Before the Anthropocene epoch there were many other ages, spanning eons, filled with marvelous creatures. Does a visit warrant the investment?
Genre: Walking Sim, Theme park,
Dinosaur Shooter, Grinding,
Developer: Snail Games
Publisher: Snail Games
Release date: 21 Mar 2018
Intro – Welcome to Jurrarkic Park
Ark Park is every little persons ultimate dream come true. A place to go and gawk at the wondrous spender that are the dinosaurs, in virtual reality!
I cannot recall a single child I’ve ever spoken with that didn’t imagine and pretend to walk with dinosaurs. So Each step taken in a virtual environment filled with Prehistoric animals is a step in the right direction, correct?
Well that is the question, and we are about to jump right in and find out, let take a journey to the age of dinosaurs!
The Unreal engine is capable of some monumental feats of graphical wizardry. Lets be honest, with the right team, tools, and art direction, it is capable of creating almost anything at this point. From Ultra photo realistic, to extremely stylized pixel art, The possibilities are endless.
A world filled with dinosaurs, shouldn’t be too difficult for URE4. Many other games have dinosaurs, but few are as experienced with them as the Ark series. So it is fair to have High expectations.
Loading into Ark Park, the game would load to loading screens then sit there for 10+ minutes, only to lock up. As an Avid VR gamer naturally I wanted to partake in the wonderful titles releasing on the oculus store without having to be locked down to the inferior headset tracking technology, so I Run Re-Vive, as many other Vive owners do. The Developers at Snail games have managed to do something no other team has managed… having the Oculus run-time service going in the background causes the game engine to commit suicide.
To avoid this I found a wonderful little script you can turn into a bat file to fix the game:
sc config OVRService start= demand net start "OVRService" if %errorlevel% == 2 net stop "OVRService" pause
GREAT! Now I can get into playing! I am ready to be blown away by the graphics power of UE4! YEAH, Dinosaurs!!!!
Loading the game, the snail logo pops up, then the Ark Park logo… Man they look fuzzy, So I clean my lenses… No change. WHAT NOW!?
Well, the internal resolution of the game is so low the text is almost unreadable, the aliasing is the worst I have ever seen, and the game looks utterly horrendous. It seems like I must take it upon myself to once again to find a solution!
After digging through the games ini files and reading countless forums on other UT4 titles, I managed to find the solution.
By adding a couple lines of information to the SteamLibrary\steamapps\common\Project Peacock\ArkPark\Config\DefaultEngine.ini file you can increase the internal resolution to an acceptable one. Under the section [/Script/Engine.RendererSettings], add the two following lines:
5 hours in, and I have yet to get past the intro logo and character creation. I am already pretty frustrated at this point, but at least the graphics issues are sorted.
OK… Dinosaurs… Yay, I think.
I get past the opening train sequence, I see a whole two dinosaurs, the animations while good are not great, but the scale of things is quite well done. Then I get to the welcome Centers main room filled with holographic Dinosaurs you can manipulate, feed, and hop on.
I am once again reminded here how subtle differences in presentation can change a model from an object to a believable living thing. A great example of this is in the VR title theBlu, in particular the whale, sea turtle, and jellyfish. Ark Park has some great models of the dinosaurs but the AI and animations make them feel lifeless and fabricated. almost animatronic, which if they didn’t bleed during the battle sequences I would have assumed was the look they were going for.
In game, from dusk to dawn the Dinosaurs also gain glowing luminescent patterns, all of them, which is beautiful in a way, but it also breaks the realism and immersion that much more.
During many of the sequences where you have to “scan” the DNA of the animals, their models will highlight bright white and always remain on top the Z order to inform the player that they are scan-able. The problem is, there is no distance or direction that makes the effect fade, so game assets will load behind mountains, walls, and other environmental objects, their animations stop and they just float there lifeless and highlighted from across the maps, visible through walls and other obstacles. Again breaking immersion, a lot!
The distant visuals are not done well, the forests look sparse and the trees evenly spaced, giving away their placed nature, like hair plugs.
All the above being said the lighting effects, models, and location (up close environments) are sometimes amazing. I just feel with some additional time and polish the game could be so much more, especially the animations & AI.
Moving on to gameplay.
The gameplay is split into three parts, exploration, battle, and facilities.
During the exploration parts of the game you “scan” animals for their DNA, larger more ferocious ones net larger values.
You are also supposed to “mine” materials to build weapons. The requirements for weapons are ridiculously high, and mine yields low, to make the game longer. Every visit is a static scripted event, and can be repeated as many times as you like.
Battle sequences pit you against a variety of enemies that are attacking your “base” which is a large machine behind you.
The First firearm will get you through the enemy waves but the boss is impossible, forcing you to unlock guns, which means a ton of grinding.
The more powerful weapons lead to easier runs. However, each run has its own rating and the harder ones require more powerful guns.
