Premature Evaluation: PixArk

pixark

Premature Evaluation is the weekly column in which we explore the wilds of early access. This week, Fraser’s lost in PixArk, the Minecraft-inspired Ark: Survival Evolved spin-off. It’s colourful, whimsical and it’s made him extremely grumpy.

PixArk feels like the result of an algorithm designed to pick bits from popular games and Frankenstein them into something new. This is nothing new – trying to capture the zeitgeist can lead to fun places, and great successes. PixArk, however, is not a game that captures the zeitgeist, but rather something hollow, stitched together out of disparate parts seemingly without proper consideration for how they fit together or what made them work originally.

Blocky Zombies and dinosaurs wander around aimlessly, you can use magic or craft weapons, and yes you can still tame beasties as in Ark, but only if you’ve reached the appropriate level. If you can do something in either Minecraft or Ark, then there’s an extremely high chance you’ll be able to do it here.

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This isn’t Ark as envisioned through the lens of Minecraft though, nor Minecraft through Ark, but rather a haphazard melting pot where seemingly every element of each has just been flung into the mix. It’s cluttered, packing in all these ideas from its parent games, and even after wandering around for hours I don’t really know what it really is in and of itself, or indeed why it is, beyond the fact that it is already selling based on the brand and bricky appeal alone.

After making my moustachioed avatar – whose blocky, modular design evokes the delightful BUD from Grow Home and Grow Up – I was deposited in the skies above my randomly-generated world, gently floating down while hanging onto some balloons. Within minutes I’d been eaten by a giant bird. Then a wolf. Then a fish. And finally a T-Rex.

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Hitting up other spawn locations yielded similar results. While Ark places you on a relatively safe beach where you can slowly learn how to survive, PixArk’s randomness means that you can land in all sorts of messes instantly. There’s not much you can really do when you land right next to a hungry T-Rex and you’re wearing nothing but a grass skirt and carrying no weapons. Outrunning it isn’t an option either. And with a single bite, you’re toast. Delicious toast.

The prevalence of experience points meant that, despite the dangers all around me, I was able to level up fast, unlocking crafting recipes along with points to spend on my abilities, like strength and stamina. I even managed to tame my first dino buddy, which seemed to happen quite a bit quicker than in Ark. I fed him some berries, fashioned a little saddle, and within a few minutes I had a friend for life. He was eaten by a zombie the next night.

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The number of aggressive beasties is comically high, to the point where there’s no tension whatsoever, just the expectation of yet another pointless, nearly unavoidable death. And there isn’t a combat system to really support this much action. There’s just a lot of flailing and frantic clicking until something dies. Usually me, since every dinosaur, werewolf and mummy is absurdly strong.

Eventually I found a spot that seemed relatively peaceful. A pteranodon made its home nearby, but it left me alone. I spotted some direwolves eyeing me from the cliffs above, but they didn’t seem too keen to make the climb down to gnaw on me. So I started building a home. Crafting and construction in PixArk are considerably easier than in Ark – aside from the dodgy combat and Hulk-strong creatures its an easier game in general – and it’s a lot more flexible. Compared to Minecraft, however, it’s restrictive.

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I tried to make a quick wood and dirt house to start with, but PixArk is pretty strict about how you go about putting together buildings and what materials can be used. So while you can stack up dirt like a wall, you can’t make a roof out of it and you can’t build on top of it. So I needed to create foundations first, then build on top of that using walls and roof slots that I’d crafted. All the building pieces are the same size and shape, too, limiting what you can build. Even when I embarked upon some pretty conservative renovations, I found that I couldn’t do a lot more than make an ugly, boxy cabin.

After that, I lost all sense of time, retreating inside myself as I chopped down trees, beat up dodos, picked plants and made more crafting tables. That PixArk so slavishly adheres to the humdrum routine of the mountain of sandboxes that have come before it isn’t a surprise, but it’s especially dull. There’s plenty to craft, but there’s no real sense of discovery. You muck about, get experience, unlock blueprints and that’s that. It feels like a bunch of tools are just being chucked at you without much context.

