Title: The Park
Official Site: TheParkGame.com
Release Date: October 27, 2015 (PC), May 3, 2016 (PS4 and Xbox One), October 22, 2019 (Switch)
Version Tested: Switch
A game that should be played in the dark but makes you want to turn on the lights is one of the best kinds of games out there. The Park almost fits that bill.
Sadly, when you think the game is going to take you on a wild thrill ride, you end up wondering what you got yourself into. That’s not a good thing, far from it.
It’s clear what Funcom, the makers of great suspense thrillers like Moons of Madness, we’re going for. The Park misses the mark and for a lot of different reasons.
Perhaps the biggest misstep by the developers is they didn’t update their game enough. This is one that was released on PC in 2015 and consoles in 2016. Four years from its original release, The Park lands on the Nintendo Switch, feeling pretty dated.
That’s especially true when talking about the graphics. While the look of the game has been updated a little bit, there are still issues that might have been ok four years ago, especially given the small budget. They stand out in a world where even smaller games have photorealistic looks.
Are You Looking for the Kid or Not?
The Park centers around the story of a single mother whose son runs into an abandoned theme park right as it’s about to close. Chasing after him, you soon lose sight of your young son and must trek around the area in a desperate effort to find him.
Along the way, it’s strongly hinted that not everything is as it seems. It’s also strongly suggested (read hamfistedly demonstrated) that something might be wrong with the main character mentally.
The chase at the beginning of the game, when you still have Callum in your sights, is also when things start to fall apart. As you run, you’ll pass signs and items that you’re clearly supposed to stop and pick up or read.
It’s unclear why a desperate mother who can see their child ahead of them, would stop to examine a shoe, or read a sign on a stone. Obviously, the player doesn’t have to do those things, but it’s heavily implied they should.
The signs in The Park will mostly set the stage for the place’s spooky history. That would be kind of cool if the point of the game were simply to explore, but a frantic search for a young child isn’t an attractive setting for “let’s stop and see what this says.”
There are other aspects of the story that don’t seem to fit with the larger picture. It rarely feels as though a desperate mom would go through the motions you can or will.
Atmosphere Can Be Darn Spooky
Despite all the weird actions the player is supposed to do, while searching for Callum, The Park does have an impressive atmosphere. There’s a little bit of the original Silent Hill in there somewhere. Of course, you’re not going to be fighting twisted nurses or creatures of any kind.
There is something to be said for a game that really makes you feel alone. The Park does that. Slapping some headphones on and using the “call Callum” mechanic can make you jump. It certainly did me.
There are also times when it’s going to send a chill down your spine. While the graphics are far from standout special, they do an excellent job of making one thing look like another.
More than once, I asked, “what the heck is that?” to an empty room. And then … I rode a Ferris wheel for no reason.
The Park never really reaches scary because there are too many things that take you out of the action, and take you out of the story. The most frustrating part is how little the game attempts to underline there is something very wrong with your character.
It’s hinted at early and throughout the game. Sometimes she’ll get a bit woozy. Sometimes the world will blur out.
She clearly hears things that aren’t there — and not reacting at all. Does she realize the world is fuzzing out? Does she not understand the whispers should be concerning?
It’s possible the point is that we honestly don’t know, but the complete lack of reaction of any kind takes some of the punch out of everything.
The Verdict: It becomes rather evident that The Park was a game Funcom rolled out there before they had perfected this particular kind of game. Titles, like Moons of Madness, manage to do what this game is trying much better and look better doing it. It might not be fair to judge this game by using that one. For one thing, it’s quite a bit shorter. The bottom line is this game had the potential to be legitimately scary. It settled for offputting, and it’s not clear if that was on purpose. For a game that can be played in one sitting, it’s not bad, but there are better games out there, you should go ahead and try first.
- The atmosphere is genuinely spooky
- Can be completed in a couple of hours
- Graphics are dated
- Odd story beats have character making weird decisions
- Spooky but not scary