THE PARKTHE MIND CAN BE A SCARY THING
The Park is an interesting game about a trip to an amusement park gone horribly wrong. Single mother Lorraine and her son Callum visit Atlantic Island Park, a local amusement park with a dark history and even darker secret. Following cues from other recent first person immersive experiences like Gone Home, The Park is a one to two hour trippy thrill ride. What started as an experiment for developer Funcom quickly became the title at hand, which is all the more impressive considering budget and time restraints that were present during development. This twisted story is a deep and chilling, albeit brief look into what madness can come about when a mind is pushed to its limits. We all lose something from time to time. It can be something as simple as a phone or a teddy bear, or something more unhinging like a child or your sanity.
After a full day at the park, closing time is here and Lorraine and her son are ready to head home. Realizing his teddy bear is missing, Lorraine gets permission from an employee to go look for it when Callum unexpectedly darts off into the park. Chasing after him quickly becomes one of the most haunting experience of Lorraine’s life. The game is all about how the mind perceives fear and stress, and really plays to that well. Calling out for Callum gives a certain haste and pressure to the situation as you catch glimpses of him running off without you ever really being able to catch up. It is a chilling thought to ever lose a child, let alone not be in control. Funcom exceptionally pulls off this fear, and really unwinds a terrifying look into a broken mind as you progress. Since the game is relatively short, I will not detail the events that have lead up to the mother and son day out, but they certainly were not the happiest of times.
(Intro video here)
Running on Unreal 4, which is the reason the game began as an experiment, The Park looks great in many cases. The character models are by far the weaker looking textures in the title, but not much time is spent looking at people. It is all about the environment which is really well put together. The park’s rides are varied and detailed in their own way, with the animations, paints, and lightings each giving the rides their own character so to speak. The same “mostly good” case follows in the audio as well. The general emptiness of Atlantic Island Park is spooky enough, the howling winds that trace the edges of the park are accurate enough to run a chill down your spine. While the rides hum and whir to immerse you, the actual dialogue Lorraine speaks is sometimes awkward. Her personal insights (progressively triggered audio queues) sound great, both emotionally and in general, her callouts to Callum (which can be activated with a press of the B button on Xbox One) do not always fit the scenario. In any case where the player has the option of activating dialogue at a moment’s notice, a certain awkwardness can occur, but in this case not only is the phrasing sometimes off but the punctuality as well. What I mean by this is that some phrases that should be demanding come off sounding like questions (where “give him back!” sounds like “give him back?”)
The game truly is about storytelling, and it does that pretty well. Whether it is through the aforementioned personal insights of Lorraine or through notes scattered throughout the park, there is a deeply thought out consciousness to the narrative. The notes around the park entice the player as they learn about the troubled history of the park, and further about Lorraine during parts later in the game. My only issue with the notes as that they are incredibly hard to read, and should have had an option to trigger plain text on the screen. As enticing as the story is, when it actually came to a conclusion I was left disappointed. There were too many questions unanswered, and as I still theorize what was presented I am left wanting more closure. I really, really liked the themes at hand and how they weaved multiple notions and metaphorical figures into one narrative, but when it came to a close without wrapping it all up it made me question if they tried to use too much. The final act started so strong, and unfortunately lost its punch in the final moments.
The Park is a great, quick experience that is not without its shortcomings. Though it tells a chilling tale that truly deserves deep interpretation, the end is a bit of a letdown. For players that love the immersive, narrative driven experience The Park is another solid entry in the growing field. For the horror side of it, it gets the job done, but those who watched me play as well as I could have used for some more scares. There were multiple moments where I expected scares that did not come, and that is okay, but it really would have added to the experience. Through and through, the developers know how to tell a story. This is a deep and haunting look into the mind that will leave impressions on the player, both good and bad.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
+A chilling look into mental disease
+Some really high points…
-but also some really low points
-no replay value