Originally launched into early access all the way back in 2015, Ark: Survival Evolved has made the jump to the Switch. Does the survival/hunting hybrid have what it takes to stay alive on the go?
Ark is difficult game to describe, but not a difficult one to sell. Washing up on an island (the titular Arks), players are initially tasked with simple objectives – get warm, find food. A lack of any tutorial means that you’ll spend your first hour wandering and happening upon resources needed – punching trees to grab wood, or eating berries from bushes.
Where Ark differentiates itself from other survival titles such as Rust (and what makes it such an easy sell) is that while there are other players in the world, there are also a variety of dinosaurs and other monstrosities. You’ll find more passive enemies like Dodos, Great White Sharks in the sea, and even giant insects, the majority of which can be tamed and ridden. While the early game is a frantic scramble for resources and the construction of small structures to take shelter in, the mid and late game is based around pure fantasy – you’ll ride a triceratops into battle against another dinosaur, firing a machine gun or bow from it’s back. You’ll hunt legendary monsters such as dragons.
Or at least you would, had the Switch port not been such a disappointment. Featuring one map (although admittedly a huge one), you’ll wash up on shore and be confronted (particularly in handheld mode) with what can only be described as a blurry fever dream. While hunting for resources, you’ll squint to spot the items you need, only to find a gigantic Titanoboa lurking right before you which is hidden by a combination of stuttering framerate and dismal resolution. While the game is playable in docked mode, this doesn’t alleviate many of the issues – the game still chugs on a consistent basis, menus lag, and while the blur is improved, it’s still a woefully difficult game to play. The Switch version is also missing some creatures, although this may be a small mercy.
All of this, combined with Ark’s lack of tutorials and obtuse user interface make the early game a chore. You’ll spend more time fumbling through the menus than crafting, and while it only takes a few minutes to earn your first spear, using it feels clunky in the same way that sword combat in Skyrim does. While firearms make things much more precise, their utility is outweighed by the constant battle for resources in order to craft bullets for them.
There are positives – Ark is scored by Gareth Coker, composer of “Ori and the Blind Forest”. While the soundtrack here is much more minimal, it feels suitably epic – full of rumbling drums and percussion, giving a tribal feel. There are also plenty of servers both of the PVP and PVE variety, and the network stability seemed great in handheld and docked testing. With the online-only nature of the game, a Nintendo Online subscription is required – something to consider, and there doesn’t seem to be an offline option at launch.
Ark: Survival Evolved arrives on Switch with a reputation for a deep grind and potential to be a pure unadulterated fantasy. Unfortunately, the Switch version feels like the earliest of Early Access products. While patches may fix the litany of optimisation issues, it’s a difficult game to recommend, especially at a full retail price. For those interested in taming dinosaurs or hunter other survivors, I recommend looking at Ark on any other platform. In a year of incredible Switch releases, there is no justification for picking up Ark until it receives a patch.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*