REVIEW: The Park

The Park
Developer: Funcom
Publisher: Funcom
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Price: $12.99

As we inch closer and closer to Halloween, my thirst for horror games has become nearly unquenchable. Today I decided to soothe the savage beast and dive in to a game that’s been in my backlog for a bit, having picked it up during a PSN sale a few weeks ago.

In The Park, you control a mother wandering an amusement park in search of her missing son. You arrive at your car only to realize he’s lost his favorite stuffed animal somewhere inside, and being the loving mother that you are, you decide to head back in to have a look around. Your son, being the irresponsible asshole that he is, decides to dart in by himself instead.

As you chase after him, all hell breaks loose and the once thriving Atlantic Island Park begins to resemble a rusty trash heap that time has long forgotten.

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The Park is very, very light in the gameplay department. In fact, there’s nothing to really do in the game aside from wander the park, interact with its run down rides, and track down a handful of lore items that uncover the park’s sordid past — a guy in a chipmunk suit making ice sculptures and murdering a few teenagers had my attention, of course.

It’s what the internet would derogatorily refer to as a walking simulator, which is a term I loathe with every fiber of my being. The Park is a first-person narrative horror experience; simple as that.

There’s a lot of creepy imagery and environments to take in, but the park itself suffers from a tremendous amount of pop-in and poor textures that do a great job killing the immersion and breaking whatever tension the previous jump scare managed to build. Usually none.

Graphically, the game suffers from poor character models and drab environments, though the final moments do break away from the “spooky theme park” cliche and draw inspiration from the likes of P.T.’s never-ending hallway gimmick.

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Honestly, that entire portion of the game felt like a heartless rip-off, rather than an inspirational tip of the hat to its obvious source material. It’s as if the developers played P.T. and said to themselves “oh, this worked out great and people seemed to love it, so let’s just do that too,” which made the entire scene feel completely uninspired. It would have been one thing to loop the same hallway three, maybe four times, but like the un-skippable swan ride in the beginning that actually had me setting my controller down and checking Twitter on my tablet, it overstayed its welcome tenfold when I just wanted it to be over as fast as possible.

The story is fairly interesting though, as the mother becomes increasingly hysterical over the course of the game’s nearly two-hour run time. Her ever-decreasing sanity is made more believable thanks to some stellar voice acting on behalf of Fryda Wolff, whom you may know as Poison Ivy in the DC Super Friends series, or Mira from Killer Instinct.

I did appreciate piecing together Atlantic Island Park’s history, as well as Lorraine’s own dark secrets, via found photos and letters scattered about the grounds, but the simple act of reading them was anything but enjoyable due to the frustratingly small font size used in the documentation. When you have a 42″ HDTV and find yourself frequently sitting up to squint at walls of text while sitting six feet away, there’s a problem.

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The Park is extremely linear, so I never had to travel off the beaten path for anything. Like the story of Hansel and Gretel that you’re forced to endure in the aforementioned swan ride (I can’t emphasize how agonizingly dull that part is), The Park leaves a you trail of breadcrumbs in the form of these lore collectibles that require little effort on your part to find. In fact, I ended up getting 100% of the trophies on my very first playthrough, which, again, lasted just under two hours — without a guide, no less.

There were a few interesting scares here and there, mostly of the cheap jump variety, but those looking for something horrifying to play in the dark will no doubt be disappointed by The Park’s slow, repetitive gameplay hook, and eyeroll-worthy finale that I could smell a mile away.

Despite having a handful of good ideas and a lot of potential (an abandoned amusement park practically writes itself, doesn’t it?), The Park is just an average horror game that ultimately fails to gain traction. It’s never fun, per se, due to its lack of player interactivity, and the final act, while being the most interesting, suffers from a major identity crisis that had me groaning in the palms of my hands until the credits rolled.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money.

Full disclosure: This review was done using a PlayStation 4 copy of The Park that I purchased myself. While I’m sometimes given games to review, I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant.

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17 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Park

  1. I’m curious if “walking simulation” is how Dear Esther would be described. I’m guessing in The Park you don’t fight/dodge enemies; it’s similar to DE in that going to certain spots triggers more of the story line? Dear Esther is one of my favorite games (I really need to watch/play Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture) definitely in the top 10 (maybe top 5) so I’m interested in any others that have a similar mien.

