with pretty much nothing (thankfully not completely naked like a certain title in the space) while adding dinosaurs to your list of normal things to be concerned with. As you begin collecting and crafting you’ll gain experience that you can then use to unlock new crafting abilities and slowly build up your stats. With better gear you’ll be able to take on more ambitious goals like both taking down increasingly tough prey or working through the challenge of stunning, caring for, and taming various beasts instead.

Don’t get ahead of yourself though, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the game it can be a real challenge to get going. Being clear there’s simply not very much in-game help or guidance for how to do almost anything. You’re really thrown into the situation and expected to experiment to figure out what you need to do. If you’re new to the game I’d very much suggest watching some videos or reading up, there are some cool things you can do as you progress but I’m not sure that without said methods of getting help most people would have much success. This isn’t a well-tuned experience, it’s a collection of cool ideas that you can make work but that don’t always make intuitive sense either. All that said, I will tell you that my daughter loves having her dodo and dino “pets” that she has managed to tame so if that aspect appeals to you and you have patience there can be rewards to it all.

Finally getting into what’s just plain ugly we’ll focus on the worst offenders, one with the game as a whole and two that are more specific to Switch. As a general note there is online play available but be aware that at least on PC it became a pretty notoriously toxic space with tribes that would dominate servers and pretty well ruin the game for others. Hopefully things have improved and with Switch it can be different but that may take time to see how it plays out. Playing with others can be great and it can be miserable, you’ve been warned. Speaking to the Switch with performance and visual quality… there’s not a lot of great news. Being frank the game’s overall visuals always seemed to be both trapped in the PS2 era with bad textures and the like yet also janky, especially if there gets to be a lot going on at once on-screen. On the Switch’s more limited hardware these issues are magnified, especially in handheld mode. Performance is a bit all over the place, textures will sort of morph in front of you as things load into memory… you can gut it out and choose to accept this but bearing in mind performance has always been a question with this title as a whole even if it is patched and improved I wouldn’t count on it ever even being “good” most likely. Finally it is well worth noting that the controls for the menus and the interface as a whole are awful and even unintuitive at times. This is definitely an interface that was designed for PC and its implementation for consoles just isn’t very good. This is something that can be lived with but it needs to be noted that it’s particularly sloppy as a whole.

Scoring ARK: Survival Evolved is tough because while it has a substantial number of strikes against it I’m well aware that the unique experience it has to offer can help some people overlook its issues. There really is no game out there quite like it, and I do applaud the ambition the developers had in this undertaking to both initially create and then stick with trying to step by step get this title closer to being all it set out to be. All that said at the same time there’s no denying that the Switch implementation of this game has some very serious flaws and issues, and based on observing this game’s development over time there’s absolutely no guarantee that all or even any of it may be addressed satisfactorily. If you’re in love with the premise and have pretty abundant patience there’s no doubt it’s the only game of its kind, and I wish you luck with it. For everyone else though it just has too many issues from the fundamentals to the specifics of the Switch implementation to recommend with any enthusiasm.

Score: 5.5

  • The only survival game with dinosaurs out there
  • If you’re able to get rolling and begin taming bigger beasts it can have cool moments

  • Notoriously a bit janky even on more powerful platforms on Switch it’s a hot mess, especially in handheld mode
  • In-game help and support is very limited, meaning you’ll either need to go through a ton of trial and error or look up tutorials to understand some even basic things
  • The menus are obviously designed for PC and on console they’re generally cumbersome and unintuitive
  • Some of the load times are plain crazy