I receive a shotgun, a longneck rifle, and some other rare goodies from a supply drop. Instead of going back to my hand-made log cabin and safely storing the spoil, where I likely won’t lose it, I take the risk of exploring the island some more, hoping to dig up metal so I can craft more ammunition. For some reason, though, I wasn’t paying attention when all of a sudden a Tyrannosaurus charged toward me and started biting my character to death. I was defenceless; over half of the girl’s health was depleted before I could even think to take a decent enough of a weapon out.
She’s dead. The shotgun is gone. The rifle is gone. Everything else that was in my inventory. Gone. Then I’m forced to spawn some distance away from where I was. It would be a while before I could take my revenge against that creature, because I would again have to spend hours just to gather and craft the resources I need. Sure, I could go back to my dead body or backpack if it was still there and retrieve the missing items – but that’s a risk I’m not up for, what with carnivores swarming the area.
My face is bright as a tomato as I stare at the spawn location selection screen. I scream at the top of my lungs out of frustration. I scream again. I breathe so deeply that I experience a head rush so strange that for a few moments it actually hurt to move any of my limbs; in particular, my arms. I could barely even move the analog sticks on my controller with my thumbs. I could see dots of colors from the corner of my eyes. If I was a kid I might have taken a sledgehammer from the garage and smash my PC to pieces. At the very least I would have hurled my gamepad to the floor and break it.
Has this ever happened to you?
Welcome to the survival genre. Welcome to ARK: Survival Evolved. It’s both incredibly amazing and incredibly frustrating. Amazing in the sense that there is a vast amount of islands, mountains, caves, and forests that easily take hundreds of hours to explore. New things to craft and stat buffs as your custom-defined character levels up keeps the game interesting – homes, beds, campfires, gardens, compasses, spears, bows, turrets, rafts, guns, just to name a few. I remember it took me forty hours just to craft my first pistol. Plus, most of these items can be dyed to your favorite color to add more spice to your character’s flair. Constant updates from the developers add new creatures, weapons, and bug fixes. One of the few early access titles where the developers are actually dedicated to their promises. No microtransactions. Mod support. And, let’s not forget: dinosaurs and a prehistoric setting reminds you of the Jurassic Park films, combined with the modern-tech era of flak armor, assault rifles, and refrigerators.
Now the frustration part. The game is in early access and as such, it’s not optimized yet for solo players. If you ask me I’m not interested in joining a server where some punk thinks he’s funny and starts hurling stones at you with his slingshot for no good reason, then when you’re knocked unconscious he drags your body to some weird-rear-end place and starts beating you with a stone pick till you’re dead. Of course, PvE servers are available as an alternate route. But even with PvE I don’t like the fact that you kinda have to work with folks you don’t know. For the most part I’m just more comfortable playing a game offline if it’s available – you can humiliate yourself as much as you want without worrying what others think about you.
But you’re on your own if you choose to do so. The caves, for instance, were meant to be explored as a group or tribe. You might find it difficult to completely traverse the terrain if you do it by yourself because only you can keep the bats at bay, and they’ll respawn after a certain period of time. It makes the game too difficult to actually enjoy. It doesn’t help that the developers every once in a while up the ante by increasing the difficulty slider – player resistance is reduced, weapons deal less damage, etcetera. But I think the simple fact that your character loses everything you spent hours upon hours of crafting and collecting that you’ve worked so hard for is all of a sudden gone when you’re dead. Heck, the character can easily die just if she takes a leap from a height that’s just a wee bit too high.
But now I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Why? Cheats. Thank goodness for God mode. Yeah, that’s right: I’m the slang term for the female reproductive organ.
Anyhow, I’m not really here to review the game; I’m sure you’ve read at least a few by now due to the game’s insane popularity (even though us Linux enthusiasts probably represent less than one percent of the game’s entire community). My purpose here is to talk about how the Linux version of this game fares.
Thanks to Unreal Engine 4, in addition to Windows, Mac and Linux support come right out-of-the-box. As a result it only took a few weeks for Studio Wildcard to release these versions after it was put on the Steam store. Shortly thereafter gamepads could function properly and music now works on the main menu screen, although there still isn’t an animated background. Patch notes can be found here and archived notes here.
