Take a trip to your local game store and the shelves are full of shooters, sports and adventure titles – the market is well and truly saturated – so when a title like The Park comes along I couldn’t help but sit up and take notice.
The Park is a psychological horror game that makes no excuses for its two-hour campaign. At its dark heart is exploration and storytelling rather than combat, and why not? Outlast managed to execute this perfectly. So what has this sinister looking theme park got up its sleeve? After all, amusement parks are happy places…
You play as Lorraine, a mother who after a trip to Atlantic Island Park with her son Callum has returned to the park entrance to enquire about her son’s lost teddy bear. Instead of waiting in the car as instructed, Callum charges off into the park, which is closing for the day. As you chase after him something weird, and possibly supernatural, sweeps over the park as night suddenly sets in.
As you explore, you can take a ride on each of the amusements and as expected, things get a bit weird during each ride, and I don’t mean getting funny in the tummy because it goes round fast. The rides, which make you sit through their entirety, are a moment of solace for Lorraine as she recaps her terrible story. Each one ends with an eerie vision, which will twist your perception of what’s happening. While enjoyable, the rides seem like an odd decision to include – I’m looking for my son who has run off, I’ll just play on each ride I come across then some spooky shit happens – to begin with, the rides don’t sit well with the story, only after a second playthrough did I understand their inclusion.
As you make your way around the park, in what feels like a guided tour, various newspaper clippings, objects and notes are left for you to find – like breadcrumbs from the tale of Hansel and Gretel – these help fill in the wider story about The Park and the various unhappy moments in its history. Most of these are rather small to read and I had to (unwillingly) get closer to the screen.
The Park is best experienced at night, with no lights on and a good pair of headphones cranked up to the max. This will ensure one or two jumps, followed by a wave of embarrassment that Funcom got one over you and made you jump at something quite trivial. This is down to some excellent sound design. The music will penetrate your soul and by the game’s climax, I was feeling as distressed and tired as the angry shouts of Lorraine as she calls in vain for her son to return.
The Park never outstays its welcome and tells a superb narrative before throwing you into the chilling climax of the game. There’s a lot more to the story than you may initially think and its conclusion is open to interpretation as to what happened to Callum and whether the events within the Park ever existed. This may agitate some gamers who are expecting a neatly wrapped up finale. Postnatal depression, bereavement and the struggles of parenthood are just some of the things I picked up on during my two-hour playthrough. 24 hours after finishing the game I was still trying to unravel the events and meaning of the game, a second playthrough is certainly needed.
Best experienced in one sitting, The Park is a fantastic experiential game and something that I’d love to play in VR. Those of you that are parents will feel that much more for the main character than maybe those without kids, and while short, I really enjoyed my walk in The Park.