If you ask Mac gamers to name one survival game, you’ll probably hear Ark: Survival Evolved… a lot. That’s because in Ark, if you survive long enough, you get to tame, control and even ride dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts. And while its focus is on multiplayer, it also includes a single-player offline mode.

In Ark, you survive and thrive by collecting resources, crafting items, taming animals including the aforementioned dinosaurs, forming or joining tribes and fighting off the other humans on the island. If you’re good enough, you can advance to upgrading your dinosaurs with lasers. Really.

But this is a persistent world, where (bad) things keep happening even when you’re away from the game. You’ve been warned.

And it’s not just hard to survive in Ark, it’s also known for being hard on your computer, so our tests this week are focusing on our more powerful Macs. Does your Mac have what it takes? As always, we’re here to help you figure that out.

And as we always do, we will be testing the game on several different Macs, with a focus on higher-end models. Also, note that in multiplayer you’ll need a good internet connection to keep from dealing with literally deadly lag.

First things first, is the game any good?

After being on Steam Early Access for two years, Ark: Survival Evolved was finally released in August of 2017.

While a popular game as far as having a large user base (obviously important for a multiplayer game), Ark: Survival Evolved received mixed reviews.

Players like the depth of the game and its open world, but excessive grinding and a hostile environment for new players on public servers take away some of the fun.

The game has a 70/100 Metascore, which is ok, and 68% positive reviews on Steam from almost 150,000 users.

Metascore

%

User Reviews

A closer look at the reviews reveals the mixed feelings players have about the game. TJ Hafer’s detailed review at IGN concluded:

ARK: Survival Evolved has some great moments of battle with prehistoric beasts, but just as many of AI bugs and grind.

Ian Birnbaum at PC Gamer largely agreed:

Feeling real fear in a game—fear of failure, fear of loss—can be really fun. Escaping that fear can be dramatic, and the tragedy of almost getting away can be unforgettable. But when so much of Ark is grinding drudgery, the consequences of its unforgiving style are hard to enjoy.

My Take: Ark: Survival Evolved is a survival game with some real strengths and some significant weaknesses. If you’re willing to put in the time, and die and lose your work over and over again, you can rise to a level where things get really fun.

But if you’re not willing to put up with the grind and the established user base, it may be too frustrating of a game for you.

ARK Survival Evolved Mac

The test

So you’ve decided you’re willing, but is your Mac up to the challenge?

To evaluate how well Ark: Survival Evolved runs, we’ll test it on these models:

iMac (5K, 27-inch, Mid-2017)

3.8 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, AMD Radeon Pro 580 (8GB)

iMac (5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)

3.5 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, AMD Radeon R9 M290X (2GB)

MacBook Pro (15-inch, Touch/Mid-2017):

2.9 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, AMD Radeon Pro 560 (4 GB)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016):

2.0 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris Graphics 540 (1.5GB)

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2013)

2.4 GHz Intel Core i5, 8 GB RAM, Intel Iris 5100 (1.5GB)

Why these machines? Our purpose is to help you understand how well this game runs on different setups. And hopefully, one of these setups will be similar enough to yours to give you a clear idea of what to expect. We usually have  a more varied selection of hardware but as this is a highly demanding game, we will focus on high-end models this time:

  • High-end Macs (the 2017 iMac, 2017 MacBook Pro, and 2014 iMac)
  • Recent entry-level Macs (the 2016 MacBook Pro)
  • Older Macs (the 2013 MacBook Pro)

These are the settings we used to test Ark: Survival Evolved using our in-house FPS counter Count It for a fixed duration of 5 minutes:

  • 1280x800 or equivalent resolution
  • Graphics Quality: Medium
  • Single player, local game (i.e. internet connection is no longer a factor)

Why these settings? Remember, we are testing vastly different machines. Some high-end, some not. 1280x800 and Medium settings won’t impress anyone, but they are acceptable and should meet the requirements of the average gamer.

The Results

We knew going in that the hardware requirements for Ark: Survival Evolved were challenging on the Mac side, and our results confirm that.

Recent Macs with dedicated graphics cards had no trouble with the game at our default setting, but everything else struggled at best.

Ark Survival Evolved results

As a reminder, this is how we describe the different levels of performance:

Below 20 FPS Unplayable Laggy gameplay, full of stutters and slowdowns.
20-30 FPS Borderline Can be Ok in slow paced games. Still, not optimal.
30-45 FPS Playable Acceptable for most (most gaming consoles do this).
45-60 FPS Smooth Fluid gameplay, with no perceivable stutters.
60+ FPS Very Smooth For hardcore and professional players, a luxury for most.