As you would expect, performance is worse on Linux, as terrible as it is on Windows. Framerates dramatically change depending on where you’re looking. If you’re looking at the ocean, for example, when there’s not a whole lot to show, the framerate is superb. If you’re looking at a bunch of trees and rocks, however, the framerate instantly lowers. Watch some gameplay footage below. Fortunately, you won’t be seeing most of the issues that I’m going to write shortly hereafter. (Sorry I couldn’t get the FPS to display; I had to run the game in Big Picture Mode in order for my gamepad to work. Also, forgive me for my bad aiming. Heh)
The Linux port also suffers from the following:
- Increasing or decreasing the music volume will have the same effect on other sound effects – for instance, if the music is muted, so won’t sound effects
- The framerate dips the more objects there are to render
- Random crashing that ranges from little to moderate frequency, especially upon entering a cave, bringing up the Steam overlay, alt-tabbing out of the game, or even accessing your inventory. Be prepared to exercise patience if you’re going to record your gameplay, as I had to. For those of you on my Friends list, you now know why you were so frequently getting the notification that I was playing this game
- Graphics may randomly revert to lower settings permanently until restart, while still eating up the same resources
- Game crashed every time I tried to load epic graphics settings.
- While walking or sprinting, your character will come to a halt upon holding LB to select an item from a daisy-wheel list. Not a biggie, though – unless one has OCD
- Every once in a while upon startup, for some reason the game wouldn’t pick up my gamepad and the only way I could get it to work is by reconnecting the controller while still in-game, then restarting it (Update 10/14/2015: this is a problem that I have with most games, not just this)
- Black or otherwise brightly-colored, irregular-shaped polygons occasionally appear in various places – in particular, lakes, rivers, sections of mountains, and gun shots. Sometimes these polygons are so large that it’s impossible to see in front of you and you have to look where you’re going at a different angle, be it crouching, jumping, or moving a few paces away.
- On rare occasions when the game is done loading, the loading screen still resides, even though you can hear your character jumping and moving in the background.
Well, the game is early access, so I should expect such bugs. Additionally, Linux is still fairly new to gaming; it’s not too often we see advanced 3D titles like this and yet that it actually can run. The question is, will any of these issues be addressed at some point? An even bigger one would be, will the game be optimized for Vulkan? As for the second question, Jesse Rapczak, co-founder and co-creative director at Studio Wildcard, has just mentioned the team plans on implementing Vulkan once Unreal Engine 4 supports it, and maybe even Apple’s Metal API. Perhaps this may fix some of the game’s issues, but all we can do right now is speculate. This is in addition to DirectX 12 currently being optimized. Sounds like a lot of work to me. For now, though, can you expect this game to run on a low-end Steam Machine?
It’s a clear no. Not anything that’s built under a $700 budget. Unless you can tolerate low settings. The developers have claimed a while back that they found and removed a graphics bug that was apparently causing a twenty-five percent performance decrease (update 180.3). Yeah…I’m basically still getting the same results that I’ve had since day one. You just need a really beefy computer if you hope to achieve anything higher than medium settings. Of course, though, I’m not going to lose my hope that more graphical optimizations are going to come in the next few months to the next year. Maybe the user interface will get an overhaul and the menus will be easier to navigate with a gamepad rather than having to use a virtual mouse. They’re going to pretty much have to anyways if they’re going to bring this survival/RPG hybrid to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The developer’s kit is not yet available for Linux. I’ve asked on the Unreal Engine forums, so we’ll see what happens. It would be pretty neat if I could make a machined shotgun on steroids without having to revert to Windows.
Oh, as a side note, if you’re wondering how well the game runs on Mac, I got to briefly take a crack at it on my brother’s all-in-one iMac. Can’t remember the specs of it (I believe it was the 21.5″ model with an i7) or whether the drivers were up-to-date but I do recall that it ran poorly, as in, a low framerate. I could only run it at a steady pace on low settings.