Horror games are not usually my cup of tea. I’m way too jumpy for even the slightest jump scares, and the slow methodical nature of most horror games doesn’t really appeal to me. So I’m not entirely sure why I agreed to review The Park, a new psychological horror game from Funcom. Set in the world of Funcom’s MMORPG The Secret World, The Park tells the story of a woman named Lorraine who has lost her son at a theme park. Things go more or less as you’d expect from there, but there are some unusual traits to this game that we should discuss.
The gameplay itself is extremely simple. You move around with the arrow keys, look around with the mouse, and click the left mouse button to examine objects. You can also click the right mouse button to call out for your son, which will give you visual and audible clues about where to go next. That’s about it really; the game is very much narrative-focused, so everything is linear.
Visually, it does a good job of presenting the right kind of atmosphere; even what would normally be bright and child-friendly is presented in a dark and scary way. That said, it isn’t really anything to write home about either. The graphics are serviceable as well, though they’re definitely not something to focus on.
In fact, for a game like this, the most important things to judge are the scares and the narrative. The Park isn’t really a “game” per se; you can’t lose, there are no puzzles to solve, no items to collect, no enemies to avoid, and it only takes a couple of hours to complete if you explore everything. Instead, it’s an interactive narrative meant to scare you. It’s less like Amnesia and more like P.T. In fact, it’s a lot like P.T., to the point that part of it almost seems like a complete rip off. But since P.T. is no more, I can’t really fault Funcom for that.
It’s worth noting also that The Park is not heavy with jump scares; I wouldn’t have been able to get through it if it was. But there are a handful of mild ones, and I think that’s a good thing. There’s been a lot of backlash against jump scares since Five Nights at Freddie’s, but jump scares are important to horror if used correctly.
Jump scares are the only thing that the game can do to affect the player physically, and if there’s nothing that can actually affect me, there’s nothing to be afraid of. The threat of them definitely helped to keep things tense, especially towards the end. That being said, overall it doesn’t do as much to keep things scary as other games in the genre.
The environment of the abandoned theme park did its job well, but since all you’re doing is following a linear path, I think they could have done more with the set pieces. Notably, even with the linear path, it’s sometimes not clear where you need to go. One thing that does help the atmosphere is the aforementioned button for calling out for your son; what you say and how you say it changes as things become more desperate.
There are enough scares, at least, to let the narrative fill everything else out and make the game interesting. Unfortunately, this is going to be hard to discuss without spoilers, but I’ll do my best. The story shown at the beginning has your character Lorraine’s son Callum run into an amusement park after hours, while she asks the ticket taker about his lost teddy bear. But it’s clear early on that there’s really something else happening here.
The backstory is given through occasional bits of narration from Lorraine, but even more so from documents strewn about the park (and beyond). There are really two stories here: the story of the park, and the story of Lorraine. The former is really just hinted at; I’m told that a series of missions in The Secret World flesh it out better. But they give you enough to start with. And besides, the real story is the one about Lorraine and Callum.
This story is told quite well, but oddly, the bulk of it has nothing to do with the titular park. Without spoiling anything else, suffice to say that the way things are revealed in the latter part of The Park is excellent. Things that seem perfectly mundane become very significant if you pay close attention, and the buildup of each piece is almost always well timed out. Some things are still ambiguous at the end, but I at least felt like I had enough pieces to solve the puzzle.
So, while it wasn’t the scariest game, and while I might have liked a bit more explanation, The Park was a very interesting and entertaining few hours. Again, I have to come back to P.T. If that’s your kind of thing, you’ll definitely enjoy The Park. Despite the aforementioned faults, it’s a clever game and it tells a very compelling story about parenthood, responsibility, and perception. But here’s the thing: P.T. was free, and The Park will set you back $13. To me, there isn’t enough replay value for that to be worthwhile for most people. If you’re an aficionado of psychological horror and don’t mind a few shameless ripoffs of other popular horror games (a murderous animal mascot, huh?), it might be worth it for you.
If you missed out on P.T. and want to try something that’s somewhat similar, it might also be worthwhile. If you play The Secret World and want to see that world through a different lens, it’s definitely worthwhile (especially since you’ll get some exclusive equipment for the MMO). For everyone else, though, I’d wait for a price drop. The Park is pretty darn good, and I’m definitely glad I played it, but I don’t think it’s worth the price for most people. There is more effective and more creative horror out there. Still, The Park does a lot of things very very well, so definitely give it a go if you really like what you’ve heard.