ARK Park (PSVR) Review

ARK Survival evolved truly has evolved. Not only has it branched out from Early Access into its retail release on PC, Xbox One and PS4, but it’s also been announced as coming to both the switch and mobile devices in the near future. Even with all of its issues, there is no denying that a lot of people love ARK and continue to play it today. Now, what do we regularly see with franchises that get so popular that the developers don’t know what to do next with? Spin-offs! We have one on the way and one which arrived today – PixARK in Early access on both the Xbox One and PC as well as ARK Park on PSVR and PC VR. Today, I got a chance to take a look at ARK Park on PSVR and upon reflection (of writing this review) my opinion of the game has changed drastically.

Now, to put this out there – the reason why my review isn’t hitting the embargo at 5pm is that when I tried it at 1am the game wouldn’t work correctly. I had two move controllers yet upon booting up the game, it turned off the light on the right-hand one every time, thus rendering the controller useless (but the buttons still worked). I was pretty much forced to either play it with a limp hand or use the DS4 – I did both and they were both really, really bad experiences. I restarted my PS4 a few hours ago and re-downloaded ARK Park and both controllers worked fine! I’ve seen others online complain about the same issue, so I believe the issue was the game.

So, my review is late because I had to replay the game with the working controllers, however, upon diving deeper into the game – more cracks started to emerge.

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One of the highlights of the game – playing with the tiny dinosaurs.

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*If you do decide to buy the game – pick the Tutorial option on the main screen – it will guide you through how to play the game at a steady pace. I didn’t do this and was left stumped quite a few times*

First up, is this an experience is it a game? I’m a little confused with that answer and I think the game is as well! After you create your custom avatar, from a choice which is slightly bigger than Titan Quests character creator, you are placed at the shuttle dock/train station on ‘Welcome Island’ which is where you can become accustomed to the controls (I’ll come to these later, don’t worry). From here, the only things you can do is jump on the train and relax as you are taken on a short journey across the ocean to the visitor’s Lobby – and it’s here where I was taken in by the magic of ARK in VR (if only it was long lasting).

Imagine Jurassic Park, the first scene where they enter the main building and they see the giant T-Rex skeleton. You got it, good – now imagine that in the future with holograms and a giant map of the island and you have the experience you get here. There are live sized skeletons of a few dinosaurs, including the infamous T-Rex, which are cool to get up close to. There are also a few other stations which are secretly teaching you the game in the form of interactive holograms – so you can feed a herbivore both meat and plants to see which it wants, choose an action for a T-Rex to perform in front of you including a giant Roar, or head on over to the ‘educational station’. Okay, that not its name but that’s what it is as you can grab various dinosaurs and throw them at a screen to receive information about them.

Finally in this area is the map I mentioned above – ARK Park looks huge from here, but don’t get too excited, you can’t freely explore it all! The best thing about the map is the tiny figurines of the dinosaurs – if you pick them up and throw them, then when they land, they grow into life-sized, roaring creatures! The first time I did this it made me jump as I dropped it near me and suddenly I had a giant T-Rex screaming in my face without warning!

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So far, on our trip, all we have done is sit on a train and play with a few models – when does the fun really begin…

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This part was pretty cool – riding shotgun with a droid as various dinosaurs tried to attack us.

…Now! I think it’s safe to say that the above aspects are mainly to get you used to the controls (I haven’t forgotten about these, don’t worry), and a brief introduction to the island. The three other main sections of the game are:

1. The breeding/crafting section:
This is located just off from the Visitor centre and it’s here where you can hatch eggs and craft new items. As I had no idea what I was doing, the first time I was here, I threw the egg it gave me into the garbage and was unable to retrieve it – it was funny but also quite annoying as I wanted to hatch it, so I started a new game. Learning from my mistakes, I worked out how to hatch it, helped it grow and even got a free guided tour from my pet Triceratops as I sat on it’s back. This part was cool – but you have no control once you place your backside on the creature’s saddle.

