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The Park (PC) artwork

The Park (PC) review

"Down in the park... Way, way down in the park..."

The Park (PC) image

I thought I would enjoy The Park the instant I pushed through the entryway turnstile and beheld the dying light and fading electronics around me. A voice on the PA system announced the amusement park's closure, obviously symbolizing--as works of horror are wont to do in their opening phases--that the fun was over, all bets were off and evil would soon arrive. Sunlight dimmed, lamps kicked in, and a soon an aural onslaught began. As with most frightening "walking simulators," anomalous noises, snarls and thuds sounded from behind shrubs and in grassy patches. Daring players looking for a solid scare turn to investigate these phenomena, hearts thumping painfully in their chests, only to find nothing there. Sadly, no matter how often you look for trouble throughout this tourist trap, you'll never find it...

Your search for your missing child leads you to several attractions, including a version of the Tunnel of Love decked out with projectors and speakers that play the story Hansel and Gretel on faux-cave walls. This might seem like a leisurely float on the water, but then you hear tense music and feel a sharp thud from an unseen entity ramming your vessel. If you're like me, you'll probably attempt to dive in the water and swim away, only to realize there is no release from the swan-boat. It's then you'll likely figure out that the being in the water is just another harmless trick. Worse than that, you can't escape the slowly sailing craft and must watch a familiar drama unfold until you've reached your destination. You soon realize that the worst thing about this segment is the prospect of enduring a tedious scene and not the device used to scare you, and your heart sinks.

The Park (PC) image

Later on, you investigate some bumper cars. After you read about an incident in which someone was horribly maimed by faulty buggies, one of the vehicles whirs to life. It careens towards you, promising to shatter your bones and leave you a pained, broken heap. The only problem is this occurs during a cutscene, so there's no reason to fear. In The Park, the only attempts at actual frights are little more than cinematic sequences or illusions. Worse, they're horribly tame, like the kind of material that appears in a made-for-TV horror film from yesteryear. Again, if I don't actually fear for life or limb or sanity, then what is there to be afraid of?

Danger is essential to a horror piece. There is no worry without hazard, and no fear without worry. This can be a problem for walking simulators because their defining trait is that they're minimally interactive, but rich in narrative or lore. They play out more like vignettes than video games and therefore typically eschew 'game over' events. The challenge that developers must overcome is to create the illusion that players are in jeopardy without actually killing them off. Unfortunately, The Park doesn't achieve this feat at any point, though it does offer one spooky segment whilst riding the roller coaster. Again, though, that moment occurs in a cutscene.

The Park (PC) image

There's one more trap that modern first-person adventure titles tend to spring: prattle. Dear Esther may have been a revolutionary title, but listening to old man yap on for ages about obvious metaphors was tiresome. The Park, for the most part, mimics Esther, sans the constant barrage of obscure words used to impress college professors. In spite of its less than pretentious vocabulary, the game's monologues still come off as unnatural. Bear in mind, you're playing a panicked young mother, Lorraine, searching for her lost son Calum in the midst of an apparently haunted amusement park (or perhaps it's something more sinister...). Although most of her lines read naturally, she occasionally blah-blah-blahs in a somewhat out-of-character manner, almost as if the writers couldn't separate themselves from Lorraine.

However, the game nearly pulls itself together during its final phases. Here we enter the metaphoric (and somewhat literal) downward spiral seen in other horror titles, and I might've been shocked to witness the events depicted in the closing act had the narrative have been more ambiguous. Unfortunately, a fair portion of Lorraine's blathering reveals so much about her that the ending isn't shocking. There's even a scene or two where the game is obviously foreshadowing, but Lorraine further ruins the already conspicuous device by outright telling you something about herself that spoils the "surprise." Games of this nature tend to flow much better when the writers trust the audience to make clever connections, rather than beating them over the head with revelations.

...And yet, The Park was almost on to something. Its visuals and lighting are terrific, its mood and atmosphere are excellent, but the game loses its power by either hitting you with tame frights or clumsily stumbling through a narrative with a predictable conclusion. I mean, the game pretty much tells you early on how it's going to end. Minimally interactive adventure titles have been around for ages now. Although the genre has racked up a ton of entries, it still has a long way to go, if The Park is any indication.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (May 07, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted May 07, 2018:

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Follow_Freeman posted May 07, 2018:

Joe schemes to flood EmP with holdover reviews! Well, at least we all get some good reading out of it. Hard to pick which recent review of his is the best, but I like how this one subtly emphasizes the defining feature of the medium of games, interactivity, and explains how a lack of use of it hurts this one too much.

Incidentally, The Park is made from assets from another game by the same team of developers, an MMORPG titled The Secret World. That game happens to be much scarier in parts because -- guess what? -- you aren't stripped of interactivity. Oh, and it's a pretty cool game overall; linked below is a review by one of my all-time favorite YouTubers, Ross Scott:
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 09, 2018:

You said that last time I reviewed this game. Incidentally, this is a touch up of that review, which was originally posted at RoG. However, since that site is gone, I touched up the review and resposted it here.

Ironically, this game turned me on to The Secret World. I purchased it some time ago, but I haven't played it yet. I'm not a huge MMORPG player, but The Secret World seems more interesting than your average MMO.
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EmP posted May 09, 2018:

I think I said something on Steam before. I have some memory of saying some such, which is why it felt apt to say so again.

But I did try to warn you.

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