I’m a huge fan of horror games. That’s no secret. I also really like the so-called “walking simulators” that are all the rage these days. Some don’t like that term, but, it’s not like it’s wrong. Fine – “First Person Experience” games. Better? Whatever you want to call them, putting horror – psychological or otherwise – into the mix is a surefire way to get me to be interested in your game. The Park certainly does both.
If you didn’t know, and I didn’t, The Park is a spin-off of the MMO from Funcom called The Secret World. Now, you don’t need to have played or know anything about that game to be able to enjoy this. If you do, you’ll get a bit more out of it, but otherwise, you can play this without issue. Kind of. I’ll explain a bit later.
The story of The Park sees the player take control of Lorraine, mother of Callum, in Atlantic Island Park, a place that has special meaning to them. At the outset, the pair are about to be on their way home; it’s the end of the day and the park is closed, but Callum loses his teddy bear somewhere in the amusement park and runs in to find him. Your job, is to run in and find your son. A task that’s not going to be easy. A task that’s going to be much more sinister than Lorraine expected. You see, Lorraine is a mother with a certain, shaky past. Psychologically she isn’t the greatest. Throughout the search for her boy, you see and hear the reasons for this, and it puts much of her attitude into perspective. She’s struggling. With life, with family, with everything.
The tale is set over 30 years ago, and in a park which has a dark past, stemming from before it was even built. Once it’s up and running, the wickedness continued. When we gain control, it’s still light out, but the sun is setting fast. As we get into the park proper, you’re betrayed by the star and the darkness breeds Lorraine’s inability to cope with her surroundings. Add in the fact that her son is missing, and her night just got a hell of a lot worse. Because the game is a major story and plot heavy experience, I’m not going to get too much further in to it than this. I don’t want to spoil any more than needs to be. The gist is, Lorraine is mentally messed up, and the park is messed up, too. Throw in a missing son, and you have yourself a narrative.
Moving on to the game play, one interesting thing that one would hope is a feature would be to ride on some of the attractions in the amusement park. I can confirm we definitely get to do that here. In fact, I would highly recommend riding as many as you can, especially if you want to get the full breadth of the story. You may not like what you find out, but you’ll be better equipped to understand how everything unfolds later. The same goes for exploring and reading every note or interacting with every item the game allows. The more you see, the more you know. And, if you’re a fan of pressing a button to shout for your son (Jason?), this game gives you that. But, it’s not a bad thing like some other games (Shaun?). It works really well here, and even has game play relevance to not only get audible cues, but also gives you a visual one, too.
Graphically, the game isn’t going to melt your eyes, but honestly, it doesn’t look half bad, either. I really liked the way the atmosphere and mood was set with how everything looked and felt. If Funcom was going for spooky, they really nailed it. Another place they nailed it is in the voice acting. Lorraine and the small supporting cast do a wonderful job expressing themselves in a clear and powerful way to keep you on your toes. And musically it’s not too shabby, either. I don’t think I’ll be scouring the internet looking for a soundtrack CD (mostly because I doubt one exists), but what we got here held the tone well.
While on the subject of sound, I want to branch off to talk about the “status effects” our heroine suffers through. The panic and assumed paranoia Lorraine exhibits regularly throughout the night is done really well. Visually and with the acting. It also doesn’t hurt that the great Xbox One controller’s rumble triggers are on full display here. It puts the tension not only on-screen, but in your hands. It was a really nice feature. Another nice feature is one that I know a lot of people moan about in FPS games: being able to see the player’s feet or not. Well, I can confirm here that you not only see your feet, but the rest of your body, too. And it may or may not be in the game for specific reasons. Again, make sure to explore and ride some rides, huh?
So with those good areas in The Park, there are unfortunately some bad ones, too. Firstly, you get a lot of the overall back story for the characters and history of the park through notes and things you pick up to read. Great, I have no issues with that, but what I do take issue with is that most of the notes you find are really tough to read. The font is either too small or too stylized to be able to see well. I was able to struggle and make things out, but my girlfriend couldn’t read a thing, even with her contacts in. I would have loved the chance to have a zoom in and out feature.
Moving on to the atmosphere, which I said I was a fan of, there were a lot of missed opportunities in my opinion. There are a few good jump scares littered throughout the park, but honestly, there was so much left on the table that I was back seat developing the whole time. I mean, you could have used the same tactics you already employ in the game more, but sadly they apparently weren’t meant to be. Don’t get me wrong, the scares the game has got me every time, but there were so many areas to improve on this, or add in a scare, or put a creepy scene in that go unused it was borderline hurting me. I’m exaggerating a bit, but hopefully you get my point. This is most egregious in the horror genre staple of the amusement park’s haunted house. So many missed opportunities here. You’ll see what I mean should you venture inside.
And the toughest critique I think I have in me is with the story. Sometimes I knew where the story was going, but sometimes, I felt completely lost, because it was almost like some beats of information were walking all over each other. I’d be following along, secure in my thoughts, and then it suddenly gets confusing. And, since the game is really short (1 to 2 hours), even if you explore the entire park, much of the confusion gets dumped on you in the final act. I’d love the developers to expand on the story and explain it a bit clearer somewhere or somehow, because I am very intrigued by what we get. It’s just that by the end, it’s so muddled that it ends up feeling uneven. The story seems to lead you in one direction then sends you in another, even with collecting every bit of info you can. Just when you are starting to grasp the situation, the wheels fall off and the game ends. A shame, because I really got into the back story of the park and Lorraine. Though…
It’s possible that certain characters and artwork likely gets a better understanding if you know and/or play The Secret World MMO game. I got the sense that the park owner is a much bigger presence in that world than what the game gives us. The same goes with his motivations and the “boogeyman” you may already know from the game’s artwork. It’s not a huge gripe, but, I did feel lost on occasion when it came to those characters. Not completely or even hugely, but enough in some way to feel bummed. (UPDATE: A friend who plays the MMO and has beaten this game confirms my thoughts and agrees you get much more enjoyment – and the fate of Lorraine and Callum – by knowing both. The park’s owner and overall motivations are much more fleshed out there. Take that for what you will, and even knowing this, my final score still stands.)
One final point I want to bring up is the Achievements. The full 1000/1000 (and 100% for the Trophies on PS4) can be achieved in a single play through if you’re vigilant enough. However, 4 or 5 did not unlock until my second play through. Now, I know what you may be thinking, I didn’t do what was needed. Well, unfortunately, you’d be wrong, because almost every one I missed is one you can’t miss if you beat the game. So, hopefully this doesn’t happen to anyone else, but, were it to happen, at least you won’t lose days of your life trying to complete it a second time.
At the end of the day, The Park has some really nice set pieces going for it. The mood it’s looking for mostly achieves, and the voice work really hits the nail right on the head. The way the game moves isn’t a chore like so many other First Person Experience games tend to be. It does some things right, just not all of them. But, all that said, even with the negatives, I did enjoy myself. Including the second time through, even though the game doesn’t necessarily warrant one and I was only doing it to see if the Achievements were bugged completely. I would love to see a follow-up to this game by these guys. It doesn’t have to be tied to this series, but something in this vein, but hopefully longer. I know that this was a project bred from a specific want from the studio and then determined to be worthy of a full product, so I imagine getting to do something else with the knowledge gained would be much more impressive, because the groundwork to another future success has been laid here. If your expectations are in order, taking a trip to Atlantic Island Park may not be such a scary proposition after all.
The Park is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC for $12.99. A code was provided by Funcom for the purpose of this review.