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The structure of the blueprint trees doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. Sure, you start off with basic wooden tools and building materials, but then you’re unlocking the ability to create a hat out of a T-Rex when all you’ve got is a stone spear and you haven’t even discovered the bow. I couldn’t even kill a wolf. Admittedly, that’s not unusual for me.

There was nothing egging me forward. The threat of all the bloodthirsty dinosaurs out in the wilderness kept me from straying too far at first, but I didn’t really need to go far afield to survive and continue working on my very plain cabin. I did look around for quests, but when they all ended up just telling me to gather things I didn’t need, I wandered back to the safety of my miserable home.

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After putting up some decorations to spice my cabin up, I started work on my first candle, which I absolutely didn’t need. Or indeed want. I was just filling up the time. This is what life was like before books. You get eaten by wolves or you spend your day making a candle. Fearing another sandbox-induced existential crisis, I left the land that time forgot.

PixArk doesn’t have an identity of its own, but it doesn’t do a great job of impersonating Minecraft or Ark either. It’s managed to capture just about every feature, good and bad, but there’s not a lick of cohesion; even the art style frequently ditches cubes. Pick a style! I take 20 minutes to fill up a bag of Pick ‘n’ Mix, so the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me, but sometimes a choice has to be made. And it should probably be fizzy cola bottles.

PixArk is out now on Steam for £19.49/$24.99/€22.99.

21 Comments

  1. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    Try Ylands instead. It’s delightful, calming and gorgeous and coming along really well

  2. WombatDeath says:

    Fizzy cherry cola bottles.

  3. Nelyeth says:

    When I first saw PixArk on steam, I thought it was a poor joke. Then I saw it wasn’t even made by the devteam behind Ark, and I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or alarmed. Then I saw it was developed by the Dark and Light team, and I let out a wheezy, tired hybrid between a laugh and a sob.

    Isn’t one failed early access sandbox survival game enough? Both games have “cashgrab” written all over them, and will mostly never be finished… It boggles the mind.

  4. TZar says:

    Jesus, I wish people like this would get laughed at, loud and hard, then fired immediately.. Just a massive bag of hot air bs. So many of these articles cling to and up-talk what the majority of kids are enjoying and just randomly trash talk anything else.. Everyone, keep in mind these people are equivalent to bad car salesmen and don’t actually know anything about what they’re saying..

    • Imadoctornotadoctor says:

      At first I thought you were talking about the game, then I thought “isn’t a bag of hot air just a balloon?”, then I wondered what exactly distinguishes hot air bullshit from mere bullshit, then I kind of lost heart in the whole affair.

      Anyway; you were saying the article is uninformative, aye?

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Unfortunately, labour laws in the UK prohibit RPS from hiring a twelve year-old to wax poetic about the games they like, so we’re stuck with the opinions of boring old adults.

    • Beefenstein says:

      Yes, it’s true, no-one on this site has ever even played a game.

    • mitrovarr says:

      You know, if you think this is a good game, maybe try explaining why instead of incoherently slagging the review and adding nothing constructive.

  5. Unicron says:

    don’t get me wrong here, don’t want to fanboy over this BUT i’m sick and tired of reading this type of horse-poop !! seriously don’t blame a game for your lack of understanding! learn to play, play more then a couple of hours and then write a review! half backed opinions is that how the world works now? grumpy old fart who can’t tell one hand from the other, telling us how bad things are!? pathetic. sorry for my bad English, but hey at least i don’t say English is bad because i can’t master it!

    • Beefenstein says:

      “don’t want to fanboy over this BUT i’m sick and tired of reading this type of horse-poop !! ”

      You had two reasons to not post this comment and yet you still did. Are you OK?

      “grumpy old fart who can’t tell one hand from the other, telling us how bad things are!? pathetic.”

      The only person who appears grumpy is you. Are you OK?

