Back in 2018, the Switch received one of its worst and most unplayable ports in the console’s history, a remarkable distinction given how many rough games are on the platform. You might know it, as it’s a pretty popular first-person open-world survival simulator called Ark: Survival Evolved. Now four years after its initial release, Ark has a new Switch port using a newer version of Unreal and it might be one of the most impressive upgrades to a Switch game I’ve ever seen.
There have been some miracle ports on the Switch. Games like The Witcher 3 and Doom 2016 not only look nice on the aging portable hybrid console, but also play well, too. That’s not easy to do, mind you. The Switch is old and not very powerful, so getting modern, big, fancy-looking 3D games running on it is challenging. I mean, even Nintendo-published games like the new Pokémon struggle on it. So it’s not surprising that for every miracle port there are a dozen bleh ports of big games. But then there are the truly abysmal ports, the ones that make you wonder why they even got made. And perhaps the worst of the worst is 2018’s Ark: Survival Evolved.
Ark on Switch in 2018 wasn’t just bad, it was really, really terrible. Many websites and critics have called it one of, if not the, worst port released for Switch. It featured incredibly low resolution and a horrifically bad framerate, with tons of stuttering and hitching.
Even when it ran well, it looked like shit, with lots of blurry objects and fuzzy shapes floating around. Some of these, apparently, were meant to be dinosaurs or trees. It was hard to tell. This Digital Foundry video from 2018 is a great look at the port and how poorly it played. Fast forward a few years later and now this month a brand new version of the popular survival game is out on Switch. And folks, it’s kind of impressive how much better things are.
Eurogamer and Digital Foundry took a look at this new port and talked to the developers behind it. Apparently, the entire game has been rebuilt from the ground up in Unreal 4. In fact, according to the devs, nothing from the original game remains. Instead, this port is based on a newer Xbox build of the game. New port developer Grove Street Games (yes, the same people behind the hated, wonky GTA Trilogy remasters from last year…) is also using dynamic resolution scaling to help things look sharper and run better on the Switch.
The new port of Ark features nicer-looking shadows and less pop-in thanks to new tools available in UE4. Even better, the infamously long loading times have been cut down to only around 30 seconds. That’s still a lot, but consider that in the original port it could take up to nearly three minutes. So yeah, big improvements all around.
To be clear: This is still a rough way to play Ark: Survival Evolved compared to more capable platforms. Of course, playing the game on newer more powerful consoles or a beefy PC will provide a much better experience. But for folks who prefer portable gaming or who only have a Switch, it’s nice to see a publisher go back and spend the money and time to completely fix and replace a bad port with something much better. This isn’t something you see very often and even if the new port still has its own issues, the new version is a night-and-day improvement that should be applauded.