Ark Park Review: Dinos Gone Tame

Life-size dinosaurs, exploration, fearsome battles, and crafting. Yes, I’m definitely talking about Ark Park – the newly released Jurassic Park-like game for virtual reality headsets.

People have definitely been excited for this one and with good reason. Developer Snail Studios has been teasing this experience for over a year and with the popularity of acclaimed Ark: Survival Evolved as it’s inspiration, you can bet that people were looking forward to what this familiar group of friendly (and not so friendly) dinosaurs had in store for them in VR.

So I got to test all the things this adventure has to offer using an HTC Vive and I was impressed with the overall visual fidelity of the game – though that was pretty much expected given the amount of hype this title has been garnering.

Check out my gameplay review below:

It took me a good couple of minutes just to get the hang of things in the exploration mode and, at first, it seemed like Ark Park only offered pretty environments with a few arbitrary actions in each of them. Especially the main lobby. But after interacting with some of the animals and getting some resources for crafting, I started to enjoy this mini dino-vacation. A couple things went ‘wrong’ here and there, but for the most part, we didn’t have a Jurassic Park fiasco where I had to fend for my life against loose rampaging T-Rexes.

That being said, this island definitely doesn’t offer the whole commercial ‘touristy’ experience. It felt like I was the only person present on the whole island – and while that would be a somewhat cool island vacation experience in real life, it certainly wasn’t in-game. Except for the very life-like animations of the dinosaurs, Ark Park felt very lonely.

Luckily then, that there were quite a few things to see and do in each environment in the game. The first available one was the swamp and I could interact with some beavers, throw a couple of frogs around, and make a giant spider very angry. Between that and gathering the animals’ genetics and natural resources like stone, flint, and wood; I kept busy making progress. Towards what I was progressing is still a bit of a mystery.

Adventure Went To Bed Early

Which is why I’m not entirely sure what to make of the ‘story’ progression in Ark Park. While it’s no doubt entertaining at times, the resource gathering, crafting and egg-hatching ultimately feels arbitrary and shallow. Sure, I needed to craft certain tools to be able to do certain things in different areas – like set a spider’s web on fire with a torch. And gathering enough genetic material in an area unlocked the next one. But it felt purposeless. Like I had to do these things simply because the developers decided they had to give players something to do while looking at the pretty environments they created.

Ark Park Review VR

Ark Park also has a battle mode which lets you take on hordes of rampaging dinosaurs. Much like the explore mode, these locations have to be unlocked as well and you start at the swamp which is the easiest battle of the bunch and then progress forward to the hardest.

While a novel addition to the game, the battles once again feel like an add-on mechanic that wouldn’t have held up on their own. I feel that we’ve seen too many wave shooters by now for this to be entertaining enough, even though you’re fighting dinosaurs. But even so, I never really felt scared – you know – the type of scared you imagine you’d feel when encountering angry dinosaurs in real life. Probably because they were never actually attacking me, but rather towers behind me that I had to protect. So I was never really in danger. Overall, things always felt too tame for a dangerous dino encounter.

Stunningly Tame

In the end, Ark Park didn’t really deliver the awesome dinosaur park adventure I was expecting. The exploration felt extremely linear – and if it had a story connected to it, I wouldn’t have minded so much. But the impression I got was that it was just a progression through a few areas with a couple of scripted actions you had to go through before being allowed on to the next area.

Sure, it’s a visually stunning game and I’m sure that people new to VR or those looking to show off the game to their dino-loving friends will get their money’s worth out of it. But if you’re looking for an actively hands-on adventure full of excitement, with engaging explorative progression – then this is not the game for you.

Ark Park is available now on Steam for HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, and Oculus Rift, as well as on the Oculus Store for $39.99 and on the PlayStation Store for PSVR at $49.99.

Gameplay: 5
Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Concept: 6
Controls: 6

The Goods

  • Beautiful environments
  • Lots of dino interaction with amazing animations
  • Exploration initially feels varied
  • You can ride on dinosaurs in VR

The Bads

  • Shallow gameplay
  • Lots of small mechanics that wouldn’t hold up on their own
  • Progression feels too linear and forced
  • Resource gathering & crafting seems redundant
  • Small things that could be improved, like voices being too soft to hear
  • Explorable environments are very small

Average Score: 6.6

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