Close this search box.

Ark: The Animated Series Review – Same World, New Game

the official poster for Ark: The Animated Series, now on Paramount+

Ark: The Animated Series makes use of its stellar casting and solid animation to pull off a broad strokes adaptation of the game.

While video games throughout their history have been criticized for their lack of story, many modern titles have the opposite problem: an abundance of story. A few hours of gameplay often cover the same amount of exposition as ten minutes in film, which would make for a much longer adaptation than most casual viewers have patience for watching. Ark: The Animated Series does have quite a bit of story from the games to adapt, and not all of it is presented in a linear fashion, which would make a single feature film not ideal for an adaptation. A longer storyline across many seasons will adapt as much of the game as possible, and the story can be broken up in a way that works for television.

Arcane on Netflix is so far the most notable video game adaptation for the medium of television, successfully condensing much of the convoluted backstory of League of Legends into an eight-episode season, which led to many followers recapturing this magic with a new game. The latest example is Paramount Plus’ adaptation of the open-world survival game Ark: Survival Evolved. 

The story begins with Helena Walker (Madeleine Madden), an Australian Aboriginal scientist, washing up on a distant shore of an unknown island. At this time, Helena is still grieving over the disappearance of her wife Victoria (Eliott Page) and loses all memory of how she got there or what she was doing beforehand. Once she runs into a presumed extinct dodo on the island, things only get stranger from there. Helena is in a new world, and things will never be the same.

As Helena continues through the land of Ark, she encounters dinosaurs and other extinct animals, as well as people from several different periods in Earth’s history, past and future. Helena soon befriends Meiyin Li (Michelle Yeoh), an archer from Han Dynasty China who’s trying to liberate the people of Ark from the tyranny of Roman General Gaius Marcellus Nerva (Gerard Butler). Nerva wishes to colonize the entire island under a single banner, but his ruthless ways lead to Meiyin breaking from him and starting her own alliance. Joining Meiyin are Lakota archer Thunder Comes Charging “John” (Zahn McClarnon) and young Inuit healer Alasie (Devery Jacobs). Together, they also try to fight against the villainous Sir Edmund Rockwell (David Tennant), a Victorian scientist who betrayed Meiyin and seeks to exploit Ark in his own twisted way.

A woman with a bow and arrow in Ark: The Animated Series, now on Paramount+
Ark: The Animated Series (Paramount+)

All these characters are from the “notes” found littered about the world of the game, which the player pieces together gradually through progress. The notes in the game are left vague, meaning the writers had to work a bit harder to add to the story of the game and make it more linear. Given the sparseness of the lore in the main game, a new story had to be invented for the show using the characters and setting. Developing so many characters and plotlines is no easy feat, but for the most part, the series pulls it off.

Every character gets a unique introduction, motive, and clear characterization as the story progresses. Mysteries unfold and twists and turns are delivered with continued viewings. Seeing so many different people from across time and space come together is a feat in itself, so having them all come together in this way is a commendable achievement. 

As an adaptation of an open world game, the main objective for the protagonist is the same as the player in the game: survival. Helena needs Meiyin and her party to find help and welcome in this new world. The environment of Ark is unforgiving and ever changing, as Helena and Meiyin have to navigate different biomes to find food and shelter. Both man and beast are out to hunt them, which means Helena must keep her guard up at all times. Seeing the lengths the characters go through to stay alive is a conflict just as remarkable as any dinosaur shown on screen.

While the star-studded celebrity voice cast seems like it would be a distraction, for the most part they do their best with the script. Each actor is an appropriate fit for their part, as roles like David Tennant as a mad scientist and Gerard Butler as a Roman legionary feel tailor-made for the actor. The only role that feels somewhat out of place is Russell Crowe as Kor the Prophet. His domineering, commanding voice feels ill-suited for the out-of-time “dino whisperer”, but he still does bring some level of dignity and tries his best with the part. In addition, every Indigenous or otherwise non-white actor is cast with a race appropriate voice actor, meaning attention to detail was honored.

The best scenes in Ark: The Animated Series are the subtler moments. Helena continues to flash back to the loss of Victoria, and even though she does find new friends in Ark, the pain does not fully heal. Her backstory is told through flashback and intermittent interruptions capture the tension of her new life in gripping detail. This is a realistic portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder and allows for a more nuanced portrayal of the series protagonist. The dinosaurs, which are beasts of burden and used as both obstacles and allies, have their best moments when they are bonding with humans. Their service as mounts and fighters for both sides characterizes them as more than simple monsters and more like living, functioning animals.

The animation for this show is breathtaking and a strong usage of the American-influenced anime aesthetic. The movements feel lifelike and the characters all resemble their actual races and time period aesthetics. Once again, blending various races and time periods is hard, but this show pulls it off, by making each character look of their time but also like the other human characters, creating a sense of unity within the diversity. The dinosaurs are all mottled and dingy, having many darker colors rather than pastels. Some are feathered, some are not, keeping a compromise of the images people have in their heads of these ancient beasts while making these designs their own.

Ark: The Animated Series proves adaptations of higher-concept games can be done with the right dedication and attention to detail. Fans will love the animation which hearkens back to Avatar: The Last Airbender, and a style and tone similar to Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, another successful video game adaptation which served to supplement its source while adapting it. It is a bit odd Paramount gave no promotion to the series, as it is spectacular with a decorated cast and gorgeous animation.

Ark: The Animated Series Trailer (Paramount+)

With dinosaurs, epic battles, romance, and positive representation, Ark: The Animated Series has a little something for everyone, so it seems like an easy draw for the Paramount Plus subscription service. The only real complaint with the series is that it is not longer. For some viewers, the six episodes may not feel like enough and the cliffhanger may feel a bit unsatisfying, but at least there is a guarantee of seven more episodes. The second half is expected to drop later this year, so let the first six episodes tide you over as you are immersed deeply into the world of Ark.

Ark: The Animated Series is now available to watch on Paramount+. Stream Ark: The Animated Series!

A Cat’s Life Review: A Film for Animal Lovers – Loud And Clear
A Cat’s Life is a tender tale of love and loss – the perfect movie for anyone who loves cats as much as the film’s protagonist.

Loud and Clear Reviews has affiliate partnerships: we receive a share of the revenue from your purchase or streaming of the films when you click on some of the links on this page. This helps us keep the site free for everyone and won’t affect how much you pay for them.

Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.