PlayStation Plus has a stacked catalog of games to play during the month of March, but there’s one title on the list we implore our followers not to ignore. Just one month after its Game Pass debut on Xbox and PC, Studio Wildcard’s ARK: Survival Evolved has gone free for members of PlayStation nation as well. Whether you’re a fan of the prehistoric period or just want a brain-busting survival challenge, this game has dozens of hours of content to cure a mostly unsolvable itch.
If you’re a fan of the Jurassic Park franchise, chances are you know its representation in the gaming sphere has been more than a little mixed. Sure, titles like Jurassic World Evolution exist on their own as park management simulators, but what about those moments when you want to be on the ground making friends with dinos, enjoying their majestic beauty, and occasionally trying your very hardest to not be a giant lizard’s next meal? That kind of thrill is precisely what ARK: Survival Evolved offers, and it’s one you won’t find anywhere else on an officially licensed basis.
At its core, the main selling point for ARK is its survival sandbox map. On the Island, which is the only official map PS Plus subscribers can access for free, you’ll be set loose on a tropical coastline with nothing to your name except two very powerful clenched fists. Punch dozens of trees to gather enough thatch and wood, and you’ll be able to fashion together some basic tools. Those tools become the foundation to everything you do going forward, including unleashing your creativity through constructing sprawling bases, taming and breeding gigantic creatures, starting wars with other tribes, and confronting massive bosses.
In the vein of something like Rust, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or even Animal Crossing, the Island is yours to enjoy any way you see fit. But, considering it’s inhabited by species who have no problem eating you for lunch, the task ahead of you is almost always perilous and intimidating.
Most of the games we just mentioned can be relaxing or meditative, but ARK separates itself from the pack by setting you free in a universe characterized by its danger. The greatest reward, of course, comes from knowing that literally everything you’ve made was assembled by yourself or, if you’re playing multiplayer, one of your tribemates. You feel like a God when everything’s firing as it should and sense the heartbreaking crush of defeat when a skilled Alpha Tribe tears it all down in a matter of moments.
That said, as much as ARK finds its home in its environmental and creature-focused restrictions, Wildcard also enables players to experience the entirety of the ARK universe on their own terms by leveraging a massive database of cheats. If you’re getting tired of being mauled by trikes on your first playthrough, why not enable God Mode and spawn in a massive troop of pre-tamed dinos to help you get past that initial learning curve? As long as you’re playing offline, ARK offers that flexibility and then some. Literally, every single creature and item in the game, including those released as paid DLC, can be spawned in at will and experienced in any way you see fit.
In short, while the official gameplay loop of ARK is meant to be a harrowing experience, the game finds a way to straddle that line by offering enough possible workarounds to become a dinosaur simulator that players of all skill levels have the potential to enjoy. Whether you just want to build a massive base or check in on the latest holiday-themed event, ARK is a product that quickly becomes whatever you’d like it to be. That freedom does come at the cost of having to delve fairly deep into a constantly updating official wiki, but, as long as you don’t mind looking things up to find your way, the expansiveness of what ARK offers can be truly breathtaking from its Jurassic roots all the way down to its multitude of future-focused expansions.
On the subject of expansions, it’s worth noting the PC and Xbox Game Pass versions of ARK are vastly superior to the one you’ll find on PlayStation Plus during the month of March. PlayStation owners should still redeem the freebie while it’s live, but it comes with the caveat that that free download only includes the baseline experience and its free DLC maps. On Game Pass, on the other hand, subscribers have access to all free DLC as well as paid expansions like Aberration, Extinction, and both installments of Genesis. The Plus version still offers plenty to do with the Island and its five fan-made alternatives, but there’s still more to experience on Microsoft’s platform.
Regardless of where you choose to set up camp, ARK: Survival Evolved is a gorgeous sandbox capable of delivering every dino-focused fantasy you could ever want. You may have to kitbash a bit to appreciate its beauty, but, once you've accepted the caveats of individual legwork, you’ll find there’s plenty of freedom to embrace despite the occasional noise from a large, scaly neighbor.