ARK: Survival Evolved Mobile Review

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Developer; Publisher: Studio Wildcard; Released: June 13th, 2018

Reviewed on: Razer Phone, Android 7.0

Get it on: Google Play

The world of ARK: Survival Evolved is a strange place, one where you can seemingly co-exist with various prehistoric species of dinosaurs. You wake up with a weird artefact in your arm and nothing on your person, tasked with surviving the environment and its many dangers while gradually clothing your character, building a home, and setting out to explore. The premise follows the process of many open-world survival games, except here you’ll likely get killed by a velociraptor within a first couple minutes if you happen to be unfortunate enough to spawn in a danger zone. ARK is a massive sandbox filled with different biomes, countless species of dinosaur and other creatures, as well as a few technological wonders that almost feel out of place in this prehistoric world. If you ever wanted a survival sandbox like this to be playable on the go, the developer Studio Wildcard now has you covered with ARK: Survival Evolved on mobile platforms. While the game experience is naturally limited in areas of graphics and controls, this port fully recreates the world of ARK apart from expansion packs on compact devices.

Playing ARK: Survival Evolved on a phone feels pretty surreal, as you are plunged into this relatively large world and given control over a vast array of game mechanics. The map has been shrunk from the PC release to make the game actually playable across a range of phones and tablets, although it is still very impressive as far as game maps go across mobile titles. As ARK is also available for free, although you could buy the Primal Pass for a wide range of boosters and disabling ads, this port is very impressive despite its limitations. For those who ever wanted a survival game of this scope, ARK: Survival Evolved on mobile is very worth getting.

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*This review covers the mobile port of ARK: Survival Evolved, discussing performance, limitations and mobile-specific features. I won’t delve too much into what the PC version has, although will draw some comparisons between the two.
Survival games are generally made with lots of complexity in mind to realistically depict survival and crafting elements. That, and a design for longer play time, made me wonder about the purpose of bringing this title to mobile phones in the first place and who exactly this game is for. The mobile platform expanded in recent years to include APIs that grow with more capability each release, and we now even see dedicated gaming phones to run big titles, and I’m all up for full feature ports of PC games. That said, the design philosophy of survival games such as this clearly lies within the PC platform, and porting it to touch-screen phones showcases some flaws that would otherwise not exist. This isn’t a bad thing, however, and Studio Wildcard can definitely be applauded for downsizing their tremendous effort with ARK, but there are still a few major flaws to point out here. Being a large open-world game, ARK: Survival Evolved is a big resource hog, and throw my play time, would draw as much as 30% of the battery in a span of an hour. This isn’t exactly designed for long gaming sessions in mind, and while ARK can certainly be enjoyed in shorter bursts, the game shows its been made for extensive play times. There’s no issue saving your progress at any time, and you would return to exactly where you left off, but playing the game for any less than a half hour at a time essentially means getting nowhere.

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Visually, ARK on mobile is actually very impressive, surpassing the fidelity of any game on the platform including PUBG Mobile. With very long draw distances, amazingly detailed dinosaurs that feature natural animations, and a large game map, ARK looks spectacular for the platform it is on. Naturally, it received a massive downgrade coming from the PC version, which is completely expected, but is easily the best looker on mobile systems. Weaker graphics can’t be attributed to another of the game’s faults, however it is the controls that can be the most frustrating thing. It isn’t that ARK isn’t playable or doesn’t control well, but the sheer complexity of functions available for players will have you trigger functions you weren’t necessarily desiring to activate. Movement feels instantly familiar, and if you’ve played any mobile game in the past, ARK’s basic functions will take no time getting used to. Menus are very easy to navigate, and while are smaller on mobile phone screens as opposed to playing on a tablet, come to be the best points in the whole control scheme, as crafting is as simple as tapping on the item and then the Craft button. This is essentially what can be done on PC with clicking on items, so naturally flows with any touch screen device in the mobile port.
From this point on, the controls aren’t exactly as smooth sailing as the starting part of them. Swiping from any corner of the screen brings up additional functions, which can be a pain to choose from especially as the game won’t pause during those quick-select options. Swiping from the right brings up a quick inventory access tab, where you can slot about 10-12 different items, which becomes a big pain once you fill the slots allocated to those items. Keeping in mind the right side of the screen horizontally will be where your phone home button likely is, it is entirely possible to minimize the game when you least want it. To switch perspectives, you bring up another quick access menu screen with five different tabs, and using that same size of the device panel for movement often makes the game think you’re actually swiping from the left corner. Playing games on a touch screen, many of you will know how easy it is to perform swipe or other gestures while simply moving around in the game. Same goes for jump controls in ARK, whereby you swipe up in the movement plane of the controls, and it is the feature I’d most often activate by accident.

