“Walking simulator” style games are a first person experience and is a genre that seems to have grown in popularity during recent years. With successful titles like Gone Home, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and most recently Firewatch we are seeing more and more games that have this gameplay approach.
The Park is a game by Funcom and has a psychological horror theme that sees you exploring an abandoned theme park for your son. I have grown to enjoy these types of games over the years as they do a great job of letting you have the freedom to explore whilst guiding you along a subtle path. These types of games are always about the freedom to explore, have minimal controls and are designed as a sort of interactive story. Games like Gone Home have told fantastic stories without having combat or many controls to play with. Also with so many games these days taking huge amounts of time to finish like Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3, its nice to be able to sit down for one or two sittings and be fully absorbed in that experience.
The Park certainly plays in the same way as these popular titles and sees you play as a woman called Lorraine. Lorraine is a single mother whose son Callum runs off into Atlantic Island Theme Park. The game allows you to explore the creepy theme park, discover mysterious clues and delve into Lorraine’s past and her relationship with her son. It’s evidently clear from the start that Lorraine is troubled and things slowly begin to become more clear as the game progresses.
The game is played from a first-person perspective with a strong focus on narrative and environmental storytelling. You don’t have many controls other than moving, using X to interact with objects and O allows you t call out for Callum. Interacting with specific items within the environment is one of the main things you will be doing in the game and doing so triggers moments of dialogue, give interesting details and more backstory. The ability to call out to Callum helps give you clues for which direction to head. The game doesn’t have any puzzles like other games like this and has more of a focus on simple exploration, which may sound boring but the world is well designed, genuinely creepy and kept me absorbed during my playthrough.
I also want to note that there is no combat but you always feel on edge and there is always the sense that you are being watched. The game does a fantastic job of building tension by keeping a slow pace that builds in particularly spooky moments. There is a neat heartbeat effect that happens in scary moments that also make it feel more immersive. The game also uses occasional jumps scares that also keep you on your toes, but these don’t get overused so it feels effective throughout. The park is dark, sparse and genuinely creepy and almost feels like one giant ghost house. Without saying too much the game reaches its climax in an actual haunted house that felt reminiscent of the P.T demo.
Every aspect of the game is designed to build tension and create a particular tone to the experience. I enjoyed how the game starts out with you being driven to find your son but it slowly becomes apparent Lorraine is learning more about herself as she does so. The theme park is clearly run down and abandoned and by reading scattered notes and newspapers you learn that some tragic events have happened here. Lorraine will talk during the game, giving more depth and detail on her relationship with her son. She becomes more distressed as the game moves forward and you begin to learn more about Lorraine as she becomes unsettled and starts to say some quite sinister things.
The game rarely tells you which way to go but it does a great job of using subtle environmental hints through things like lighting to guide you along a particular path. The game has moments that are truly eerie and made me feel uncomfortable. You can even go on various rides that all have bizarre events that take place. For example, I rode the Swans that tell you the story of Hansel and Gretel, which is dark and unsettling. You begin genuinely troubled for Callum’s safety, but it starts to feel like he is playing a game with you as you hear him off in the distance mocking you. Lorraine’s attitude begins to change over the course of the game. She starts out feeling worried like any mother would be but she slowly becomes more frustrated and angry towards her son.
The world feels sparse with the rides spaced out with empty areas in between. I felt that this was a purposeful choice in the overall design as it adds tension when travelling to one area to another. They almost become episodes within the game, and walking from one to the next is a space for Lorraine to give us more insight to her backstory and emotions. The game uses the fact that Lorraine is on her own and allows for her to reveal things about her character due to the situation she is facing. At first I felt a connection to Lorraine and could understand how she was feeling but as the game moves forward you start to see that Lorraine is losing control and there is much more going on than you first thought. I don’t want to give away too much but I enjoyed how the story developed and the depth to Lorraine’s character. The game’s ending is meant to leave you confused and question the whole experience, which might frustrate some players. I enjoyed the ending and thought it provided a climatic experience that was compelling and tense.
I’m sure that I missed a lot in the game, which is both a shame but also gives the game reason to go back and find all of the notes. I would certainly recommend reading as many of the notes and take in as much of the story as possible, as it enriches the experience and gives interesting backstory to the world.
The Park’s presentation is impressive and provides an immersive experience that kept me absorbed throughout the entire duration. Though you can freely explore, the developer has cleverly constructed certain parts of the environment in order to guide you on a path. Lights in the distance guide you and calling out to your son sets an unsettling ominous tone. The game starts out feeling very open but towards the end of the game things become much more confined in the hallways of the creepy house. The constraints are designed to mirror the emotions that Lorraine is experiencing and the frustration that begins to rise. The graphics are fantastic, with beautifully light scenery and the sound design also helps to add tension and exaggerate the scary moments.
I really enjoyed my time playing through The Park, having no prior knowledge about the game. I’m starting to really enjoy these types of games and The Park is a well designed, compact story that delivers an immersive and absorbing experience. The game only took me around an hour and a half to complete, but I’m sure that I missed a few things along the way. I would certainly recommend this game if you want an easy to play, immersive experience that can be completed in one sitting. The game is dark, tense and has some really terrifying moments that keep you on your toes.
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