ARK: Survival Evolved review for Nintendo Switch

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Snail Games USA
Developer: Studio Wildcard
Medium: Digital/Cartridge/Disc
Players: 1-8
Online: Yes

I?ve got to hand it to ARK: Survival Evolved: I didn?t think it was possible to make a game this thoroughly terrible any more.

Don?t get me wrong, there are lots of bad games out there. The Switch seemingly gets two dozen new releases every week, and even without playing most, I?m confident in saying that more than a few are pretty weak. But however bad they may be, I can?t imagine any of them hold a handle to ARK: Survival Evolved in terms of sheer awfulness.

This game is just an irredeemable disaster. You?ll be able to tell this from the moment you get plopped down on an island, and you discover that it looks like something that would have been criticized for having poor graphics on the PSP. I don?t think I can overstate just how horrific ARK: Survival Evolved looks. Everything is a blurry smudge. The environment is constantly shifting in and out of…well, not focus, since nothing is actually in focus, but it constantly goes from really blurry to slightly less blurry. Things pop in and out of existence all around you: one moment you?ll see a tree, the next moment it?ll be gone. Shadows have lives of their own: some things cast no shadows, while others cast shadows so all-encompassing that you can be walking along and suddenly find yourself shrouded in darkness because you walked next to a tree. The game may promise dinos, but it delivers greyish-green blobs that look vaguely like dinosaurs only when you get close enough for them to kill you.

Incredibly, this is all with painfully long loading times. Every time you die, you can respawn, but it means waiting forever while the game chugs along to rebuild the same place you just left. To be fair, of course, part of the reason the game chugs is because it?s arguably more ambitious than anything else on the Switch, and it takes a lot of power to process an open-world,dino-filled sandbox, but if anything, that just raises the question of why this game exists in the first place.

In any case, you better get used to long loading screens, because you?ll die pretty frequently, especially at first. To be fair, that could just be me sucking at the game — but, at the same time, ARK: Survival Evolved doesn?t make it very easy for anyone just starting out. In fact, given that I had to search online to figure out how to play, you could say that it?s downright hostile to newcomers. There?s no tutorial, and the instructions are so unhelpful that it?s the same as if they didn?t exist. I get that constant death near the beginning of the game is one of ARK?s core features that any beginner will need to understand going in, but when we?re talking abou a game where you can die from punching a tree too much — which is also a core beginning mechanic, since you need to punch trees to gather wood to craft a pickaxe! — it seems reasonable to say that the difficulty level is a little off.

But even if it wasn?t — even if this were the most balanced game ever, even if it made picking it up and playing a breeze — ARK: Survival Evolved would still be a strong contender for the worst game on the Switch. It looks like garbage and it plays even worse, and no matter how great the intentions behind it or what crazy ambition it shows, there?s no reason why anyone should willingly seek it out and play it.

Snail Games USA provided us with an ARK: Survival Evolved Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: F