The three main buildings you traverse when you load a new game contain the Tram, Holographic hall, and Campground Camp, which together allow you to hatch and store dinosaurs, synthesize weapons and gear, and allow you to customize your look.
Gameplay here is rather disappointing and I feel this is where the game will draw the majority of the criticism from gamers. Had Snail games opted for a more “Blu” like experience where the world is alive and things just “happen” around you, I feel they could have taken the time to polish its best parts. Instead they chose to force players to inorganically “force” scripted events to play out, and grind like crazy, then fight off dinosaurs that aren’t aware you exist but are mad at the technology you brought.
On top of the grindy material collecting, the DNA scanner is difficult to get to recognize animals, and only seems to work occasionally. Several animals spook if you get in range, or only fly-by or pop into range so briefly you have to run through the whole static experience over and over to try and snag them, all in a questionably short window of time.
Over the decades many Virtual Reality setups would go into R&D, the marketing hype would go bananas, then release to the public only to fail, over and over. The community followed each dev cycle and would get their hopes up only to have them crushed, but this time we finally got the real deal, not some laser blasting monochrome virtual-boy, or gigantic uncomfortable monstrosity, but a true VR headset and tracked controllers that would allow us to step foot into other worlds. Naturally that would have to include the world of Dinosaurs, right?
While head mounted displays and motion tracked controllers have been advancing, locomotion is still the biggest limiting factor for VR. Not many developers are pushing boundaries with VR locomotion because unlike other gaming mediums there is a real possibility of making your customers so uncomfortable that they get sick. That’s not the sort of press that sells games.
Getting the player around in a virtual environment without having them run into walls can be difficult, especially when they have smaller VR spaces, so Snail games went with teleportation, as it is the most reliable method that prevents motion sickness. However, Snail games does listen to their customers, and have recently added controller oriented track-pad movement as an alternative to teleportation, this type is a lot more immersive, but is one of the most difficult to acclimate to, causing many players VR sickness. As a result, Ark Park now has two options for players and it is the first option you are presented with on each load of the game.
Upon the first (successful) load, stepping onto the train and taking it to the main building you get to meet the first few dinosaurs on the way. The dinosaurs are far away and few in number. The world doesn’t feel alive it feels vacant and scripted, this feels more like an Unreal II engine game, than an Unreal 4 one.
Having the train run under water in a glass tube, or allowing players to take an “escalator” path, slowly moving under a watery world populated with prehistoric life would have been truly epic, instead you get to see two poorly animated creatures jump out of the poorly rendered water.
While the animations and models are mediocre, the motion and controller tracking are done very well and the world scale is spot on. This is important in a game about giant creatures. A lot of developers struggle with scale and create mismatched scales for items and characters.
Many of the games environments are beautiful, yet creepy or gloomy. The small size with a large area to view gives off the feel they originally planned to go for a “Blu” like experience, later shifting development to include grindy time sinks to try and justify a more expensive price. Had they opted to remain focused on building on a thriving, living, procedurally generated world where you just stand and enjoy the view then the invisible boundaries boxing players in to very restricted areas wouldn’t feel so out of place.
Not only does each zone feel small, but the world as a whole does too, because each area is not connected. It’s a button on a menu, where you teleport to and “experience” a new region, sound familiar? Not be a broken record, but Blu keeps popping into my head as I interacted with the UI and traveled from location to location. I appreciate the devs trying to build an interactive world that you are a part of, but it was added too late in the development and gives the world an incomplete and artificial feel.
I’m not sure if they actively tried to follow in the footsteps of Hello Games & Sean Murray, but watching the videos on the steam page makes the game animals feel alive and the world populated with tons of other players. The action sequences look polished and the worlds appear to be vast. None of this is reflected in the actual experience.
It really does feel like they started with a solid foundation, only to get derailed at some point, tacking on a bunch of unpolished garbage gameplay elements in an attempt to add value. This forces players to repeat long sequences over and over again, grind extremely large numbers of materials to build weapons, all so you can actually defeat overpowered bosses in a terrible and boring “battle simulator” and it is all extremely unfun, frustrating, and archaic. Those parts are better left on the cutting room floor.
The new Free DLC Pterosaur Hill areas are the better ones, visually nice, and more fun than the original, but not enough to save the title from itself. Instead they should have just dropped the hunting, gathering, and shooting elements. If it just focused on the AI, animal diversity, population, and interactions it would make a living world that is procedurally generated with dynamic life that you just observe. Had they shifted their focus in this way it would be worth the asking price. As it is now, I cannot say that it is.
I’m not saying this is a terrible game by any means, the engine is well built and runs well, the models are great, and there is a decent amount of content, it just isn’t cohesive and everything feels forced, scripted and lifeless. The biggest offense of all, though, are the images and PR garbage all over Steam and the internet. None of them are what the game looks like, even with multiple hacks cleaning things up. If you can get this for under $20, then you will get some enjoyment out of it, but for $40 I cannot recommend a purchase.