  6. StrifeRaZoR says:

    Pretty much agree with this review completely. I’m a masochist who’s actually still playing, sadly. Snail Games (publisher) purchased Wildcard (ARK) back in 2015-ish. After that, Snail Games started pushing the ARK name in games like this, ArkPark, and others. It’s clear what they’re doing here. If Wildcard had any hand in this (they did not, sadly) it would be a half decent title with a bit more fleshed out details. Instead, we get exactly what this review says. A mix of two genres that takes both the good and the bad features of both with no regard for how they actually work with each other.

    My current gripe with the game is that 90% of the configuration files are useless. Players cannot configure their game/servers to their liking, unlike in ARK and in Minecraft, which it clearly says it’s emulating.

    • Artist says:

      Wildcard has more hands in this that you might expect! (Where do you have your info from anyway?) Mybe not the devs, but their code. A decompile shows lots of code similarities between Ark and Pixark. Seems lots of codebits are refactored to suit the voxely approach.

      • StrifeRaZoR says:

        You are exactly right. It is a literal copy of the UE4 Project ShooterGame that WildCard(ARK) is using. Seriously. Same settings, same configs, same everything. And NONE of them change a dang thing about the game. I could fix most of the issues with the game if they would allow us to actually CONFIGURE our games and servers.

  7. Artist says:

    Im astonished that nobody mentions that the mix works reasonably well, even when its pretty rough. User reviews also reflect this.

    Also, dear writer, “save beach in Ark”? You clearly havent played Ark when you come up with such statements..

    • Nelyeth says:

      “Also, dear writer, “save beach in Ark”? You clearly havent played Ark when you come up with such statements..”

      The beaches south of the map on The Island (with the Lat 80, Long 35 peninsula being my favourite) are perfectly safe. The occasional dilo, maybe a raptor or two if you’re unlucky, but there’s absolutely nothing that should pose a serious threat to a freshly spawned player. Something, something, clearly, statement.

  8. poliovaccine says:

    In response to the author’s wonderment as to who in the hell exactly this game is for, and-or why, I might offer an answer. For me, the game got an extra-long eye-lingering (as I nonetheless scrolled past it) whilst wallowing my gaze upon the list of newest Steam releases**, and the reason for that protracted ocular dalliance is this: I want to play Ark but turns out my computer can’t run it.

    “So,” I thought to myself abstractly and non-verbally, in the way thoughts actually occur before we express them, “if this aptly crossbred result of a modern-day mammoth mmmorpg and a Jurassic-age game engine is essentially just a faithful recreation of Ark in a more ‘Type B personality’ kinda range of technical specs, well then butter my broomstick, that actually sounds like just the sort of thing at which I’d fling a rumpled, wadded-up, blood-and-cocaine-streaked buck or two…”

    …buuut then, as the next sub-nanosecond ticked past [and my thoughts continued to congeal in the abstract, sticky-associative medium of warm goo by which I consciously access them], I realized, “Wait a minute – I’ve *seen* this before – why, this game is an impostor! By jove, this is simply another one of those games which uses the Lego-set versatility of Minecraft to slap together its own little spitshingle termite hill of a game without the bother of developing any of its own tech or visual aesthetic, except it’s that same laziness *squared* when you consider that the best thing the maladjusted child that is the developers in this metaphor could dream to create with all its infinite Legos was what their little friend *Timmy* over there made with *his own damn* Lego set and his own damn ideas. Yes, this is yet another MINECRAFT PORT (not to be confused with the MINECRAFT PINOT NOIR, which is also excellent, as it does share some of the same vintage).”

