So there, I was, stranded on a beach, wearing a loin cloth with nothing to my name but some strange-looking alien implants and surrounded by dinosaurs... This was a video game of course, ARK: Survival Evolved. And while I should have been doing some work on my tiny self-publishing fiefdom, I was instead embarking on an epic virtual voyage to conquer a remote island teeming with prehistoric beasts.
As much as I bitch about not having the time I want to write, you'd think I would never let a video game distract me. But you'd be wrong. Sometimes, you need a break from the day job and writing on the side, and binge-watching on Netflix, or a good Xbox game, just hits the spot. Ark is one of those spot-hitters, but it may just do it's job a little too well...
A pre-release currently available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, Ark is a first person survival game that I like to call Dinocraft. The point of this $34.99 game (on Xbox One) is to survive and thrive... I think. There aren't much in the way of instructions and there isn't any campaign. In fact, I had to go online to figure out how the hell to play this game. Oh, but once I did, I was terribly hooked.
As I said above, you start off naked and on a beach, with nothing but your barehands. Fortunately, the dinosaurs present mainly tend to be plant eaters when the game starts, so you've got time to go around punching trees, pulling weeds and scooping rocks to make your first basic tool: the pick axe. From there, you go hogwild on rocks, busting them to find flint, which you can use to fashion spears, hatchets and the like.
As this search and assemble routine progresses, you've got to keep an eye out for meat-eaters. As you progress in rank (you get experience for punchign down trees, pulling those weeds and just surviving) you both learn how to build new things and you emit that sweet arome of tasty long pig that the carnivores just can't resist. So then it becomes time to build a house/hut...
As I said, this is totally Dinocraft. It has much beter graphics than Minecraft, and there's no digging, but it's basically the same.
I suppose the point of this game is to thrive--build better and better stuff (all the way up to electronics and precision, machined firearms) and subjegate this prehistoric land to your will. I like the exploring and building. Oh, and the cheating.
Mind you, a game like this is fun as-is. If I were independantly wealthy and had nothing else to do, I could immerse myself in it for days. But my gaming time is in short supply these days. Thankfully, the designers allow you to tweak the game. Like slowing down the day-night progression, how long you can last between meals, how long food takes to spoil, how tough you are, and how tough the dinos are, and how long it takes to tame dinos.
Yes, tame them. As in, make them your bitchosaurus. Or is that -sauri? Back to that in a moment. First, the sliders.
Tweaking the sliders, one can make the game significantly more fun, and fast, by setting things up so you are a virtual Superman. I'm not talking bending spoons, or flying like Neo, but instead feeling only the faintest of tickles from dino attacks and then pummeling even the mightiest of beasts to death with your barehands. You haven't lived until you've beat down a Carnosaur with your bare fists...
Of course, if you are an invulnerable Superman, you can't tame the dinos, because doing so entails knocking them out. his is done with clubs, berries, fists or slingshots. Once knocked out, you feed the dinos (or bugs or prehistoric mammals from what I've read), nursing them back to health, whereupon they follow you around like Lassie.
I could go on and on, but I think at this point, you get the idea. Ark: S E is a swell game that will eat up your s hours as you scavenge, build and explore a prehistoric land filled with dinosaurs, prehistoric beasts and overly large creepy-crawlies all just begging for a beatdown. And in true Viking fashion, you can even assemble mighty boats to travel the waterways around and through the island more quickly.
Oh, and I should mention, you can play this game alone, or you can join countless other players in multiplayer madness, where you wil undoubtedly be slain repeatedly by obnoxious twelve year old boosters who need some real world father figures and some old-fashioned corporal punishment. I prefer the single player game, where it's just me, the dinos, and a world ready for some reshaping.
Family Friendliness? Unlike the GTA series which your wife would not be pleasd to catch you playing in front of the kids, there's no Duke Nuke'em-style strippers in this game. The worst thing your kids will see is violence--not the eyeball-popping, head exploding violence of games like Fallout 4, but toned down implications of fleshly destruction. For example, when you stab a dino with your spear, there's a sound effect and a flash of color, then it falls over. If you killed it, the dino has splotches of red (blood) added to its color scheme. But no legs fly off or anything of that nature. If you watch wildlife shows with your kids, they've seen worse. Fight dinos as a family and enjoy the prehistoric (implied) carnage, guilt free.
Gameplay? Ark is a 1 on the intuitive, figure-it-out scale. You need the internet to figure out how to play. But remember, this is a pre-official release game. In effect, your $36 on Xbox Live is paying to be a Beta Tester.
Graphics are pretty darned good. Compared to Minecraft, they're a ten on a scale of 1 to 5. By itself or compared to most games coming out, I'd say it's a mixed bag and is pretty equal with most games of this release period.
Gameplay? I give it a 5. But I love exploring, building, and hunting. This game combines the best things I've enjoyed about hunting games, First Person Shooters, and Fallout's crafting. People that want to run and gun and respawn over and over again may not enjoy the game and not be able to immerse themselves in it.
Bang for your Buck? Pretty good. Fallout 4 and Borderlands are games that can be played pretty much indefinitely, even after the side quests and main storylines are completed. Right now, Ark has no quests or storylines, but like Minecraft has a never-ending, virtual sandbox for you to be creative (or destructive) in. There are already DLCs for this game, including one with mythical beasts called "Scorched Earth". I can't imagine there not eventually being one with Robots and Aliens as well. You definitely get your money's worth on this one.
Diversion? I give Ark a 5 here also. I've literally played for hours each night this week, wondering where my time went, night after night. Forget exercise, I could waste away and shed pounds as I skipped meals and bathroom breaks to keep playing. Forcing myself to write instead of play this will be a challenge.
Inspiration? I'd say 5 here as well. 4 or 5 books down the pipeline, I have plans to do a book where characters travel to an alternate reality populated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. This game makes me want to move that project up on the schedule and has already given me plenty of ideas to add to that project's outline. If you're writing anything with dinos, I don't think you'll find a better source of inspiration than this game.
If you're looking for a good time killer, something to capture the feel of a prehistoric past, or just want a fun game to play with your kids, Ark: Survival Evolved is a great choice. If distractions from writing are the last thing you want, avoid this game at all costs, because it is awesome.