ARK Park is a VR spin-off of ARK: Survival Evolved (2017) from Suzhou, China-based Snail Games. Letting you explore the habitats of the world’s wild mix of fictional and non-fictional pre-historic creatures, ARK Park is betting big on the pure wow-factor of coming face to face with dinos in what promises to be an experience brimming with possibilities for exploration.
Like a veritable pre-disaster Jurassic Park (1993), ARK Park lets you go out on what the game calls ‘Excursions’ into a number of habitats. The control scheme is primarily based on teleportation, but the game promises to serve up some scenes with rideable dinosaurs as well as vehicles. According to Snail Games, ARK Park isn’t going just be a walk (or ride) in the park though, as you’re tasked with collecting the disparate dino-genes scattered throughout the game’s various biomes. Snail says the world is populated with more than 100 unique species.
Stepping into the experience at the Valve booth at GDC 2017, I was first shown the world’s hub, a sort of museum where you can read about the dinosaurs, see holograms of them up close and learn about what they eat–knowledge that you’ll have to take with you on your way through the different areas. This is the first place where you confront the truly massive creatures of the world, with one side of the museum lobby showcasing a holographic Tyrannosaurus Rex and on the other a truly massive Brontosaurus reaching to the museum’s high ceiling.
Teleporting over to a holographic map in the center of the giant domed museum, I pull up a menu selection of several orbs, physical object that you can pick up and enter which act similarly to how you change locations in Valve’s The Lab (2016). Putting the a ‘pre-hstoric swamp’ orb up to my face takes me to the biome.
The swamp is filled with chittering life. Moving closer to an old wooden signpost holding a map of the area, my obligatory robot companion points out a giant spider blocking my way. While not historically accurate, it’s daunting just the same.
Heading the opposite direction I encounter a giant snake that I’m forced to fed in order to keep from attacking, and my new snake buddy doesn’t eat fruit, rather a helpless frog that saunters my way with nary a care in the world. I didn’t want the chubby little swamp frog to die, but this is the world of ARK Park, a relentless snake-eat-frog reality.
Next was a pair of giant beavers, which were about the height of a dining room table and the length of motorcycle. The two were busily chomping on fish they had caught from a nearby body of water. Walking into the water nearby, I grab a fish barehanded and toss it to one of the beavers to eat. I have become death, destroyer of pre-historic worlds.
Like the much beloved Pokémon Snap (1999), ARK Park lets you snap pictures of the creatures, which might appeal more to people who’d prefer not to manhandle and chuck little frogs and fish to their demise.
My next adventure was much more dinosaur-heavy, as this time I was transported to a lush Urwald filled with ferns, buzzing insects the size of your palm and a range of terrible lizards (and reptiles) from Velociraptor to Tyrannosaurus Rex. While elements are scripted, the dinosaurs follow you with their gaze, making it feel less like a scripted vignette and more like a real world encounter.
I’m wary of the educational value of the game, as it liberally mixes fact with fiction, and although some parts seem right (what do I know), there’s no guarantee that the actually historically correct creatures are indeed historical contemporaries and not just a mix match of a bunch of dinosaurs from different eras. Taking that aspect of the “museum” with a grain of salt, the game was a fun dive into the surreal and ultimately tickled my dormant childhood curiosity with the long-dead beasts.
ARK Park is slated to arrive sometime this year on HTC Vive. In the meantime you can follow the game on Steam for updates and announcements from the developers.