By Kimari Rennis
There are many painful feelings out there that can bring people down. But for some, the most painful feeling in the world is the disappointment you have in a game you had high hopes for. PixARK from Snail Games is no exception. Yes, it’s in beta, but the horrific experience I had in this ridiculous fantasy and dinosaur adventure ripped my heart to shreds and proceeded to set it on fire.
As the name suggests, PixARK incorporates the blocky elements of Minecraft into the primitive dinosaur survival game, Ark. The idea is actually ingenious if you’ve played the parents of this love child. From my experience, vanilla Minecraft needed more action and adventure shrouded in mystery, rather than just peaceful music and the occasional creeper. Ark, which is one of my favorite games, could’ve used more adventure when it came to uncovering the mystery behind the obelisks, the futuristic technology, and the wide range of dinosaurs from different time periods in one place.
PixARK tries to combine the best of both Minecraft and Ark and sprinkles in a bit of fantasy with the inclusion of potions, dragons, man-eating plants, and a multitude of dungeons to explore on this vast land. PixARK implements the in-depth mining experience from Minecraft that is not available in Ark. For its part, Ark provides the experience of fighting, taming, and riding the dinosaurs. PixARK is supposed to be a pinata filled with goodies in a joyful jumbled mess.
But why was the execution so lackluster?
There were countless problems. To put it simply, the elements from Ark do not work hand-in-hand with the elements of Minecraft. First off, the controls absolutely baffled me. This is partially my fault due to me not being used to computer games, but seeing about 50 buttons displayed scared me. I’d have to memorize the entire keyboard and embed each function into my brain. I played PixARK with a keyboard and mouse for a few hours and grew certain that reaching my hand into a new dimension to open my inventory or whistling a command at my dinos wasn’t working in my favor. I came up with the idea of hooking up my Xbox controller to the game and voila! I could move, I could jump.
But I couldn’t open my inventory, I couldn’t whistle commands, and I couldn’t pause the game. I realized that the entire arsenal of functions I had memorized vanished as soon as I turned on the Xbox controller. To my dismay, PixARK, inspired by two games that both had PC and console versions, did not have full controller support. Even when I attempted to switch the keys to make my gameplay feel better, I still felt like I was performing a pointless science experiment with each task. Bad controls make the game look bad.
Another major problem in the game are the major contradictions between the playstyles of Ark and Minecraft-esque games. In Ark, you create the foundations, walls, roofs and windows with the materials you collect in the game, which is the only way you can create shelter. In Ark, you cannot simply dig up a few blocks out the ground and build a little hut to fend off dinosaurs. Ark’s methods were realistic and felt like a true survival game. When the aspect of digging blocks from the ground and being able to place them is added to the game, it allows you to build a shelter with little to no effort. The thrill of challenge and getting better is removed. Ark is supposed to be difficult especially when it revolves around primal survival with massive carnivores.
The issue of the game lacking structure or challenge is apparent in multiplayer. The Player Versus Player (PVP) in regular Ark allows players to build extravagant bases through hours of collecting, building and taming. The process of raiding between other players and tribes makes you strategize with the environment, your timing, your skill and the utility of your tamed dinosaurs. That whole concept is tossed violently out the window when you can simply pick up twenty blocks of dirt off the ground and casually jump over the massive dino gates and walls to raid someone’s base and take all their valuable loot. What’s the point of playing competitive, cutthroat survival PVP when all your defenses are forgotten with someone climbing over with dirt without a plan? You tamed that T-Rex for a reason, and he can attack your intruder because they’re making an elevated bridge to your armory.
So while it’s a compelling concept, the two different personalities of Ark and Minecraft are mashed together to create a game that doesn’t know what it wants to be. PixARK is unbalanced, unstable, and unfinished. The idea behind PixARK sounded phenomenal to me, but the product that was put out there for people to enjoy didn’t play so well, which is why it disappoints me so deeply. The game is practically still limping.
To be fair, PixARK is still in its beta phase. With a few updates and rounds of well-needed TLC, PixARK could possibly turn out to be the game people once hoped for. Hopefully, that lost potential can be regained and I may even play it again. But it really shouldn’t have been released in this state. I can only pray that a new and improved PixARK can mend together my shattered heart.
Kimari Rennis is a New York Videogame Critics Circle intern, part of our ongoing partnership with Bronx’s DreamYard Prep School.