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Also located here is a crating station. As you scan more dinosaurs in section ‘2’ below, you earn points to unlock various weapons, tools, and items. You don’t ‘get’ them though, you have to craft them – so you grab the blueprint, pop it on the table and see what resources you need. Resources can also be gathered in section ‘2’ and ‘3’ below. Once you have enough resources, you can craft the item and add it to your inventory. Some tools are useful later on, like the torch for burning giant spider webs, and the weapons really help you in part ‘3’ below.

2. The Exploration section:
I really enjoy this part, I just wish there were more locations you can go and have a look around. Basically, think of Pokemon Snap crossed with Final Fantasy: Monsters of the Deep! You must get out your scanner and scan all of the lifeforms you find, these can range from King Kong to a big fat frog. You are kind of free to walk around but there are a lot of invisible walls, so the areas aren’t as big as you would hope (they are locations on the map in the Visitor room, remember when I said “don’t get too excited?”), however there is a lot going on in some of them so it’s alright that they are quite closed off in some aspects.

Now, I know what you’re saying – why is it like Pokemon Snap? Do you take pictures? What about Final fantasy? Do you fish? Calm down! No and no, let me explain. The dinosaurs have a set routine – for example, there is a pair of giant King Kongs fighting in one of the locations – however, if you take too long, or you don’t look, you will miss it. Your objective in these parts is to use your scanner and scan new things – so you may have to replay the same one a few times in order to be in the right place at the right time to scan them in. Similar to how you had to do the same things in Pokemon Snap to get sight of certain pokemon.

It reminds me of Final Fantasy because around the environments are random creatures you can interact with and observe (Final Fantasy: Monsters of the Deep is an amazing game full of wildlife and magical beasts as well as fishing – check it out if you haven’t). For example, the fat frog I mentioned before – you can use that as bait to get a giant creature to jump out and eat it as you scan it in. Another example is throwing rocks at hidden creatures to get them to say “Hi!”.

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I’ve only done three of these so far, but there are some things I’ve not uncovered – plus you can pull out your pick (not a euphemism) and cut down trees (hmmm), mine rocks and harvest minerals for use in the crafting station in part ‘1’ above. One of the ones I have done though was basically a ridealong with an android of sorts who drove me around as we were being chased in a scene that wasn’t too different to a famous film… That was fun, but due to all the things going on around me – I forgot to scan the creatures we found!

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In VR these giant spiders are actually quite terrifying if you’re scared of spiders.

3. The combat arenas/Horde mode:
This part of the game doesn’t seem like it’s had a lot of thought put into it to be fair. You are tasked with defending a tower as hordes of dinosaurs come at you whilst you fend them off with a pistol. You can shoot barrels to cause them to explode, shoot the dinosaurs directly, or in some cases, use the environment to kill the creatures. This mode is unfair and unbalanced but I feel it has been done like that on purpose. I can’t get past the first level as the boss constantly kicks my ass! You do get materials and rewards regardless of if you win or not, so I believe it’s going to be close to impossible unless you craft a new weapon in part ‘1’ above first – a weapon you can’t craft until you have scanned in enough dinosaurs in part ‘2’ above, first.

I guess it’s set up like this to prolong the game, you have to do X to get Y to return to X then proceed to Z… It’s all about getting better each time and levelling up – or in this case getting new gear. Which in a way is similar to the ARK game in general, only a lot more simplified in this format. Honestly, I quite enjoyed shooting giant spiders and monkeys in the face (don’t take that the wrong way) but it felt empty and a bit dull. You have in front of you a few pathways which are layered with explosive barrels and it tells you exactly which ones are going to be spawning enemies. So you’re never on edge and you always know whats coming from where.

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And that brings me to the biggest issue I had in the beginning and something which changes this from an okay game into a terrible one…

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This is the one and only dinosaur I raised – also note the floating PS4 controller – why not hands?

The Controls
Boy oh boy – where do I begin? I know, let’s start with 1:30am when one of my move controllers wasn’t working. I tried to play it with one move controller – very hard, don’t recommend it – So instead I reloaded and swapped to the DS4 and my experience was lowered to a worse experience than trying to play with one hand – but don’t get me wrong, there are some terrible choices in both control methods.