    Ah, the Minecraft Port (a fine year *swirls the glass, sniffs its bouquet like own fart*). There are so many GTA themed ones that the GTA Minecraft Port could probably be a subgenre unto itself, like some kind of asexual, genetically recessive variety of fungus. Zombie ones, too, of course, because apparently fans of zombies decided the best way to celebrate their favorite dead-eyed, inarticulate, shambolic and plaguelike embodiment of consumerist mob-mentality was to pay super-liminal homage to them by outright fucking *becoming* zombies who, instead of brains, will happily just settle for eating more *zombies.* But by far the weirdest one to me is one I couldn’t even have guessed at, in all the black depths of my cynicism, though I should have: Minecraft Ports *of Minecraft.* Yes, I’m sure most of you well know by now that there are a galling amount of games which set out to earnestly recreate *Minecraft* in a *Minecraft-like engine.* And before you say it, no, I don’t mean ones which differentiate themselves by unique variations or at least solid iterations on the central formula – I mean games about survival and crafting in a proc-gen, open-world, pixel-art world in which people fell trees using the same technique as alcoholics do to vent anger upon their wives (that is, chopping them in half with an axe). I don’t mean Roblox or whatever else, yknow, the only ones you ever hear of by name because they actually do enough to set themselves apart and attract some kind of audience – I mean Minecraft clones whose sole purpose seems very possibly to be the Minecraft equivalent to supermarket-brand knockoff soda, hawking itself to frugal parents of little eight-year-old tumors whom they don’t imagine will notice the difference. I mean Minecraft clones that give the word “clone” a bad name. I mean Minecraft clones so shameless and generic they might as well be a mannequin in the nude.

    Still, for all that breathless vitriol, I really do get it – Minecraft Ports in general, I mean. After all, the idea is simple and appealing: if you can build anything you want with Minecraft, why not build another game?

    And yet the problem with that line of thinking is that it deftly precludes the basic question of “why?” in its childlike embrace of the possibility of it all, like the possibility of all the candy that stranger must have in his van. Doing things primarily because you *can* has never been a deeply stellar reason for doing anything at all (besides maybe resisting suicide), and that’s because not all growth and development is good or purposeful – some growth is cancer. Some growth is a tapeworm. Some growth is a pregnancy, but christ the kid turned out dumb. I understand the initial, eager impulse when faced with the simple yet powerful set of creative tools Minecraft represents… but then I also understand that not every impulse is to be followed.

    But really, that stuff is all *secondary.* The *primary,* near-inevitable fault of every Minecraft Port is really that, while it may function as a game in the same way that a termite nest functions roughly like a city, that doesn’t exactly render any given termite nest a cultural and artistic hub of the civilized world – and anyway if we’re making comparisons here, to be fair, even termites have a stabler system of public housing solutions than roach-infested firetrap tenements, a turbulent AirBnB economy, and prison.

    But yeah – PixArk. This could never have been more than what its constituent parts predestined – no matter how painstakingly assembled it is, no matter how faithful a representation, no matter how analogous to its source inspiration’s mechanics it may be on paper, at the end of the day it can only ever be a little souvenir snowglobe statue of a city, which is itself made out of regurgitated bugshit (bugshit which is made largely of wood pulp) – and which, by the way, absolutely *is* melted by jet fuel.

    Uh, so if I lost you there, all I actually set out to say was that the devs may have considered there might be some appeal in essentially porting over this popular game to an engine more common folk like me could run on their aging machines, in those last, brief moments of ineffectual grasping at the keyboard before the whole rig is finally subsumed into the bottomless black bog of obsolescence – its final words will be heard in the belch of a gaseous bubble which rises from an air pocket in its tower case and bursts upon the syrupy surface of the lagoon, spluttering, incredulous: “But I can still run Prey…!”

