I used to be absolutely fascinated by dinosaurs when I was a child.
The Land Before Time was my favourite film until Jurassic Park came along, and while my interest in prehistoric creatures has waned over the years I still find myself a little excited about playing a game that includes them. That’s why to me, ARK Park seemed like a really interesting prospect.
Watch any of the game’s trailers and you’d be forgiven for thinking that ARK Park may be quite a passive experience. And indeed, that’s kind of what I expected; a dinosaur theme park that you can explore. But in reality it’s more than that, and that’s the problem; it spreads itself too thin.
The first thing you’re likely to do when you launch ARK Park is check out its tutorial, and it’s here where you’ll get to grips with the game’s mandatory 30-degree click rotation and teleportation movement. It works, eradicating nausea, but it would be nice to have the option to move more directly.
After acclimatising yourself with the controls you’re then treated to a scenic train ride into ARK Park itself, but don’t think for one second that the tutorial is over, like I did. No, the next 30 minutes or so may seem like you’re starting a guided adventure game, but you’re still just learning the ropes. And when you’re done, you’re plopped back onto the main menu screen ready to start the game proper. Or at least, you’re supposed to be.
After taking the train journey into ARK Park once again, you quickly discover that it’s a game that offers little guidance; the tutorial doesn’t actually do a great job of informing you of what you actually have to do. It’s an educational tool, a shooter and an adventure game rolled into one, with a side order of crafting to boot, but you’re not given a goal. You’re just left to your own devices, and it doesn’t make the game feel very welcoming.
The fact of the matter is you need to do a little bit of everything. By bringing up a menu you can choose to move to numerous locations and engage in various activities, and only by meeting specific objectives will more locations become available for you to visit. Initially, you need to do some resource gathering and scan any life-forms you come across to collect their genetic information. In each small area where you need to do that, however, you may encounter obstacles, and that’s where crafting comes in.
Sometimes items in the environment can be interacted with to draw a creature closer to you, like picking up a stone and throwing it at them. Other times, though, you might need to craft an item such as a torch to be able to set something on fire. It means you’ll be switching between areas whenever you’re at an impasse, eager to re-enable your progression.
It wouldn’t be too bad if crafting wasn’t such a pain in the backside. Moving to a console, you can quickly view which items you’re able to craft and which resources you have have available. By placing an item in the central crafting area the resources required to craft it are displayed, but unfortunately not by name. Trying to work out which resources are required when you don’t currently own them, then, is more troublesome than it should be. Oh, and I should also note that the game’s habit of placing text at the top of the screen which moves with your head will drive you particularly mad while crafting, unless you like straining your eyes.
Other elements of ARK Park are much more interesting, but you have to wade though much tedium to enjoy them. Dinosaur eggs that you discover on your adventure can be hatched, for example, and once grown you can jump on the back of your new prehistoric buddy to go for a scenic ride. Additionally, if you want to be the type of person that shoots dinosaurs for fun you can do that too. There’s little depth to any of ARK Park‘s components, but there’s no denying it has variety.
Ultimately then, fun can be had with ARK Park , but in small doses. People will be drawn to it for different aspects of its gameplay, but on the whole they don’t quite gel. I get it — ARK is a survival game that’s heavily reliant on crafting, but the inclusion of crafting here just feels like an unnecessary hindrance. Had ARK Park just been about freely exploring a theme park full of dinosaurs with the occasional bout of shooting thrown in for good measure, I feel I would have enjoyed it a hell of a lot more. Instead, it’s a game that’s full of busywork without much payoff for your troubles.