I’m willing to give just about any horror game that is released a shot. It very rarely works out and I’m often thankful my laptop struggles with anything more complicated than running Facebook (something it still isn’t terrific at) because the sheer amount of mediocre to poor horror games released on PC seems staggering. I know that reviews be damned I would play them all anyway, so perhaps my plan to buy a decently functional PC should be put on hold.
Every now and then though, you find a good one. One that you went in expecting nothing from, but that went on to deliver in some way or another. Whether that’s a well-told story, creepy atmosphere, some solid scares or ideally all of the above, sometimes it’s worth wading through all the gunk and mud to finally strike gold.
This all seems like it should be leading to the reveal that The Park is one of those rare exceptions. It’s not. No, no The Park is actually not very good. Plot twist!
We begin with single-mother Lorraine chasing her seemingly a bit of an asshole son Callum into the Atlantic Island Park amusement park after it has closed for the day. The park is abandoned and there’s this boogeyman guy running all the rides and occasionally a jump scare happens. Anyway, Lorraine chases Callum through the park, all the while internal monologuing about him, herself and her situation. Some plot twists happen. That’s The Park.
The Park falls into a category of games that many have dubbed as “walking simulators” where you traverse an environment, watching a set narrative unfold and do not face the risk of dying or failing as there is not any combat involved. Your actions don’t go far beyond roaming around and interacting with the occasional object. There’s a lot of negativity surrounding this type of game, and I haven’t played what seems to be the grand-daddy of them all, Gone Home, but I’ve played a few similar titles and enjoyed them. Last year’s Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture was an enjoyable experience and I was way into Firewatch earlier this year. If the narrative is well presented (Rapture), there are memorable characters (Firewatch) or a great sense of atmosphere then I don’t mind spending a few hours just roaming around inside your game. The Park occasionally gets close to succeeding in one of these categories, but never quite pulls it off.
My biggest issues do lie with the story and the characters. There are some interesting elements to Lorraine’s relationship with Callum as you start to find out more about her background and how maybe she isn’t all that psyched about being a mom. The problem is that I found it all to be very rushed. This is an incredibly short game (I took me just over an hour to get through the whole thing, and I feel I did a decent amount of exploring as I only missed 2 trophies) and Lorraine seems to change her tone and demeanor at random with no sense of build-up. She’ll go from concerned to angry to concerned to sad and there’s no real sense of flow to the whole thing. There are some interesting revelations to be had in the back half of the story, but I was not invested in her character enough to be fully satisfied with any of them.
The other big issue is that, aside from a few small moments, the game isn’t all that scary. The empty/haunted amusement park setting should easily lend itself to a consistently frightening atmosphere, but I never found the game took full advantage of this promising setting. Some of the notes you find do help provide some backstory to the park and that mascot dude is pretty creepy, but mostly you’re just wandering around an empty park with nothing scary happening.
You are able to hop on the rides around the park, which is an odd thing for a mom in pursuit of her son to do inside of a haunted park but hey why not? The rides are well presented but once again, uneventful. The swan ride leads to a good moment and the roller coaster has some effective presentation tricks, but for most of the others you sit on the ride and listen to Lorraine speak with maybe one spooky moment happening at the end (one of which I almost didn’t catch). Eventually you enter the haunted house and the whole thing devolves into a PT clone, only not nearly as good.
The Park has a handful of effective tricks up its sleeve and a decent story to tell, but fumbles in its execution. It’s not very frightening and the story feels rushed, with spotty voice acting not helping matters. It’s maybe worth a run through since the short length doesn’t require much of a time commitment, but there are other, better games worthy of your attention.