First of all, with the controller you can’t freely move – you must teleport everywhere – I hate teleporting, but okay, not a problem. Also, with the DS4 you teleport to where you’re looking via a tiny crosshair – again, this is fine, other games have adopted the same but I would have preferred a teleport arc which you controlled, but where your looking for the DS4 is ‘do-able’. When you pick up any object, be it a dinosaur figurine or materials, you can’t rotate, it just sticks out in whichever hand you chose to pick it up in. Once again, limitations of the DS4, I understand, but why can’t I rotate the item? Even with my one-handed original playthrough, you can pick up and move and item all around as you look at it with the Move controller.

And then we have two of the worst things about the game – reading text and your inventory. I’ll start with the lesser evil first – the inventory. As you press triangle, your inventory opens around you, like the keyboard player in the Cantina from Star Wars, and you must look at the object you want (with the tiny crosshair) and select it that way. This wouldn’t be too bad if the game didn’t have a depth perception issue in VR! whenever you play, enter a new area or reset your view with options, you are always placed a bit too far forward. Because of this, in order to view and ‘use’ your inventory, you are forced to move back or really press your chin on your chest in order for it to be within the acceptable location. I also found things like sitting in the car would also be wrong as the game would have me almost on the bonnet – refreshing the view never works and you are resorted to moving forward, resetting then manually moving back.

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Secondly, I had to stop playing this morning because I was getting a headache – not because of VR but because of all of the eye and neck strain I was getting due to the in-game text via using the DS4. An example of this is, when you are in exploration mode and scanning things, the scanner is stuck in parallel to your head, so the text of the scanned item appears above it – as you move your head to read it, the item moves as well – so does the text! So you end up playing cat and mouse trying to read it! Your only solution is to strain your eyes and look as far to the side as you can. Similarly, when in the crafting station, looking at an object will display info above it – but as you lift your head up to read it, the writing goes! You need to really crank your neck in strange positions to read the text! This is really unacceptable if I’m being honest.

These issues I have reported though, so hopefully something will happen. Or you can just use the move controllers and it’s all fine right? Right….? Well, no…

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A planet named Earth, which is scorched and ‘coming soon’ – Scorched Earth expansion?

When I tried earlier and both move controllers worked I thought ” Great, I get to play it as intended” and yes, there are major improvements in using the two move controllers such as: Items like the tiny dinosaurs can be picked up and fully rotated for your pleasure, when operating the scanner to scan things, you can move it like a gun in VR and position it so you can read the text, shooting the gun and using other tools is more immersive and easier to use, and feeding dinosaurs feel a lot better when you have controls of your hands manually.

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Sounds great… But nope – there are still some major issues and design choices which shouldn’t be present – not in a game asking this much for the privilege of playing an unfinished game (which I’ll come to later on). First of all, movement – you still teleport to where you are looking and not a teleport arc (which I don’t understand why the developers have gone with this when using move controllers) and you turn with the circle button on each controller. This is yet another strange thing as it’s usually both left and right spin on the same controller. Anyway, I can forgive those, to an extent – even though precise movements is a pain!

However, my biggest gripes when using the DS4 was the reading of text in places where you can’t look and read and the inventory – the DS4 is bad but excusable as it’s not a motion controller as such (well it is, but lets say it isn’t) but what control method do you think the Move controllers support? You can obviously reach out your hand and grab items from your inventory, press buttons on screens, pick up things manually and do everything you would do in a fully immersive VR game from a £3.99 product to a £39.99 product right? Nope – it’s exactly the same as the DS4 controls. You must look at the item or thing you wish to interact with and press the trigger button – with the move controller you have virtual hands, so why must I still be forced to stretch my neck in order to pick up my gun from my inventory just because I can’t just reach down and grab it with the controller?

The game is £44.99 yet it hasn’t even fully implemented the move controllers as anything other than a DS4 split in two. Fair enough, operating the guns and weapons is fun and works really well – but let us use the controllers as ‘hands’ and pick things up or grab things with them rather than resorting to the terrible ‘look at what you want to pick up’ mechanic.

