With a simultaneous release for Playstation VR and PC-based platforms, the VR-exclusive ARK Park just came out as a spin-off for ARK: Survival Evolved. Are dinosaurs and VR still an intriguing combination? We checked out the Playstation VR version for this review.
To developers and fans alike, it certainly seems so – and I can’t help but be excited when projects like this are announced. Since the Playstation VR hardware became available, we’re already had Robinson: The Journey and Time Machine VR offer us glimpses of the awe and wonder that the dino-VR premise can instill, and ARK Park manages the same.
Clearly inspired by the Jurassic Park series but with not-so-subtle links to Survival Evolved as well, ARK Park is stuck somewhere in the middle between the two – which is a shame because everything starts off very well. In the opening sequences of the game, you’re transported to a visitor center in ARK Park – all that’s missing is John Hammond to come out and greet you.
This part is where you feel like the first-time visitors in the original Jurassic Park movie, with a sense that you’re about to embark on something very special indeed. To help set the mood, you can see holograms of dinosaurs and learn about them within the safety of the visitor center. This is also where you’ll become familiar with the game’s control system, which is a blend of standard Move controls to handle objects in the game world and teleportation to get around. Sadly, there is no option for free movement in the game at this point in time.
Unfortunately, ARK Park doesn’t continue with a strong narrative/cinematic experience beyond this point. Instead, you get to explore a handful of areas, gather items for crafting (which feels like a forced inclusion from Survival Evolved) and engage in random missions and activities like riding on the back of a small dinosaur. You can also gather and hatch dinosaur eggs, but it never feels like it’s a sign of bigger and better things to come – like how the hatching scene in Jurassic Park revealed there were velociraptors inside the park.
Although the gameplay and narrative experience are both thin, there is still plenty of audiovisual wonder to enjoy when you come across giant prehistoric beasts. They’re not all dinosaurs, by the way – you also get to see virtual dodos walking around, for example. Robinson: The Journey also only had relatively rudimentary gameplay elements to support the real star attraction: the awe-inspiring visuals and the ability to walk among dinosaurs. Robinson allowed for free movement though, and also had a more engaging narrative in place. Luckily for ARK Park, you don’t need to have much of a narrative in place to enjoy the sight of pterodactyls and giant man-eaters as part of a special VR experience.
Many of the creatures you encounter can also be scanned – something that was a core mechanic in Time Machine VR as well. The controls for this should have been more forgiving though, as they can lead to frustration when a creature moves too much or even moves out of sight before you get a solid lock on them. The crafting system ended up being more frustrating than that though, as it’s essentially forced upon you when weapons degrade and you have to go back and gather resources all over again. ARK Park isn’t strongly narrative-driven to begin with, but the crafting really messed with the game’s flow for me.
And then, after all the oohs and aahs, there’s a game mode where dinosaurs suddenly lose their cool and start attacking you (their initial obedience apparently caused by a mind control device). This is where ARK Park turns into a wave shooter with a ton of smaller dinosaurs and the occasional giant dinosaur that serves as a boss battle of sorts. With such a thin narrative connection to the rest of the game, this feels like a minigame mode that was tacked on to please more action-oriented gamers.
ARK Park’s strongest asset are its wonderful creatures and the chance to see them in virtual reality. Truly a sight to behold, it’s just a shame there isn’t a better game to support the experience. In that sense, I’d pick Robinson: The Journey over ARK Park because of its more engaging story – but if you can’t get enough of the dinosaur-fueled VR phenomenon, then ARK Park’s one to watch for. Just wait for it to go on sale though – it’s near full-priced and not worth the price of admission when compared to the alternatives out there.