I’m the first person to defend a short VR game, and criticise the use of the term “tech demo” as a pejorative one. Occasionally though, it can be pretty accurate, like with a collection of games like PlayStation VR Worlds and, unfortunately, Ark Park.
If you start Ark Park with its tutorial, you will be taken to the park via a train, introducing you to the world with sea creatures as you approach the island. Seeing dinosaurs in VR never ceases to amaze, and the game looks pretty promising at this point. Through an admin centre with holographic dinosaurs, and an informative map, it looks ready to show you the majestic glory of dinosaurs. So far, so hype.
The next thing Ark Park does is drop you in the main base, where it teaches you how to raise a baby dinosaur. It’s a fairly simple process: when you have an egg you pop it in the incubator, and then a cage contains a baby dino. Some nutritious fruit feeding and a sweet ride on its back later, the game is sticking to its fun and educational vibe.
Then Ark Park sends you off to explore the world, collect resources and data in a small section. And, again, it feels good and interesting, more of an educational tool with gameplay, which is relaxing and intriguing. Then it takes a sudden turn.
There is an issue with one of the mind control machines that means dinosaurs are becoming hostile. You need to be dropped into the area to fight the dinosaurs charging at you. This involves waves of dinosaurs charging the machine that is being repaired, and you need to shoot them all in their scaly faces.This is a weird tonal shift for the game, and felt more than a little odd.
Completing the tutorial opens the world up, giving you a handful of locations to explore, and a handful more levels to kill more waves of dinosaurs. It really makes the game feel just short of a whole experience. Instead it feels like a couple of different development teams made what they thought the game should be, and it was mashed together at the last minute.
The mechanics of the game can’t be faulted; allowing you to teleport for movement is especially important as you explore areas, and always welcome to avoid the motion sickness of VR. This can provide its own faff, however, as places you can teleport to aren’t always apparent, especially when there’s an object or water between you and that location. It’s especially weird to find a place like that you can’t travel to, with invisible walls restricting you from entering areas that seem perfectly reasonable, like pieces of footpath right next to where you are standing. This is the kind of thing that breaks the immersive experience completely.
Exploring also has some little environmental puzzles, where actions you perform, like throwing a rock, will affect wildlife and give you the chance to scan them. These start out being clever, but weird bugs get in the way a lot. I threw rocks at every part of a bug nest, dozens of times, before it randomly decided to acknowledge I had thrown a rock at it. Just like real life, right? The shooting mechanics work fine in the shooting levels but again, when you have been interacting with the world in an inquisitive way, it’s very strange to jump into a level where you just kill everything.
On top of everything else though, the most frustrating part is the lack of content. Each stage is tiny, which is especially notable with the exploring stages. It only takes a few hours to bang out most of the game’s content, but because the small number of levels have such cramped floor space, you spend the whole time feeling constricted. Even a couple of bigger areas to replace more small ones would have at least made the short game feel more open.
Ultimately, Ark Park isn’t a bad game. Exploring dinosaur infested areas is a wonderful experience that is just amazing in VR. But it’s biggest issue is the feeling that it’s two different games stapled together, as opposed to a single cohesive entity. And, despite generally feeling that a game’s price shouldn’t affect its review score, it’s hard to not look at that $90 price tag and think “wow… no”.
But yeah, wow… no.