I first saw this game as a video on Jim Sterling's channel, a rather flowery-dialogued walking simulator that managed to burn away any goodwill I - or anyone watching, I think - had for it when it subjected us all to a five minute long retelling of Hansel and Gretel. While on a slow boat ride. That wasn't fun. But I looked up the whole thing anyhow, because before that point, it had seemed almost sort of interesting.
Also, because I foolishly committed to doing a Spooky Halloween Week despite the fact that I don't watch horror films and I haven't played a proper horror game in ages.
Created by Funcom and set in the universe of Ragnar Tornquist's urban horror-fantasy MMO The Secret World, The Park follows Lorraine, a young mother who has lost her child in a sprawling amusement park. As she searches for him, she begins to suffer from hallucinations, and starts seeing strange and sinister figures around the park, culminating in her entering the haunted house at the centre of the park.
|Oh, wow, it's a scary skinny person in a top hat, not seen that before.|
The hour long game starts off with a warning that the game will 'mess with your sanity', which is probably the quickest way to sour me to a horror game, because if you feel like you have to inform me in advance that I'm meant to be scared, then your game probably isn't all that scary. That's a pretty apt way to feel about this game, it turns out, because whatever this game is, it's not scary.
The game tries. Gosh, does it try - the first real attempt to scare you involves a wooden swan swiveling its head around like it's auditioning for The Exorcist, but the scare is completely ruined both by the fact that a) That's silly, and b) Moments afterwards it just swivels its head away again, giving the impression less of supernatural forces and more of a very judgmental swan boat.
Later scares, involving violent hallucinations of impending doom and brief glimpses of a looming figure, were a little more effective, but only a little. Whether it was because I was just annoyed with the game at that point, or whether it was because I'd seen all of the game's scares done before in better games, they only managed to rouse a mild 'well, I guess that's creepy' reaction out of me. I scare really easily, incidentally. I never finished Silent Hill 2 myself because it scared me that much, that's how easily I scare.
|'Children love teeth,' - the designers of this park, probably.|
Technically, it is a pretty game, mostly. The game's graphics fall down hard whenever it has to render people, which isn't often - just enough to remind you that yes, yes, you didn't misremember the people looking like figures from a waxwork exhibition titled Fashion of the Early 90s - but the landscapes are actually really gorgeous by the standards of a small, not-quite-indie horror game. The aesthetic of the run-down amusement park, which has been a horror classic since amusement parks first existed, has been perfectly captured here, with just the right mix of bright colours and grime.
The music is also fine, and while the voice acting starts off as more than a little uninspiring, Lorraine's voice actor really comes into her own later in the game, when she's given fewer flowery monologues about how magical and lovely the park is and more meaty stuff about her own life. The writing of that dialogue most certainly starts off extremely weak, with the Hansel and Gretel sequence probably in the running for some kind of prize for most boring sequence in a video game of the past decade, but it does improve as time goes on. It's never brilliant, and nobody is going to come away from this game going 'Man, that was such a well-written, deep story', but it's engaging enough.
In terms of gameplay, it's a walking simulator. It's not even trying to be anything else, I think, it's just a walking simulator - you walk, pick things up (but you don't have an inventory or anything), read stuff, and occasionally go on a ride. That's it. That's the game. It's not exactly thrilling stuff, and even for a short game, it starts to wear out its welcome towards the end.
|You can't see, but she's wearing those high-rise jeans that went out of fashion|
The game ends on a rather confusing note. It all builds up in that tired old way that walking simulators do, hinting at an obvious Dark Secret in the protagonist's past (and it's always obvious what it is - in this game, it's obvious that it involves killing her child, after accidentally or on purpose), and eventually culminates in Lorraine stabbing her son through the heart, only to then seemingly reveal that it had all been in her head? Just something she was absently pondering?
This is set in the universe of The Secret World, as mentioned before, and the park does apparently show up in that game and is apparently haunted by actual ghosts, so there's room for some kind of supernatural meddling afoot, but the ending still left me baffled, and not in a good way. It reeked of the developers going 'Oooh, it's up for interpretation' - and don't get me wrong, I adore stories where there's an enduring mystery at the end, where you can interpret for yourself what really happened and discuss it with other people, but there's a fine line to walk as far as still making that satisfying goes, and The Park missed that line by a country mile.
If you enjoy The Secret World, or you really enjoy horror, then maybe consider picking up this game? It's priced far too high for the length or quality of the product you're getting, so I cannot and will not give it a recommendation, but browse the description, maybe.