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The control drawbacks I discussed could no doubt be eliminated in 7” size screens and higher on tablet devices, however most people would still get the game on their phone. ARK: Survival Evolved on pocket mobile devices feels too complex to properly enjoy, and while the game is certainly very playable and fun, playing it on a phone with a smaller screen can feel like a drag. My experience is based on the Razer Phone’s 5.7” screen size, and since the game for me didn’t control as smooth as I would like, you can pretty much forget about playing it on a screen size smaller than 5.5”. ARK: Survival Evolved is definitely best played on larger tablet screens, and while phones aren’t too far behind, the sheer amount of different controls leaves a bit to be desired in the end. Mobile-specific issues out of the way, however, and ARK is certainly one of the most complete experiences on the mobile platform with lots to do. To add, it runs pretty well on a high-spec device, although an array of video options will make the game playable on lower end phones and tablets as well albeit at visual fidelity reduced even further.

ARK’s progression occurs through a quest system that is very simple and straightforward, but does a good job at teaching you the game’s mechanics and what you need to do for survival. Start with gathering berries and plant fibre, then punch some trees, then craft a pickaxe to mine some stone, make a campfire and find a place to sleep for your first night. As you progress, you unlock better tools for gathering, weapons to defend yourself with, make clothes, and then you can eventually build a house. At some point, you’ll venture out for quests to learn more about the world and how you ended up in a place filled with dinosaurs, while killing herbivores and birds for food and fending off predators. The game’s beasts can be vicious, or clever, and some can paralyze your character to move in for the kill. As with most survival games, you lose your items upon death and have to retrieve them before the backpack by your corpse decomposes, so if you respawn far, it almost becomes a race. It is essential to stash a decent amount of food and some weapons in your shelter, as respawning will generally occur by your sleeping bag or bed, however nothing stops you from placing a few of those out around the map.

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A lot of time in ARK will be spent gathering resources, as everything requires at least a few different materials. And if you want to build a house of any decent size, be prepared to cut down a chunk of a big forest as resource requirements can be quite absurd at times. Thankfully, natural materials respawn pretty often, so if you decide to camp out on a beach like I have, there will still be plenty of sources to keep building up your tools. With realistic survival elements, it is pretty wise to be close to a water source, as your character becomes thirsty and hungry over time. Starting the game, it is generally important to simplify things as much as possible, as there are quite a few things to worry about already. Last thing you want is to die of starvation and lose all your items, although hostile creatures are another thing to look out for. Once you progress enough to gain a few levels, you upgrade your character to become stronger, more agile, and improve carrying capacity among other things, which gradually makes surviving a little easier. ARK’s gameplay is strangely absorbing, and it is sometimes hard to get away from the screen after already playing for a long stretch, but this is what survival games are meant to do.

Being a free release on the mobile platform, there are naturally elements associated with such an economy for a major game, although ARK largely avoids issues that usually arise in other games. Ads are largely non-existent in the game, and throughout my experience I never had them come up when entering or leaving the game. Players can opt to watch ads to earn surprise rewards or obtain a temporary XP boost, but apart from one time ads will be annoying, there are generally no obstacles forcing you to watch ads. Speaking of the annoying time, respawning if you choose to skip an ad will not indicate your corpse’s location the next time around, and if you haven’t remembered where you were, can lead to frustration. However provided you don’t die constantly, watching an ad once in a while is far from a hard solution. Players can choose to purchase the Primal Pass to remove all ads and provide a wide variety of permanent boosts, which costs $5 for a month or $45.99 for a year. It isn’t particularly necessary to obtain this, as there are far too few benefits of it, and ads don’t interfere in game experience otherwise.

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ARK: Survival Evolved on mobile is an impressive achievement for Studio Wildcard, who ported the full feature experience of their vast PC survival game to be enjoyed on the go, albeit with a few limitations. Don’t expect the world to be truly massive with very distinct biomes, however what’s available certainly provides many in-game hours of content. Players will craft survival tools, build houses and tame dinosaurs across a big map, completing quests to find out more about the game’s world. Despite control limitations, ARK plays pretty well and features depth rarely seen in mobile titles. It and PUBG Mobile are paving a way to enjoy full PC titles on the platform at often free admission prices, making the games an impressive achievement. ARK isn’t a game you want to play in short bursts on the go, but if mobile is your preferred choice of platform, you should definitely give this a download. ARK: Survival Evolved is a game experience unlike many other on the platform, and its detailed survival gameplay is worth delving into.

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