Non-violent adventures with little interactivity usually in a short format, the so called “walking simulators”, are used more and more by the developers who want to make an interactive story. After Dear Esther, this subgenre gained a lot of popularity, but also a lot of criticism that “it’s not a real game” because there’s usually no real danger for the main character or no way to get stuck. Beside the story, another major attribute of this approach is the atmosphere, and it’s exactly what the Funcom studio made the most of with The Park.
Like a large number of horror movies, this adventure starts in a seemingly cheerful manner – playing as Loraine, you took your son Calum to the amusement park. Colorful, cheerful place where you can have a great time? Oh no, no way, because as soon as you step through the park gates, the true menacing face of this place is revealed, wrapped up in darkness and shadows within which nightmares lurk.
The story changes over time from searching for a child lost in a haunted amusement park to a darker analysis of the human psyche. It also touches some serious subjects, such as depression. Sadly the quality of the written and spoken sentences is so uneven that a certain monologue made us roll our eyes. There is also a certain dose of naivety in it, so there’s a good chance you’ll guess what the final twist is very early on.
Gameplay is more or less what we’d expect from this genre. You’ll walk slowly (veeeeery slowly) trough the park, and occasionally run as well, although the game will often take that possibility away from you; you’ll listen to narration, read various articles dispersed all over the place…. You can press the right mouse button at any time to call for your son (‘Press X to Jason’ from Heavy Rain) which makes interactive objects stand out. Since the game is after all set in an amusement park, you’ll also be able to ride on a few rides, which we’d highly recommend you do if you want to completely absorb the atmosphere. It may questionable why would a woman in a rush to find her son suddenly decide to take a rollercoaster ride, but we won’t hold it against her. The atmosphere is amazing. The ominous feeling of being watched all the time establishes itself quickly. The texts that you’ll read which follow a few disturbing stories about the park and people who used to work there also add a lot to the overall experience. The finale is certainly the most morbid part of the game, but it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth because it’s incomplete.
Considering the subjects it deals with and the world it’s trying to show us, The Park is too short of an experience. Only ninety minutes is enough to visit all locations, try out all the rides, read every article you come across, and maybe even complete all achievements too. The end comes too soon and it doesn’t leave enough space for the game to narratively grow, or for any character development apart from yelling after Calum, of which you will certainly have quite enough of after ten minutes. Locations, however bizarre and aesthetically interesting, are very few and the rest of the game seems like an interactive loading screen between key points. The game itself is based on an MMO title ‘The Secret World’ from which it borrows the Atlantic Island park location, and the game is filled with small references to its ‘older brother’. Being acquainted with this source material isn’t necessary because it’s a separate story, but it will certainly help to understand the potential explanation of the entire adventure.
The Park is a game that only had enough ‘strength’ for one run. Not only because of the awkwardly written scenario or the lack of mystery and suspense throughout the run, but also because you’ll get to see everything there is to the game during its short duration. This is another adventure where the player is mostly a passive observer, with a few interesting ideas that made us want to explore every nook and find out all we can about the universe it’s set in. On a few occasions it reminded us of the movie Babadook and the game PT, but how and why – we’ll leave that up to you to find out if you decide to take a walk in the park yourself.
Author: Bojan Jovanović