Imagine a game that’s got hardcore survival elements at its core, and then merge that idea with a cutesy voxel sandbox environment full to the brim with dinosaurs and strange creatures. Presumably, you’re now picturing something that’s akin to an ARK: Survival Evolved and Minecraft hybrid, right? Well, PixARK from developers Snail Games is essentially a spin-off of ARK: Survival Evolved, with a touch of inspiration from Minecraft in a possible attempt to cater to the younger audience. Having spent over a year in Xbox Game Preview, it’s time to get stuck into the full experience on Xbox One and let our imagination run wild in PixARK.
That’s assuming you have an imaginative mind, because the world here is what you make of it; so if you’re expecting a hand-holding affair, which tells you to do this and do that, then I assure you PixARK isn’t going to be suitable. I’m not entirely certain it’s much fun for the creative types either to be frank, but let’s delve in a little deeper and figure out whether you’ll get what you want from this game.
Before anything though, you’ll need to create a character, either male or female, and then decide upon their hairstyle, facial features etc. These are fairly limited, with only half a dozen men’s haircuts, however the depth that is present comes in the way of refining body proportions like arm length – because that’s more important, obviously. With my fairly generic chap, Jim, ready to brave it in a whole new voxel world, it’s time to generate a unique one for the adventure to begin.
The gameplay options are vast during creation of the map, with plenty of tweaking to be done to try and ensure that the world that’s crafted provides a satisfactory experience. These range from the speed of the day/night cycle to the damage dealt by your character, as well as how fast you can level up and how quickly the character needs feeding. That’s great, but until you’ve tried the default settings, it’s hard to know what’s best.
So, after being spawned into a procedurally generated map, the stark realisation hits you that you’ve got nothing but your bare hands. Whether you immediately start gathering resources, battling with dodos, taming beasts or exploring, is entirely your call. Quests are also an option, however these are quite limited and to partake in many you may have to go further afield than you’d like to. Just be sure to keep an eye on hunger levels, don’t get too thirsty and don’t wander too far, because the land may be huge, but it’s not bloody safe.
You see, the initial area is like being wrapped in cotton wool with nothing worth worrying about except some chilled out Triceratops’, fluffy rabbits and turkeys. This enables the opportunity to get to grips with the game and build a place to call home using blocks in a manner similar to the crafting in Minecraft, and that’s ideal as an introduction to the world. After a few hours though, the urge to venture to other areas, like the caverns and jungle type places, is irresistible due to the monotony of the overly relaxed atmosphere; there’s only so much fun to be had from taming a posse of dinosaurs and hanging out by your latest construction in the confines of the peaceful grasslands.
Unfortunately, the surrounding areas are laden with creatures desperate to kill you and ensure the contents of the backpack are taken away – unless you’re brave enough to retrieve said items from the scene of the crime. Even with a gang in tow, the spiders, werewolves and centaurs will decimate the lot of you without breaking a sweat. It’s nigh-on impossible to escape their grasp once they’ve set their sights on your poor little chap and it’s utterly frustrating to be practically restricted to the starting area forevermore. Sure, fighting back is an option, however the hit detection – especially in a map hosted online – is so very hit and miss. For example, I could be swinging an axe at a dodo for ages and its health wouldn’t move an inch.
Levelling up helps in regards the amount of health you possess, damage dealt, stamina and more, with the choice of which to upgrade left solely in your hands. The only problem is the horribly implemented UI and menus that are quite clearly better suited to the PC. As a result, navigating the inventory, attempting to craft, spending skill points and such is a painstakingly finicky task. The controls aren’t much better with the face buttons becoming multi-purpose via the pressing of a bumper; it’s easy to get confused.
What has to be praised though is the large amount of different species you’ll come across; I’m talking, demons, goblins, raptors, stegosauri and zombies. Having such variety lends itself to some really cool possibilities. In an online game, I witnessed one person was flying around on the back of what looked like a mighty gryphon, swinging a sword and generally being a badass – that’s living the dream right there. But it does feel as if that’s unreachable for most people due to the overwhelmingly unforgiving nature of PixARK.
Crafting is an important part of survival as engrams become available in their droves the more you level up, ensuring plenty of choice for what to make in terms of housing, weaponry, clothing and armour. Whether you’ll get enough of the necessary materials for the good stuff, without venturing far, is up for debate. Again though, the item placement when trying to build in the world isn’t quite up to scratch, and that’s hindered further by animals who just want to stand in the way.
Visually, PixARK is essentially a voxel-based budget version of Minecraft. There are lots of colours used throughout to ensure it’s kind on the eyes though, with creatures distinguishable from each other despite seeming quite ‘blocky’ from the outset. As for the sound department, and well, the atmosphere it helps to create is definitely on the relaxing side, unless you’re trespassing on the land of murderous centaurs of course.
On the whole, PixARK on Xbox One is a victim of its own steep difficulty curve which ensures that those who might find something like ARK: Survival Evolved too unforgiving, will also have a similar issue here. The world looks decent enough to be fair though, and the crafting options offer more than enough variety. It’s great to have a world full of creatures to encounter too, either alone or in an online server, but when most folk will struggle to escape the clutches of the peaceful area, the boredom kicks in swiftly. Add to that the awkward, more PC friendly UI, as well as the iffy combat detection that leads to many a death, and it’s clear that this isn’t a must buy.
Unless you’re really hankering for an ARK/Minecraft hybrid that doesn’t do a better job than either inspiration, just give PixARK a miss.