The Park is a first-person, psychological thriller. I wouldn’t classify it as a game, as you can’t actually lose. It’s more an interactive 3D experience, set in an amusement park, which you walk from start to finish, exploring and interacting with rides, objects and documents on the way. As you make your way through, you discover more and more of the amusement park’s dark secrets.
The park is a mixture of two narratives: there is the story of the mother who’s lost her son and is exploring the park searching for him and then there is the story of the park itself and all the murders, accidents and sinister events goings on. The emphasis is on the mother’s story and I actually feel this is a mistake. I found the idea of a haunted/ cursed amusement park far more interesting and creepy than the story of the mother and her battle with mental health issues. In fact, I felt at times that the narrative of the mother got in the way of the tension and atmosphere, rather than accentuated it.
For me, the main character became annoying pretty quickly and as such, I found I lacked empathy for her. As the game is centered around her, along with all the events that happen in it, her character really needed to connect to the player. For me, she didn’t, and so any threat and tension which the game tried to raise through her character, failed to make an impact.
As you explore, you’ll find there’s a lot of optional back story contained in documents and articles. This, for me, was the meat of the story, detailing murders, accidents and the life and history of the amusement park owner. It’s a real shame that this side of the story was relegated to the optional content, as it’s easily missed leaving only the weaker narrative of the mother to hold the game together, should you fail to read it.
What makes this game for me is the haunting atmosphere of the run down theme park. The graphics are really good and it does look every inch a horror game with the rusty, sinister looking rides. The lighting is used to really good effect. Both as a way of guiding the player from place of interest to place of interest, and to create a dark and brooding atmosphere. I found the visuals of the game to be really quite beautiful in places, and I enjoyed exploring the different areas of the park. The environment isn’t massive with the game only lasting one to two hours but the attention to detail is exquisite and gives the setting an authentic feel.
As I mentioned before there isn’t really much in the way of game play. There is no combat, no health bar and no way of failing the game. This, for me, is another reason why the tension falls flat. Horror movies work because the audience is trapped watching a scenario play out before their eyes, over which they have no control. A character walks towards a dark corner around which, the audience knows, a killer lies in wait, but they’re left helpless as the scenario plays out and can only pray their hero/ heroine can somehow fight the predator off. This kind of tension doesn’t work in The Park as the audience has control of the character and can choose where they go.
Horror games, like Silent Hill for example, work a different way. The player is dropped into an environment crawling with mutated and undead threats and given a limited arsenal of weapons with which to defend themselves. The tension here works in a completely different way to a horror movie as the tension centres on survival instinct. You know there are enemies lurking around you, waiting to pounce, you know you have limited ammo and can only take so much damage. This also doesn’t work in The Park as there is no health bar and no way to lose or die in the game. I discovered pretty quickly that the character was invulnerable, which left all the threats thrown at her laughable rather than jumpy.
Now, I don’t think the game needs a combat system. It’s not that kind of game, and I don’t think it needs to be that kind of game to achieve what it’s set out to do. All it really needs is some quick time events. There are plenty of places in the game where quick time events could have been effectively implemented. In fact, a number of the cut-scenes just scream out for one. I feel this is a real missed opportunity. Quick time events would have left the player feeling more vulnerable and more at the mercy of the vindictive amusement park through which they are walking. As it is, the park is left more like that tiny barking dog down the street that tries so hard to look intimidating and dangerous yet is clearly completely harmless because when the gate is left open, it just stands there barking at you incessantly.
Overall, The Park is a beautiful and haunting looking game. I really love the environments and the look of the game. I think it’s a real shame that the narrative and the immersion factor lets the game down. I can see the amount of effort and dedication that’s gone into this game and I really, really wanted it to scare and disturb me! Unfortunately, it didn’t. While I really admire what the game set out to do, a number of areas let it down.
If you want a game which thrills and scares you then this isn’t the one for you, as in all likelihood it will fail to deliver. However, I still enjoyed exploring the park setting and reading the documents and discovering the park’s history. For me, it’s the atmosphere and beauty of the game that are its main strengths and if asked the question ‘do you regret your purchase?’ I would say no. The game isn’t what I expected and to discover its real potential, you need to take the time to read the documents scattered throughout the game. It’s a game that’s all about enjoying the journey and not rushing towards the destination. If you can do that then you will get your money’s worth. If not then it’s not the game for you.
Clever use of lighting
Great attention to detail
A good back story to uncover through finding documents
Not actually scary or disturbing
Lacks immersion and interactivity
Main character becomes quickly annoying
Main narrative doesn’t do the game justice
It’s short with no replay value