Surprise! Months after it was originally slated to arrive, ARK: Survival Evolved has finally made its way to Google Stadia today, and as promised, it’s a free addition to the Stadia Pro lineup. However, the hotly anticipated title is arriving in a lackluster fashion.

Backtracking, ARK: Survival Evolved is an open-world game that takes place on a mysterious island inhabited by dinosaurs and other creatures where players are on a mission of survival to build armor, bases, weapons, and more. The game first launched in 2015 by Studio Wildcard and is still being developed today, with the game’s “Genesis” expansion having just released its final installment in June on other platforms. The game is available on PC, Xbox, PlayStation, and there are even ports on Nintendo Switch and mobile phones.

Now, ARK: Survival Evolved is available on Google Stadia, a cloud platform where it could thrive, thanks to powerful servers behind the scenes and the lack of downloads, the latter of which can be a real hindrance in playing the game, as any PC player such as myself will tell you. On PC, it can easily eat up 200 GB or more after adding DLC or even just updates, which often inflate the storage needed. My wife’s PC has an entire SSD dedicated to the game because it filled up the original drive. However, it’s hard to say that will come to pass, given the current state of the port.

The version of ARK being given out on Stadia Pro is the base game with none of the four expansion packs. Aberration, Extinction, and Scorched Earth are all $10 add-ons while the Genesis Season Pass costs $29.99. This is only notable because over on Xbox Game Pass, ARK comes in the “Explorer’s Edition,” which includes those first three packs for free.

The bigger issue with ARK on Stadia comes with the actual gameplay. First off, there are almost no video settings in the game. Players are only able to control camera settings, light bloom/shafts, and motion blur. That’s a far cry from what other ports allow, and it’s a real hindrance in the game since the settings as they stand today don’t seem to allow the game to render objects from a reasonable distance.

This further translates to gameplay, where the game is firstly running at 30fps, well behind most other Stadia titles that at least offer a 60fps mode. Despite the lower frame rate, though, the game still lags at random and quite often. It’s worth noting I was playing at 4K on the Android TV app, but the experience is identical playing with a 1080p cap on the web app from a PC.

Animations are also of extremely low quality, with dinosaurs showing with janky movements and environmental elements such as plants simply freezing as they’ve been harvested and taking a few seconds to disappear. Many of the elements are also reduced from 3D objects to flat textures along the ground. The worst comes when the sun sets in the game, where the graphical flaws are more obvious.

Clips in this article have been scaled down for the web. You can view the original 4K capture here.

As far as multiplayer goes, ARK: Survival Evolved on Stadia does support cross-platform play. However, it appears to only work on a limited number of official ARK servers. We can’t find any way to join a server by IP address as you can do on PC versions of the game, and there doesn’t appear to be any ability to host a non-dedicated server through this port. Stadia shows an “invite to play” option, but when testing that function with Nerf Report host Bryant Chappel, the invitation did nothing. There’s already a feature request on ARK’s forums about the issue.

This clip shows the janky dinosaur animations seen in the Stadia port. You can view the 4K capture here.

Much of this comes as little surprise. ARK’s console ports are traditionally not in line with the PC version, with the exception being Xbox. On PlayStation and especially Switch, the quality is much lower than that of Xbox and PC. Still, with Google’s claims of Stadia’s power behind the scenes and examples like Cyberpunk 2077 it seemed possible ARK would be more in line with the Xbox and PC.

That was also a reasonable expectation because earlier this year, the developers themselves promised that the Stadia port would have “graphics that are equivalent with our PC version.” Clearly, that’s not the case.

Based on the game’s state today, this is a blatant lie

After waiting several months from the original “early 2021” timeline, though, there’s no great excuse for what’s actually, finally been released. Hopefully, both parties will work to improve the experience going forward.

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Ben Schoon

Ben is a writer and video producer for 9to5Google.

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