    **By the way, I was going to make a joke using “new release” to lead into “fresh” and in turn to “piping hot,” so that I could ultimately wind up at an image-pun on piles of “Steamy shit,” but then I realized I really do like what Steam is and does, in full consideration of past and present alternatives, and entirely in spite of the huge influx of deep-fried rocks breaded in termite-shit which apparently pass muster for Steam’s new releases, because if I think about it I’d really rather they remain too permissive than become too stringent in an attempt to regulate for overall higher standards in content. Because really, if I had actually bought and paid for it, I’d have only myself to blame – PixArk is one of those that just strikes me as the chicken nuggets of gaming… in the sense that, if you didn’t have the presence of mind to wonder precisely what part of the chicken the “nugget” actually *is* before you were halfway through chewing apart an especially veiny bit of cartilage, well, maybe the money you paid for this experience is simply the cost of the lesson you just got. Of course, that hardly excuses the existence of Digital Homicide and their interchangeable ilk, but in any intersection of creative and commercial media I think a certain amount of purposeless, cancerous mass will simply grow, its sole purpose to sponge up carelessly-spent money when it happens to drift by, all whilst sucking genuine life (of which it knows nothing) perpetually from of its host, as inevitably… well, as inevitably as cancer. In the sense that, it’s not an absolute given, but odds are not good and if it does happen there’s no known cure. In this metaphor, “catching it early” is like if their Kickstarter fails, or their dead-eyed clone doesn’t pass the Voight-Kampf they use to screen Steam Greenlight or whatever. Chances *are* very good if you catch it *early.*

    In other words, I’m embarrassed at myself for so much as slowing my scroll past this title in my nanosecondary lapse into naively charitable consideration – alas for my idiot consumer’s optimism, which posited that Ark in a friendlier engine was a fine idea, and which managed to ignore the lesson all too often learned, about how taking one good thing and mashing it into another good thing never so much results in “an even bigger, gooder thing!” as it does a flat out collision.

    Okay, I think if I keep trying to tack on a tl;dr it’s just going to get tl’er with every attempt. My point is in there somewhere, I swear… *skulks out the back exit, pocketing the point*

    *breaks into a sprint*

    • Clipz says:

      I really must say that I enjoyed absolutely every moment of reading this rather long rant of yours. Don’t have anything to add to it but my god, I loved reading it.

  9. Blad the impaler says:

    I had a hamburger on a ciabatta bun recently. There was a meatball stuck on a stick running through the main body of the burger. Inside, there was some tasteless pickled root vegetable. So many moving parts that didn’t fit together, but mostly appealing on their own. This is what I’m kind of sensing here.

  10. xorlan says:

    As well as Ylands, I’d take a look at Boundless. It used to be Oort Online but it has come along way from those primitive days and each update brings something new. I keep thinking I am done but I keep going back.

  11. TelFiRE says:

    This game is extremely addictive and mostly well done. The art style is really creative and there is a lot of attention to detail. Many things that were problems with ARK have been smoothed over here (though certainly not all — the game clearly uses a version of ARK as its codebase). It’s a really fun experience, if you like the art style, and you like survival games, this is one to watch.

    The author of this article says they spent a few hours on it, and that is definitely not enough to evaluate a survival game. I have 102 hours personally, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a full evaluation myself. They also talk about not having motivation to move forward, but that is a general fact of all sandbox games. You create your own motivation. It really seems like this person just isn’t a fan of survival games, and even if they were, isn’t the target audience for this specific survival game at all.

    The author discusses the danger of landing next to a T-rex or other dangerous things randomly, but that doesn’t really happen. On some servers a dangerous zone spawns next to a beginner area, but you can control where you land, so you just have to move yourself more toward the beginner area. The beginner areas, or “Novice Grasslands,” have absolutely NOTHING dangerous in them. Besides that, once you build a bed, which can be done very quickly, you will be spawning safely in your home every time.

    That said, I will definitely concede that the world generation algorithm could use some work. Beginner areas should be larger, and have less chance to spawn right next to zones like Golden Realm or Doomlands. Also, the non-novice version of the Grasslands should have a higher chance to spawn near the novice version than all the way across the map, as you’ll fairly quickly want what it has to offer in terms of dinos and resources while still being in a relatively safe zone. Additionally, there are certainly a lot of game balance concerns that I won’t get into the specifics of here. However, I definitely feel like these are fair areas to expect an Early Access game to still have some work that needs done.

    Overall I find this game extremely addictive. It’s a creative combination of Snail’s other franchises. No one bats an eye when Blizzard combines all their franchises for Heroes of the Storm, and I don’t see a problem here either. It’s not meant to be taken seriously or competitively, but it is a lot of fun.

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