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    1. Yeah, any game where there’s no risk of death or combat or anything and it’s mainly an interactive narrative experience is derogatorily referred to as a walking simulator.

      Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was pretty good. The Park is similar, where going to certain places in the park triggers lore scenes, but it’s just uninteresting and somehow overstays its welcome when it’s less than 2 hours long.

      Alone With You is another great narrative game that just came out. I think it’s $10 on PS4 and Vita, and it’s about a lone survivor of a terraforming space colony who all perish from a nasty storm. You have to work with the colony’s AI to salvage parts and uncover what happened to the rest of the crew, but whats really interesting is the AI uses the memories of four prominent members and rebuilds them as sentient holograms. Lots of neat stories to uncover and places to explore, and it has this rad retro Sierra adventure game pixel aesthetic.

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      1. I’m adding Alone With You to my list then. I had an extremely high opinion of Dear Esther, and I remember reading debates about whether or not it was a game. I’ve been wanting to write a review of it for a while now, but I just haven’t had the time since it would be pretty in depth. I see where the “not a game” people are coming from, but I still think it counts as one.

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      2. The whole is or isn’t it a game debate is so stupid. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but to devalue it because it doesn’t have all of the game-y stuff you’re used to is really just ignorant.

        Dear Esther looks great and I saw they’re finally releasing it on PS4 later this month with commentary, so I’ll definitely grab it.

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      3. I was JUST talking about something similar in my latest blog post. I’ve played games that just aren’t my style. I’m not really a FPS fan, but I’m not going to knock the genre or ridicule people who play it. I also wouldn’t be someone who’d rate an FPS game since it’s not my cup of tea so it really wouldn’t be a fair rating. I was talking about this with books that aren’t necessarily bad, but just don’t grab me. Just because it’s not your style doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile/valuable.

        I’d love to hear you take on DE! There are so many interpretations. I’m…actually a little obsessed with it hehe. I’ve recorded myself reading my favorite monologues from it more times than I’d care to admit, and I have the wiki page saved in my favorites. It’s one of those highly up for interpretation games, and I’m a sucker for those.

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      4. I’ve probably reviewed nearly 200 games in the last 2-3 years, and while (of course) I like spending time playing games in genres I enjoy, I also like tackling things that take me out of my comfort zone. Though, I admit, I wouldn’t be interested in reading a review for a racing game if the reviewer doesn’t like the genre (neither do I, lol), because I assume they already have an immediate bias.

        To your comment, my best example would be The Road. It’s a book that many consider one of the best of all time, but I can’t stand the way it’s written. I’ve tried to read it before and I just can’t finish it.

        I’m sure I’ll review Dear Esther once it’s out =).

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      5. I couldn’t get through it either so you’re not the only one. I’m VERY picky about writing style though, which is why I’m careful with how I review. If it’s just not my style I’ll say that without giving a star rating. I may be alienating myself, but my husband has tried to get me to read Dune, and I couldn’t get into the style of that either. I’m going to try again at some point. I’m more of a fantasy reader/writer (though I’m starting to get more into sci-fi) and that tends to have a different flair to it.

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      6. I actually picked up a nice hardcover copy of the original Dune, but I have yet to read it. It’s daunting, haha. I’ve always wanted to read it though, so it’s near the top of my list. That and The Stand.

        I like horror and sci-fi, but I really like fantasy too — though I admit I haven’t read much lately.

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      7. My husband got it for me for Christmas one year, and I attempted a read. I really do want to read it, but I have such trouble with the writing style.

        I’m getting more into horror since I’m such a wuss puss hehe, because it’s one of the genres I want to write. I already love and write dark fantasy, which is kind of horror-lite :)

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    1. I love narrative-based games like Gone Home, N.E.R.O., and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but this one just felt predictable and stale. The lore was somewhat interesting, but I never once felt invested in the actual characters.

      Jump scares are definitely appropriate for horror games, especially those in the first person, but for a game that takes place in an abandoned amusement park… it had very little atmospheric storytelling. So much wasted potential, really.

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