ARK: Survival Evolved (Switch) Review

When I first heard about ARK: Survival Evolved coming to the Nintendo Switch, I was skeptical, to say the least. A huge, graphically demanding and performance-heavy game on this not-so-powerful console? This will surely be a huge feat to pull off. And sure enough, my skepticism was well-founded. Any existing fans of the game or the genre wanting this title on-the-go may find what they are looking for, but at what cost?

ARK: Survival Evolved is a massive, multiplayer survival game set on an island inhabited by dinosaurs. It has been popular since its release on PC, PS4, and XB1 and has no shortage of dedicated fans. It’s known for being graphically demanding, and as such having many problems with optimization over the years. Of course, this is what can easily happen with games crafted using Unreal Engine. Unless perfected, things can go very wrong. As soon as I loaded up the game on my Switch, before I even spawned, I knew the game wasn’t ready for the console. The load times were long, the menus clunky, and there was a few seconds of difficulty loading in the character creation screen.

Once I did finally spawn into a game, however, I realized things were much worse than they seemed. The game was slow, and very little detail was rendered into the environments. On top of this, the graphics seemed blurry, up to the point of needing to squint to make out the horizon. The lighting was too bright at day, and too dark at night all at the same time, with many graphical blips causing issues with the aesthetic. For instance, in daytime you will always see these white reflections on the surface of water at each edge of your screen. Little things cause the game to feel like a chore to just look at, and that’s a shame.

It’s not just the environments however, as the menus have their fair share of issues. They are clunky and difficult to navigate. This goes the same for all console versions, as the UI was heavily designed for mouse and keyboard usage. However, in a deep survival-crafting game, a UI such as this cannot be overlooked. You’ll be spending a lot of time in the menus and usually in real-time in multiplayer, having a compact maze of icons, numbers and buttons is not ideal for the long-run.

In unison with the menus, the game has a steep learning curve. This tends to be the case with these types of games, but it would be nice to see a tutorial. Suffice to say that a Nintendo Switch-only fan may not be overly familiar with or prepared for this sort of game design.

You may be thinking that you can deal with the game’s problems thus far, as they are mostly visual issues. They aren’t the worst problems to have, though. The main reason most people would buy ARK: Survival Evolved on the Nintendo Switch would be for the ability to play the game anywhere. You might think that a lot of visual issues may seem less exaggerated and compressed down in handheld mode. No. When out of the dock, the game looks a lot worse than before. The rendering seems to reduce, the lighting degrades and the FPS drops dramatically in more heavy parts of the map. Most of all, the game looks like an oil painting. I cannot emphasize enough that handheld mode really makes the game a complete blur, up to the point of making you consider an eye test.

Now, I don’t want to be all negative about the title. The game itself, and its mechanics, are still as solid as any other version of it. You wake up with nothing, and set out to gearing yourself with what you can find. A few hours in, and you may have clothes on your back, a small hut of your own, and some intense encounters with players you meet across the servers. The core is enjoyable, and I will surely try to push on in enjoying what the game has to offer over time, though I am in no rush to strain my eyes all at once.

Any fans of the game and the genre may still be able to look past the visual issues. I would suggest doing extensive research as to how it actually looks beforehand, as the game is not cheap and I would hate for you to be disappointed. I hope those who look forward to playing this on the Switch do enjoy it, as it doesn’t deserve complete hate and disregard for the way it looks on this platform. And who knows, maybe the developers will be able to alter the way it runs and appears on the Switch, though it would take a lot of work.

I won’t lie to you, I am trying to be positive, and I want people to enjoy this game. ARK: Survival Evolved is a solid survival adventure with unique mechanics, an intriguing mystery and lore, and plenty of years of development in its past to show for it. However, there are just too many issues on the Switch version right now to enjoy it to its fullest, making it near unplayable for many, and I really hope that changes as we move forward.