As I write this, almost 32,000 people are playing ARK: Survival Evolved. By current player count, it’s the sixth most popular game on Steam. I’ve always dismissed it, figuring that if DayZ was still unfinished, any newer Early Access multiplayer survival games would likely be even further from completion. That’s a dumb thing to think, and not at all how game development works. I’ve decided to give ARK a chance.
I start the game, and chose a server at random. It’s nighttime. I pick myself off the ground and find myself face to face with a dinosaur. Score! It’s a dilophosaurus, and it looks familiar. Wasn’t that the one that, in Jurassic Park, spat venomous goop into Dennis Nedry’s eyes before eating him? Yes! It was! My suspicions are confirmed when it spits venomous goop into my eyes. Then, as if any doubt remained, it eats me.
I respawn in a different location, and start exploring the beach. I learn that tapping E over bushes and rocks rewards me with stones, berries and fibres. I also find a tree and punch it. Wood is added to my inventory. This is for sure an Early Access survival game. Soon... hold on, what’s that sound? It’s a raptor. I know about them from Jurassic Park, too. I’m dead. Again.
I exit to the menu, figuring that a daytime server would at least enable me to see the creatures that are eating me. I spawn and, for a change, see gentle dinosaurs. I spend a moment admiring a brontosaurus up close, before a raptor runs up and eats me. I should try a different spawn point. I pick one to the west, and wake up on a tiny, floating patch of ice. I’m naked, and freezing to death. I jump into the water, planning to swim to the mainland. A megalodon is looking right at me. It does what I assume comes naturally to a massive prehistoric shark.
I try spawning to the east, and wake in a tropical biome. I’m told it’s too hot. Before I can do anything about that, I run into a giant snake with a goddamn dinosaur face. Why is everything in the past so big? What is prehistory trying to overcompensate for? Instead of eating me, the titanoboa merely paralyses me. Then it eats me.
In a last-ditch attempt to make any progress, I go back to the eastern spawn point. I wake to a temperate beach, and, best of all, no dinosaurs. Instead, there are dodos. I punch one for a few seconds, and its meat is added to my inventory. After a little bit of scavenging, I start a fire and craft a weapon and pickaxe. Sure, I’m still 25 fibres away from owning my first pair of trousers, but it’s a start.
I explore a bit more. Suddenly, my health starts to drain. I spin around, but see nothing. My health is still falling. I look down, and finally see the problem: a pack of compys—tiny carnivores that would be cute if they weren’t eating my bits. I run, but they keep up. I get out my hatchet, and start swinging wildly. I take one down, but it’s too late. I’m killed. I spawn in the south. It’s pitch black. It’s night. A titanoboa eats me.