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.
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.
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.
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.