Funcom‘s psychological horror exploration game The Park provides a chilling atmosphere with enough jump scares to stay awake on Halloween.
The Park (PC)
(Norway 2015, developer/publisher: Funcom, platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Loraine, single mother and widow, is looking for her son Callum who has gone missing in closed-down Atlantic Island Park and discovers the dark secrets of the amusement park and herself.
Come right up and I’ll tell you a scary story
The setting of an amusement park might have been used in a few games, e.g. Silent Hill 3, but it still feels fresh and exciting to traverse something fairy-tale like that is usually associated with joy and laughter and is now replaced with tragic stories and something much more sinister. Most of the background story of both the park and Loraine’ family history are slowly revealed, either through newspaper articles, letters, reports, or monologues. While there are some supernatural elements, the story is much more grounded in reality, dealing with everyday life, especially with motherhood, but also depression. The game does a great job of building suspense and creating intrigue by providing just enough information to make the player connect the missing pieces of past events.
Don’t be frightened, don’t be scared, just enjoy the ride
The creepiness is turned up a notch the first time one gets on a theme park ride, as there’s always something unexpected happening. Anyone who dislikes jump scares will have a hard time coping with some of the horror elements. This is very reminiscent of Layers of Fear or Layers of Fear: Inheritance, especially with the way how the game warps one’s perception of reality. One can criticize the game for its lack of subtlety in these scenes that don’t seem to have a connection to the story and simply feel like a never-ending ghost train ride. This is taken to extremes at the end, as going through the same room and looking at the same things again and again only to find out something has changed, can only be endured for so long. Despite being only two hours long, there are certainly some sequences that could have been shorter. This becomes a problem with the autosave function being the only way to reload a game, so that one has to replay a rather long section.
The gameplay can be considered rather shallow and serves as the perfect example of why some people have prejudices against “walking simulators”, because the experience is very linear and there are simply no puzzles to solve, except to trigger certain events by going in the right direction and picking something up along the way. One is barely lost, with the only paths closed to the player who accidently goes a bit too far to explore. Of course this type of gameplay has the advantage to tell a story with environmental clues and make the player part of it without using any survival horror stealth or combat sequences. If this sounds rather boring, then it depends how much one wants to immerse oneself and how much one cares for the main character, as there isn’t anyone else around or anything else to do. The pacing can become a problem, though, because there’s only so much a player can take with the environment constantly changing and things bumping in the dark.
Taking in the sights and sounds
Graphically, the game isn’t a AAA quality-looking title, especially when it comes to textures. However, the use of lighting and the generally detailed attractions make up for of its minor deficiencies. There are some nice effects with fog in the distance or some water puddle reflections, but one certainly doesn’t play it for being amazed by its visuals. The art design fits the individual rides and there are definitely some nice vistas, but it’s not necessarily screenshot-capturing material as with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter that offered a much more impressive scenery. The real star of the scare-jump and sometimes subtle horror show is the sound design. In addition to some very good voice acting and nice music, the use of silence and sudden creepy noises add to the tense atmosphere, something that becomes heart-stoppingly clear in a house of horror segment.
A short trip down psychological hell
The Park is the perfect example of a buy-into-it or leave-it product. Either one finds the setting and storytelling intriguing, the atmosphere tense, and the jumpscares frightening, or one mourns the lack of interaction and puzzles and considers the game a shallow experience that is over too soon. However, taking into account that it works without any typical survival horror elements and still manages to be creepy and disturbing enough to make even the most hardened horror fan jump, then it’s definitely a success, one that might not stay very long in one’s mind, but one that still offers more thrills than many ghost rides in a real amusement park, while also saying something about human relationships, love, and some darker human emotions that are worth talking about.