**I’ve just checked out videos on Youtube and the PC version of ARK Park actually implement the controllers perfectly, it has an arc-style warp system and you can pick up items from your inventory with your hands and interact with things as normal – so maybe the PS4 version has a bug which locks it in DS4 mode even though using the Move controllers? Either way, just seeing that on PC it operates as-intended makes me kind of hopeful the devs can implement the same operations for PSVR**

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This may have been a cool multiplayer game mode – ‘Survival of the Fittest’ – if it was actually in the game…

However, that’s about it for ARK Park at the moment. I say ‘at the moment’ as there is a multiplayer but it isn’t there! It’s empty… And no, I don’t mean there are no people (there is that as well though) but I mean none of the multiplayer modes are actually within the game. There is a planet Earth, that’s scorched (so I’m guessing a Scorched Earth thing), an ARK Community globe and a ‘Survival of the Fittest’ option but all of them say ‘coming soon’ with no indication on if they are going to be paid expansions, free add-ons, new environments, multiplayer games, or what?!? Also, there is no indication of when they are due to go live. The only multiplayer part that works allowed me to be with up to 3 other people – so I joined it on my own, as you do, and it took me to the main game. So, it appears that, other than the ‘Survival of the Fittest’, the multiplayer simply lets others into the same world instance you are in – but I’ve yet to test it properly yet.

If that’s the case then I imagine the ‘Earth’ option will be another environment with new creatures, explorations and combat sections – but will it be at a price? For £44.99 I hope not – but also, why isn’t it here on release? The game is unfinished in my eyes. The only PVP mode isn’t there either and the mysterious ‘ARK Community’ option?!?! Maybe that’s where you import ARK creatures – as I can’t find an option for that I the game at the moment – but again, this game was due out in December 2017 then delayed until now and it’s still not finished.

So to sum it all up – Originally the game didn’t work as intended, I then proceeded to play the game with terrible controls but put up with them as it was kind of expected. Then I found out the Move controllers use the same terrible control scheme, yet on PC it operates correctly. Then finally, I realised the multiplayer is missing and it may already be touting paid-for expansions on a £44.99 PSVR title. That’s a bit of a roller coaster as just when I begin to like it, I find something else that affects my judgement – as such my score and comments below will reflect how I feel about the game as it stands right now – if the controls are fixed then I will re-visit the game and re-review and once we get clarification on the mysterious multiplayer options, I’ll update the review and judge accordingly.

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My playlist of the first 40mins or so:

Official Trailer:

Final Conclusion:
ARK Park could have been great and upon looking at streams and videos of people on PC, they are having a great time. Over here on the PSVR, we are currently lumbered with terrible head-based controls (even whilst using the move controllers), an inconsistently working move controller (I’ve seen others with the same issue as me), and even less content. The PC, for example, lets you paint your dinosaur in the tutorial, we don’t have that. So my advice, if you MUST have this game – go buy it on PC as that’s where the Developers seem to be prioritising their time and effort – over on PSVR, we are not getting the same experience by far – and I’m not referring to the resolution. Also, don’t forget the missing multiplayer at launch and the prospects of expansions already being touted in the multiplayer menu. It seems like another case of releasing an unfinished game to ride the hype train of a franchise name (both ARK and Jurrasic Park).

To also kick it whilst it’s down – ARK Park on PC is £31.99 with more content and working controls, yet it’s £44.99 on PSVR for a vastly inferior product.

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A copy of the game was kindly provided for review purposes

ARK Park

£44.99
3.5

Final Score

3.5/10

The Good:

  • The exploration parts are good with similarities to FF: Monsters of the deep and Pokemon Snap
  • The holographic dinosaurs are fun, if you have a move controller
  • The initial impression you get is good (while it lasts)
  • The game does have potential of being something fun

The Bad:

  • Missing content that's on PC + PC is cheaper for a superior product
  • The multiplayer modes are 'coming soon' with what appears to be a Scorched Earth expansion (paid?)
  • The Move controllers aren't implemented correctly - sticks to head operations (PC is fine)
  • The move controller will sometimes turn it's light off upon launch, requiring a reboot
  • Lots of clipping, movement, visual issues and a lack of content - the game is basically in early access
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