PixARK Delivers Accessibility and Fun to an Unforgiving Survival Game Genre [Hands-On Preview]

ARK: Survival Evolved stomped on Steam’s early access program on June 2, 2015. It reached a cult following in those years since launching, a following which tolerated its usual performance hitches for the impressively ambitious game it strived to be.

This ambition derived from its ability to balance various fantasy elements, mixing guns and sorcery with dinosaurs. However, at its core, ARK is a rewarding survival simulation in the vein of Rust. Following the game’s official release in 2017, spin-offs of the popular survival game had already been in development. Amongst these, there was the free standalone title ARK: Survival of the Fittest, as well a virtual reality spin-off named ARK Park. Alongside the release of ARK Park around a week ago, PixARK, a significantly blockier version of ARK: Survival Evolved, released into Early Access from Snail Games a few days later.

I’ve had the chance to get my feet wet with PixARK’s crafting, combat, and creatures. The potential for a more optimized and streamlined ARK experience is enticing, and so far it seems as if the title is delivering in significant ways.  The first observation which can be made of PixARK is that there are heavy inspirations which draw a lot from Minecraft and the base ARK: Survival Evolved. You (or a group of friends) wake up on an island shrouded with mysteries to uncover, natural resources to help you build and craft, and dinosaurs — Snail Games claim there are 100 inhabiting PixARK’s world — to hunt and tame. Yet, the world in which you inhabit and survive is also a playground, with nearly endless possibilities.

These possibilities are realized through the ambitious procedural generation that PixARK highlights, one which not only builds the world’s construction and placement of natural resources and structures but also generates the quests which are given, meaning that there is a deep sense of personalization to each world you end up generating and then exploring. A part of this personalization is the character progression and character customization, meaning that while exploring its eight biomes, you’ll be able to save your character’s items and appearance in a way which is unique to yourself.

There are a variety of tools at your disposal which will allow you to craft your own weapons and shelters. As for the latter, building shelter is as simple as it is in other block-based builders. You’ll be able to build, tear down, or visualize pixel block creations easily. There’s even a ‘creative’ mode which lets you have all the tools for creative works at your disposal. The sense of scale in PixARK is staggering, seeing mythical beasts dwarf you with their own size is a spectacle even with the heavily pixelated art style. Some creatures have better designs than others, but as more get introduced hopefully there’s a focus on the quality of the designs of creatures rather than the quantity.

In regards to the performance of the game, I was impressed by how it ran on my PC. It seems that one of the primary purposes of PixARK was to be able to make ARK more practical on lower-end hardware. For the most part, it delivers on this promise. Even though I still experienced various hitches and performance issues, this is most definitely due to the nature of the game releasing on Early Access and optimization in no way debilitates the game of its playability.

Keep in mind my preview does not reflect the Xbox One version (or any other console version) of the game. The Xbox One version of PixARK is apparently having various performance issues and UI complications that I cannot verify here, but it is worth noting. The extent of these issues reportedly makes the game unplayable, as players are unable to access the inventory items in order to build a simple campfire. This build, which is currently on Microsoft’s preview program, is not in congruence with the one which is on Steam Early Access. While the developers have addressed this issue, there is currently no ETA as to when a fix will be live. Hopefully, these console versions will be addressed by the time the title comes to PS4 and Nintendo Switch later this year.

PixARK is taking the best parts of survival games, allowing simplicity and fun to reign supreme in a game which is ultimately leading itself to be very deep with its progression and endlessly enjoyable with its procedural generation. PixARK has its ambition, but revels in the safety of systems that have already been legitimized in other games. This safety is going to be the key to the game’s success, and will ultimately decide whether or not PixARK will be successful in an already crowded survival game market.