It’s well established that VR can take players to places that are beyond everyday life; whether it’s setting foot on an alien world, stepping into the shoes of a spy or being dropped into the middle of a zombie apocalypse, VR gives the player an experience they’d never had in the real world. Snail Games’ standalone VR companion to ARK: Survival Evolved titled ARK Park transports the player into a living, breathing prehistoric nature reserve. The game itself is a strange hybrid of prehistoric animal husbandry sim and wave shooter, with a dash of crafting thrown in for good measure.
From ARK Park’s main menu, you’re given the option to select your preferred control method (DS4 or Moves), as well as whether you’d like to play through the game’s tutorial or jump straight into a single or multiplayer game. Due to the different elements, menus and submenus I’d recommend playing through the tutorial at least once as I found that whilst the controls are fairly simple, necessary actions such as crafting and equipping weapons were impossible without knowing what I was supposed to do.
ARK Park’s tutorial begins with your arrival at a transportation hub, where you’re met by your guide, a robotic mosquito called Joey. Your guide walks the player through basic movements using whichever controller you’ve selected (which float eerily in mid-air and looks like they’re being manipulated by an otherworldly force due to lack of a pair of human hands) before asking you to board a Disneyworld-style monorail to ARK’s island. Having reached the island’s arrival terminal, you’re shown how to interact with its inhabitants – how to rear, feed and ride them – as well as how to craft weapons and tools, along with the games combat mechanics. The tutorial culminates with the player having to protect a radio-uplink antenna against a horde of rampaging beasts.
ARK Park’s scenery is impressive as it’s obvious that this game desperately wants to be Jurassic Park VR. The visitor centre looks similar to the one seen in Jurassic World, with interactive holographic exhibits and a set of large wooden entrance gates to the park itself look eerily familiar. Once you’re out in the park itself it really does feel that you’ve travelled 65,000,000 years into the past. The dino ride experience is pretty neat as you’re treated to an A to B trek through the jungle on the back of a Triceratops, seeing a few friendly looking herbivores along the way including a neck ache inducing encounter a Brachiosaurus; to be honest I was half expecting to hear John Williams’ famous score as the giant reptile raised it head over the canopy.
The crafting section is less exciting, as you’re inexplicably required to use an axe and a DNA scanner to harvest the necessary components to craft a handgun, I’m no weapons expert but I doubt that a modern sidearm can be made from some tree branches and simian DNA. The wave shooter sequence is pitched at just the right side of difficult and throws a variety of the island’s more dangerous inhabitants at you. Attacks come from a 180° arc, though if an enemy manages to get past you, you’ll need to spin around to bring them down before they can do any damage to the antenna.
Tutorial completed, you’re taken back to the main menu to begin a single or multiplayer campaign. A character creation suite allows you change your avatar’s appearance, clothing and so on; although as far as I can tell their appearance is only really necessary for multiplayer to differentiate one team member from another. Creation suite completed you’re transported back the transportation hub. What the tutorial failed to properly cover is that you can teleport directly to the island using the game’s submenus rather than having to endure the monorail sequence, which is sadly unskippable and doesn’t change no matter how many times you ride it.
When you reach the park again it’s up to you to rear dinosaurs, harvest components and do battle with wave after wave of rampaging beasties. Initially, only one breed of dinosaur, harvesting location and combat sequence are available; higher levels locked behind XP-related goals, meaning you’ll need to grind for better weapons, dinos and battle sequences. Downed enemies will yield warez in the midst of combat that are automatically added to your inventory that can accelerate this process, so it’s worth going back to the area as frequently as you can. Still, the whole routine can quickly become monotonous, with all the badass creatures, firepower and swag obtained at the highest stages.
As much fun as it is being in a virtual version of Jurassic Park, ARK Park flaws soon begin to shine through as the novelty of the experience wears off and the grinding begins. The tutorial guide Joey hasn’t been localised very well, as it uses some phrasing that seems unnatural in English – almost to the point where I wondered if Snail Games had used Google Translate! There are also some collision detections issues; for example, the Trike I’d reared and released from its holding pen during the tutorial plodded straight through a patch of nearby vegetation littered with rocks. In one of the exploration/harvest locales, two fish swam right through each other.
Snail Games has also made an odd choice with the way in which the buttons are mapped, namely the ones used to rotate left and right; pressing the button of the left-hand controller to turn right and vice versa. This becomes more apparent when in the midst of combat, where I quite often found myself facing away from my intended target rather than towards it. Weapon handling is also a chore, as I struggled to hit enemies from any further than a few feet in front of me; conveniently placed oil drums explode when fired at, which deal damage to anything within the vicinity – although again I found I had to expend half of my clip to actually hit the damn things… Thank goodness that the game has unlimited ammo!
By far my biggest gripe is ARK Park’s price tag. Had the game been listed at a reasonable cost, say £15-20 I could’ve forgiven the collision damage and janky controls somewhat, but at a price of £44.99 on the PS Store I can’t recommend the game with a clear conscience; I’d hate to think that anyone would spend money on a game with incredibly short-term appeal unless you’re a fan of grinding away in order to unlock one level after the next. Aside from the Jurassic Park-like overlay, there isn’t a lot to separate ARK Park from the raft of other wave shooters on the market, which are quickly becoming ten a penny. My advice is to save your money for a game with a bit more depth.