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The Park (PC) artwork

The Park (PC) review

"Parking Violation "

The Park doesn’t really work, no matter how you want to look at it. Around an hour in length assuming you make suitable use of the run button, it’s a disjointed stumble into cliché and predictability. It seems to spend the most effort waging a destructive war upon itself, sacrificing comfort for immersion and then immersion for convenience. Only a few minutes into the game and you find yourself trapped in a swan ride, drifting lazily through a cave-bound puppet show that tells the drawn out tale of Hansel & Gretel. “In the original tale,” remarks Lorraine, the floating camera who serves as protagonist “the wicked witch and the mother were the same person.” “Foreshadowing!” Yells The Park. “We’re doing foreshadowing!”.

Lorraine serves as perhaps the most indifferent panicked mother ever as she pursues her son through the rotting confines of an abandoned amusement park, letting nothing get in the way of rescuing her child. No, wait, sorry; I got that wrong; letting everything get in the way of rescuing her child. The early-promoted mechanic of clicking the mouse to call out to her son is wonderfully implemented, often facilitating a reply from her child, Callum, and letting you know in which direction to give chase. It works as a tension gauge, Lorraine’s pleas for Callum to stop getting more and more desperate but soon falters completely at being a unique pathfinder. There’s no chance of getting lost in The Park; there’s a very set route you have to follow because, otherwise, Funcom will be worried you might miss any of those notes scattered around the place that are substitutes for storytelling.

The Park (PC) image

Yeah, it’s one of those games, but it’s a formula that’s been pulled off successfully in the past. Chinese Room gamechanger Dear Ester has been followed up by critically acclaimed titles such as their own Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture or Ether One. It’s been shown that horror can work on this platform quite recently with games such as Kholat. Before I put the boot in, I should add that the last section of The Park should be used as a guidebook on how to marry walking simulators and creep-into-your-skull horror. I’ll certainly come back and heap the praise it deserves on that later. But you have to reach it first.

Lorraine’s panicked search for her son takes in a lot of odd detours along the way, but none so odd as the ones she chooses to take herself. To unlock the little snippets of plot that aren’t supplied to you via scattered notes, you have to go on any of the myriad rides scattered around the park. because when trying to rescue you son from the unexplained macabre, you still have time to take in a few amusement rides. The first of these is one of those osculating merry-go-round things that spin you around while dipping you up and down (is there a name for those?) Getting on the Swan Ride made sense because Callum had clearly got on before her and the only other way to reach him would have been to swim but, upon discovering the car ride, Lorraine immediately switches from panicked mother to whimsical nostalgic. You could just stroll right past the ride but her obvious longings make it clear you're not supposed to. It even supplies the game’s most taxing puzzle wherein you have to flip the ‘slow’ lever in the control box more than once get the ride to stop.

Getting on these rides provides you with inner monologuing and one creepy jumpscare you might completely miss if you’re looking the wrong way. For a few minutes, Lorraine forgets the reason she’s in the park and instead reflects on Callum’s upbringing or the loss of his father. It’s not that these sections aren’t interesting and it’s not just that you have the urge to scream at your monitor that her child is probably dying while she reminisces on the roller coaster, it’s more that these little soliloquies are painfully overwritten. They’re not the words of a desperate mother, but the obvious script of a self-congratulatory writer. These loquacious ramblings of guilt and loss and despair - no one talks like this and, when shoehorned into the role of a desperate mother, it’s the kind of dialogue that has immersion committing suicide.

The Park (PC) image

I want to be charitable and tell you that, though heavily advertised as it’s worth as a stand alone game, the circumstances make more sense for returning players of Funcom’s excellently unique MMO, The Secret World. In a sense, it’s true. In another sense, it turns all the little notes and references scattered throughout The Park into Easter eggs for players in the know and unexplainable oddities for everyone else. It’s hard to take from the company behind the sublime Longest Journey games but, in their defense, the project lea for those titles, Ragnar Tørnquist, is elsewhere, absolutely crushing it with Dreamfall Chapters.

Then you come to the House of Horrors at the climax, running a continuous loop of the same environment with horrific, subtle differences before being forced further underground to relive it over and over until The Park is ready for it’s final atrocity. It’s effective, but not as effective as doomed Silent Hill rebrand, PT which offers a similar catch in a harder hooking environment. Come to think of it, the idea of delving deeper and deeper downward as a metaphor for the downward spiral you’re caught in was also pulled off better by Silent Hill 2. Around and around, down and down, and then The Park is over. Featuring an ending no one really understands -- though it perhaps makes more sense if you play the new add-on for The Secret World that just dropped.

... no, I'm told. No it doesn't.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (November 01, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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