My local park across the road has many delights. It has random violence, a guy who plays a bongo drum every Tuesday without fail and a varied wildlife of litter from all across the world. So I was hoping that The Park could live up to my high expectations of park life. Well, firstly it’s not local and secondly it’s set in an American amusement park – one that is a bit like a UK pleasure park but with an accent and, quite weirdly, the same health and safety record.
You play as a young mother who has just come out of the park but has quickly realised that your small son has left his favorite teddy bear there. You go to get in; the park is closed, but your son runs in through the gate. You follow; shouting for him to return and then the park turns strange and dark. Instead of a fun place to be, everything is broken and decayed. You’re unsure of yourself and where you are now, but you have to keep moving and find your son.
This is a first person exploration experience. Much like Gone Home or Everyone’s Gone to Rapture, you journey forward picking up clues to the main narrative and experience the surroundings and atmosphere of the world. I’ve played a lot of these games and I’m quite a fan. It’s a bit like being on a rollercoaster ride with everything going on around you while your decisions have little impact on the journey. If you like your games fast, full of fighting, shooting, jumping and running then there isn’t much for you here. But if you feel like a break and a more passive gaming experience, then this will happily help pass the time.
Funcom’s advice before you start playing The Park is to get a pair of headphones and switch the lights out. They want to create a supernatural horror experience that is completely immersive. Is this successful? Well, there are scares and jumps to be had here and the world they take you through is moody and oppressive. There are some nice touches, but every so often a cut scene will take you into the third person and ruin the effect the game was trying to create.
The gameplay consists of walking around the circular amusement park, or pressing run to chase your missing son. You can find objects like a newspaper, or a flyer, or view a monument that will provide clues to the history of the park and even why you are there. There are a small number of rides that you can go on that enhance the story and move the narrative forward to the next stage. One attraction has you on a swan boat going around a tunnel of love type journey. Here, a shadow version of Hansel and Gretel plays out as you slowly sail around. All these rides are interesting and add to the atmosphere, but there are pacing issues where everything feels a bit slow and a bit out of step. It’s not bad but not quite right either.
But when the game enters its final stage in the House of Horrors, it’s here when the best innovations come forth. Genuinely scary, psychologically disturbing and downright bloody, every horror theme is played with and examined. Being stuck in time, listening to sounds in the dark, stumbling upon scary dolls or witnessing shadows in the corner are all amongst the things that make your hairs on your arms stand up. I do wish the whole game had this high standard of scare and storytelling throughout.
Graphically it’s a mixed bag. The cut scenes feel a bit last generation with some unrealistic looking characters. The actual park itself does roll with the atmosphere with its broken and run down look. From afar it looks very spooky and at times very effective, but don’t look too close though as things can be a little bit blocky. Again the last section of the game is graphically brilliant, with nice lighting and great effects. The details of the collected bills, pamphlets and notes are really well designed and thought out.
The sound is brilliant. Creepy noises, ghostly fairground music, sudden groans of machinery or glitches are all very familiar but intensely well employed here to great effect. The voiceover work is of a very high standard with some nice work from the lead actress, whose character arc from when we first see her to the end is nicely played. The actual story and writing has a very familiar feel to it and there is nothing you weren’t expecting, but there is most definitely some lovely writing in the monologs and voiceovers.
The running time for The Park is around 90 minutes. You can easily play through in one sitting and still have time to do all those jobs you never get around to do. Personally, I feel this is way too short for both the journey and for the price tag. However, I believe that everything about it is well suited to a virtual reality headset where you can really just experience it all in a very immersive way. Something for the future perhaps?
Overall, The Park is a scary but not overly horrific walk through an interesting story that could have been so much more. But I have enjoyed it and for achievement collectors out there, you’re in for the easiest 1000gs you could ever hope for.