Thursday, 05 April 2018 09:00

ARK Park Review

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"[They] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." - Ian Malcolm

ARK Park, the VR spinoff of ARK: Survival Evolved, has been on my radar for a while. Who wouldn't be excited by the prospect of touring a dinosaur-filled amusement park? Unfortunately, the developer (Snail Games) failed to capitalize on its potential.

ARK Park begins at a research facility where you're able to observe and interact with various prehistoric beasts. While the usual T. rexes and Triceratops are there, some fairly wacky creatures are on display as well, including giant beavers and three-story-tall gorillas. While there's an inherent novelty in having behemoths tower above you, the appeal is limited, mainly because you’re never able to get too up close and personal with the dinosaurs. In several of the "exploration zones" you are either forced to observe your surroundings from the confines of a vehicle, or in the cases when you can teleport freely, you'll find that most creatures are just out of reach. This is one of the main problems with Ark Park, i.e. it seems to be geared towards freedom and choice, yet the areas to explore are claustrophobic-ly small and nearly all creature paths and behaviors are scripted. The result of this is that within two minutes, you'll have experienced nearly everything an area has to offer.


Also at odds with a title that seems to be all about observation is the alarmingly blurry graphics. Backgrounds look like flat, low-resolution photos and even close objects suffer from a blurriness that'll make you swear your VR lenses have been smeared with Vaseline. It's a shame, too, since the environments are jam-packed with detail. The ambient audio somewhat makes up for the poor visuals by filling your ears with wild jungle sounds and the distant cries of pterodactyls. In fact, I'd say the sound design is the strongest feature of the title.

The VR title falls apart in gameplay.

There are four tasks you'll be participating in throughout your time with Ark Park: You’ll collect dino samples and materials, craft items, raise dinosaurs, and shoot waves of prehistoric beasts with crafted weapons. Unfortunately, no element is all that exciting. While resource gathering and crafting can work in a huge open-world environment with hundreds of recipes, there's zero joy to be had by collecting the same stuff over and over to craft a small handful of tools and weapons. The tininess of the "exploration" zones means resource gathering requires reloading an instance over and over to get what you need. Switching in and out of different scenes breaks any immersion and cohesion the title could have, making the whole experience little more than disconnected rooms tied tenuously together by menus.


Once you grind long enough to get the resources to craft a gun, you can enter battle zones where you fight off encroaching waves of dinos. The gunplay is mediocre, unfortunately. There's some strategy with the reload mechanic, as it's more time effective to manually reload by swiping downward than to fire all the bullets in a clip. Still, at the end of the day, this is just a wave shooter — one that is outclassed by many of its peers. The main flaw is that these battle zones are either too hard or too easy depending on the weapons you've crafted. A good shooter needs a sweet spot of difficulty that Ark Park never reaches. Rounding out the package is the ability to hatch and raise dinosaurs, but the experience is incredibly shallow, and I doubt many will be willing to grind for the various eggs.


The Verdict: Bad

Ark Park is a jack of all trades, but master of none. Resource collecting is the thread that attempts to tie several dissonant gameplay mechanics together but it’s not nearly deep enough or engaging enough to be successful at it. Any enjoyment that could be had by observing dinosaurs and wild jungles is marred by blurry graphics. This is one title that ought to go extinct.

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Caleb Bailey

Caleb is a game reviewer who is way more of a nostalgic curmudgeon than any 25 year old has any right to be. He enjoys shooters, open world games and is a huge believer in virtual reality's potential. His guilty pleasure movie of choice is The Neverending Story which he still shamefully watches because it was his childhood favorite. He hopes to one day ride Falkor the Luckdragon in VR because that is what he means when he says virtual reality has potential.