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Hands-on with PixARK in Xbox Game Preview – the love child of ARK and Minecraft!

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ARK: Survival Evolved is a hard-core and complex survival game that starts with a singular human washed up on an island that’s entirely habituated by dinosaurs and other survivors. Minecraft is a low resolution survival/sandbox experience in a procedurally generated world with minimalist resolution and interactions.

Here you have a fascinating and time consuming set of worlds to throw yourself into, as long as you don’t need a job, or to wash, or to eat, as both of these games can absorb you until the wee hours of the morning. Having sunk endless hours into both of these games, I can testify that one is savage, cruel and challenging and the other is, well, it’s Minecraft. Please don’t mistake me, Minecraft in its original days had real lessons to be learnt and needed skill to play but it’s cutesy low resolution made it safe and loveable.

PixARK then is the love child of these two games; it may be cute and adorable on the outside but it harbours a chewy dark bitter inside: you will learn how to play quickly or you will die trying.

PixARK has all of the elements of ARK: Survival Evolved from its original early access with the procedural generation of maps and graphics as per Minecraft. Its blocky style graphics are combined to make pixelated dinosaurs from ARK’s vast beastiary of animals. The aim of the game is survival and progression whilst fighting against weather elements, dangerous animals and occasionally other players. It also has a day and night cycle which can create more dangers.

Your survival is monitored via a number of icons, displaying markers such as health, carry weight and stamina; most of which will decay over in-game time. Therefore, location is of relative importance to various resources like wood, water or foliage. As you start with only your bare hands there is a high risk of losing your way as you traverse looking for more berries or a sip of water. Resources in PixARK are found in a combination of floor scavenging (as ARK does) and digging (read: Minecraft). It has a click and collect system from foliage, digging and trees. And it is these scavenged items that you utilise to build, create and tame dinosaurs.

PixARK uses the experience that you gain from collecting resources to upgrade your characters various survival traits. As you upgrade, you earn “engram” points which are spent to learn craftables which in turn aid your survival. You start with learning the basics such as a pickaxe or weapons, and as you further increase your experience you can build all manner of architecture to keep you safe and further your exploration. The game also includes simple quest markers at various random points around you that develop your learning and give you a little more purpose.

Half of the fun is found in taming the local wildlife so that you have a posse of dodos or pack of flying pteradons to attack or defend yourself or your belongings (hint and spoiler: dodos will not defend or attack anything – they became extinct for a reason). You can tame all dinosaurs that you find but some are much harder than others. Some are highly aggressive (such as raptors or werewolves) and therefore you can expect to experience more death than success which demonstrates the clear challenge of PixARK and why it’s soft cuddly demeanor shouldn’t be mistaken for simplicity.

PixARK has a level of genius and intricacy that is admirable in its execution as no detail has been deemed unimportant in this clever game. My experience is largely based from a single player perspective as I found playing online currently has certain issues regarding framerate, lagging and inconsistent loading. These can be a problem when searching for food or running away from danger, however these are issues that will be ironed out over time – remember, this is a game still in Preview form.

Movements are Minecraft-esque whilst having the difficulty of an ARK first timer, as the controls are currently a tad janky and unintuitive with unintelligent movements when moving through the crafting and upgrade menus. For example, moving one of your collected items from your person to a storage box requires a lot of patience which can sometimes be quite frustrating.

Initially you spawn in third person view which makes the hit box detection far too small either for collecting or attacking and although improved in first person view it still needs some work. It has the block destroying methods of Minecraft but the same placement methods of ARK which can lead to problems when trying to place ARK buildings either below ground or elevated.

In its current state PixARK manages to have an incredible amount of gameplay options considering how early in to development it is, and you could very easily spend a serious amount of time with PixARK. Considering the price you pay for the Xbox version, you are definitely getting your moneys worth, and things should just get better as the development process continues.

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