The Park taps into some serious psychological horror but fumbles as a game.
Funcom. The company started out making a variety of titles, porting fighting games like Samurai Showdown and Fatal Fury Special before eventually finding its calling with adventure games. This was obvious through The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, two adventure titles which have long been considered some of the best in the genre. Along the way, Funcom chose to prioritize MMORPGs, particularly The Secret World, and faced its fair share of issues along the way.
The Park doesn’t deviate back towards what made Funcom so successful; it’s a spin-off to The Secret World but not one that especially requires knowledge of that game to really appreciate. The Park wants to incite horror as much as it really wants to scare you, and that unevenness in attempt, the length and breadth of its story-telling and the overall presentation stand out, even if everything doesn’t come together for the most compelling video game.
"When setting its atmosphere, The Park is immensely successful. The visuals aren’t the sharpest or most memorable but they do a fine job of creating the impression of a grimy, ethereal amusement park with plenty of secrets (and demons) lurking in its midst."
The story sees Lorraine, a single mother, trying desperately to find her son Callum in the Atlantic Island Park. Things aren’t right obviously – Lorraine is trying to find her son’s toy bear but the park itself is shut down and decidedly abandoned. As you travel through it, attempting to find Callum, you’ll have the ability to travel on the various rides and call out to the boy (just like Heavy Rain’s infamous “Jason!” button but with the added twist of audio-visual manipulations).
Much like Everybody Goes to the Rapture, The Park isn’t concerned with complex puzzles. You don’t pick up a number of objects and manage them throughout the story. The main lore is built through the various newspaper clippings, books, articles and other bits and pieces of information that offer a look into the Atlantic Island Park’s sordid history. Bad things happened in this place but after a point, you begin to wonder how much of it is actually real and how much is a manifestation of Lorraine’s inner demons.
When setting its atmosphere, The Park is immensely successful. The visuals aren’t the sharpest or most memorable but they do a fine job of creating the impression of a grimy, ethereal amusement park with plenty of secrets (and demons) lurking in its midst. The sound design is more successful even if it isn’t too intricately detailed – this simple yet nuanced approach is enough to keep you uneasy, if not on edge, throughout the experience. It will also be Lorraine’s voice acting and narration of her experience that ultimately compels you to discover the truth, despite how uneven it can be at times.
"It’s a lot to take in at times and while it makes for a “horror” game, The Park succeeds more at maintaining a scary atmosphere rather than trying to outright frighten you. That atmosphere is best served when The Park actually grounds itself and presents the all too common and grim realities of living."
And that’s really what describes The Park in the best way possible: Uneven. At times, it feels less like an actual game and more like a dark fairy tale, inciting the many works of H.P. Lovecraft (watch out for the odd references to Cthulhu and the Dunwich Horror. There’s even a reference to Nightmare Circus, a Genesis title made by Funcom in 1996). Jump scares dot the creepy atmosphere without really inspiring any fright. A long boat ride with silhouettes and a narration of Hansel and Gretel – which plays a big part of the story – is equal parts foreboding and protracted. The one most memorable moment of fright was heaving the word “Boo” in a dark hallway and turning around to see no one there.
Demented creatures, like The Boogy Man (a Babadook-like creature which makes the overall treatment of the story feel even more like a callback to that film) and Chad the Chipmunk interspersed with tales of mass murder, depression, psychological illness and a rapidly deteriorating faith in humanity add to that ambiance. In an odd twist, the most memorable sequence of the game plays tribute to Kojima Productions’ P.T., with the very climax’s breaking down of Lorraine’s psyche very reminiscent of Silent Hill. It’s honestly a very well handled tribute to P.T. without blatantly copying it but it then segues into what many may look at as an un-fulfilling ending.
It’s a lot to take in at times and while it makes for a “horror” game, The Park succeeds more at maintaining a scary atmosphere rather than trying to outright frighten you. That atmosphere is best served when The Park actually grounds itself and presents the all too common and grim realities of living.
"At the end of the day, The Park is a clever little experiment, one that has patches of brilliance hidden within the overarching indecisiveness of its horror."
The experience itself has a lot to say about our responsibilities, the pressures that society forces on us, the effects of a terrible upbringing and our efforts to numb the pain, even if it means losing everything we hold dear. Lorraine isn’t supposed to be perfect and the faults within her character almost mirror the various missteps in The Park. There’s an overall lack of polish throughout the adventure and it doesn’t last very long – erstwhile gamers can easily finish it in less than two hours and there’s very little incentive to return once the story is finished. Because really, where do you go from here?
The Park isn’t a terrible experience by any means – if it were any cheaper, it would be worth playing through at least once, just for the story. At the end of the day, it’s a clever little experiment, one that has patches of brilliance hidden within the overarching indecisiveness of its horror. This isn’t exactly what one would expect from Funcom and honestly, given the developer’s pedigree, it’s certainly capable of a far superior experience. Look into The Park if your curiosity is genuinely piqued but don’t expect too much of a memorable visit.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Creepy atmosphere and intriguing story. Unique narration tools and an unorthodox approach as an adventure/horror/walking sim game goes. Tribute to P.T. is very good and worth watching separately. Strong sound direction and voice acting.
Not as effective with the outright scares; overall, The Park seems at odds with the kind of horror title it wants to be. Ending may leave some players wanting. Quite short, especially considering its asking price. Visuals aren't anything extraordinary. Uneven pacing at times, especially in the beginning.
As a game, The Park's story doesn't feel fully formed - like a building crescendo that suddenly stops. That's not including the unevenness of its plot, average visuals and ho-hum frights. The Park isn't the renaissance of Funcom's adventuring prowess - it's a short, twisted, grimy tale that picks apart the human psyche and its failings. If only it had been so much more.