Do you have a high-end Mac?

There’s no question that a high-end Mac can play this game at our default settings. Frame rates of 49 FPS (2014 iMac) and 81 (2017 iMac) put our iMacs in the Smooth and Very Smooth range respectively, while our 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro (using the dedicated graphics card) hit a barely Playable 30 FPS.

While these are ok results for a game known to be demanding and poorly optimized for the Mac (more on that below), we still would have hoped a brand new iMac could have blown the FPS out of water on medium settings. And a brand new MacBook Pro barely hitting playable on medium settings is disappointing, to say the least.

This is what can be expected when turning the settings to high:

Model Medium Settings High Settings
2014 iMac 49.1 FPS Smooth 40.5 FPS Playable

Takeaway: If you have a high-end Mac, you can expect to play this game at our default settings with no problem, and you can probably bump things up a bit and still have a silky smooth experience. But playing the game at maximum settings may be outside the reach of anything but a tricked out iMac Pro.

Do you have a recent entry-level Mac?

Things get tricky here, as they often do with more demanding games. Our 2016 MacBook Pro was nearly Borderline at 19 FPS with our default settings. With settings turned to the minimum it was firmly in the Borderline range at 27 FPS. While this is not ideal it indicates that the game should be playable on newer machines with integrated graphics.

Model Low Settings Medium Settings
2016 13-inch MBP 27.4 FPS Borderline 19 FPS Unplayable

Ultimately it’s a decision for you whether you want to spend your time and money on a game you’ll have to play at very low graphics settings.

Takeaway: If you have a recent Mac with an integrated chipset you may find the game playable. We hit high Borderline on a 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with all the settings at their minimum. Whether that’s an acceptable tradeoff is up to you. How much do you want to ride those dinosaurs?

But what if you have an older Mac?

As you’d expect, the news gets worse. Our 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro stayed firmly in the Unplayable range, maxing out at 15.5 FPS with all the settings on minimum. If you have an older Mac with a dedicated graphics card, however, there’s a good chance you’ll be in better shape.

The difference between our 2014 iMac and 2013 MacBook Pro indicates that it’s the graphics card that’s doing much of the heavy lifting here, and a look at Ark’s system requirements (see below) indicates that even older machines with a dedicated card might well be fine.

Takeaway: Our older Macs with integrated chipsets were unable to even approach the Playable range with our default settings and lowering those settings to the minimum didn’t move the needle enough to put this game close to Playable range. Sorry, you’re out of luck with this one.

Still unsure?

Remember, you can always run the free Unigine Heaven Benchmark using the Basic Preset and compare your results with ours:

Ark Survival Evolved VS Heaven

If your machine had a better/worst Heaven score, expect a higher/lower FPS score.

The correlation between in-game performance and a standard benchmark is far from perfect, but it can still be a good comparison point.

Keep in mind that this is an estimate and far from exact. If your estimated FPS are too close to 30 FPS, don’t risk it.

Bottom line: Ark: Survival Evolved is demanding on hardware and does not seem to be well optimized for Macs. You’ll need a computer with a dedicated graphics card to get the most out of this game. A newer (last 2-3 years) Mac with integrated graphics should be able to make Ark playable but at low graphics settings.

Perhaps Rust, the other big MacOS survival shooter, will be better optimized. We shall see in an upcoming Performance review…

Note: While Metal support was said to be coming to Ark, the last mention of that was in December of 2016; repeated requests for updates have gone unanswered.

Always check those system requirements

This is particularly important for extremely demanding games such as this one. If you don’t have a high-end Mac, you’d be wise to pay extra attention to the game’s requirements.

These are Ark: Survival Evolved’s Mac system requirements (minimum):

OS 10.9
Processor Intel 2.0 GHz Processor
Memory OpenGL 3 compatible
Video Card 1GB or better
Video RAM 4GB RAM
Hard Drive 20GB of Hard Drive space

Final thoughts

Ark: Survival Evolved is one of the most popular online survival games out there. While the reviews are mixed, they all agree that there are some great gameplay elements. And DINOSAURS!

Unfortunately, its high hardware demands severely limit the Macs that can run it.

A Mac with a dedicated graphics card from the last several years shouldn’t have any problems with it

Make sure you have a robust internet connection for multiplayer, lag can literally kill you

Macs from the last 2-3 years with integrated chipsets should be able to run it at minimum settings, but that’s probably it

Demand level: ⚡ High

Disclaimer: Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission (this is how we pay the bills). This commission comes at no additional cost to you