Please keep your arms and legs inside The Park at all times, it’s going to be one hell of a ride
Have you ever been alone at an abandoned location—an otherwise perfectly normal site that’s been transformed into an eerie tourist attraction thanks to the sheer emptiness, à la Russia’s Chernobyl? Being isolated can often feel unsettling; one’s mind can conjure illusory phantoms in every nook and cranny. Funcom’s The Park aims to replicate this same spooky feeling by whisking players to a deserted, and possibly malevolent, funfair.
The game opens with Lorraine, a mother who has just arrived at Atlantic Island Park with her young son. Through an internal monologue we discover that this is one of her favorite places in the world, somewhat of a childhood sanctuary. This is our first introduction into the protagonist’s mind. The player will be investigating these emotional synapses just as much as the amusement park itself. Soon after arriving, Lorraine discovers that her beloved fairground has closed for the day, but her son has other ideas. The cheeky scamp runs into Atlantic Island anyway, leaving his mother no choice—she has to follow him in.
After a short escalator ride, day is inexplicably turned into night. In this shadowy form the park is different from Lorraine’s recollections: gloomier, decrepit even. Henceforth the player is thrust into a dark world overflowing with mystery and psychological terror while a mother searches for her son. It’s not a particularly long search. A one to two hour journey depending on how in-depth each individual player tends to go. For instance, will you board a swan-shaped raft and drift through a creepy tunnel of love style passageway? How about embarking on a gigantic thrill ride called, the Octotron, which rises and spins? All this is entirely optional. However, partaking in these distractions reveals more of the narrative, beefing up the game’s length.
The Park employs a rather simple first-person play style, simply move and look around, that’s it. It’s not constructed to be challenging, you won’t find any tricky boss fights, perplexing puzzles, or any weapons to use—you even get hints on which direction to head at the tap of a button, all in the form of Lorraine conveniently calling out her son’s name. This title is not intended to be a desperate struggle for survival; it is designed to be different. It’s more of an emotional experience with empathies placed on the psychological effects of both the haunting park and the mother’s deteriorating mental stability. As the player you can feel her sanity crumble with every footfall, every step taken towards the disturbing end. There are also some jump scares peppered throughout. These scary but scarce moments left their mark on me with tangible results: I yelled out in fright, feeling my heart palpitate.
The theme park itself is a fascinating character that exudes a perfect ghostly atmosphere. Things are kept interesting thanks to tiny details implemented in the scenery, like unnerving messages carved into signs and flashes of unknown persons lurking in your peripheral vision. The visuals themselves are horrifying to look at, and not in a good way. Character models appear blocky and severely lack texture elements. The environments are not nearly as poor. Nevertheless, they could have benefited from a little extra polish prior to its release, which Funcom had time to implement since its original debut on the PC late last year. Another problem comes in the form of notes, letters, newspapers, and other items dotted throughout the game world. The function of said objects are to extend the plot, but this is near impossible due to the script’s size. I had to get out of my chair and stand a few inches away from my TV in order to read the words on screen.
Despite its deficient looks, The Park’s macabre aura, along with the mystery of the missing boy, kept me transfixed throughout the strange goings on, right until its conclusion. One of the most off putting sections comes just before that end. Lorraine is trapped in a seemingly endless loop. She passes through her living room, kitchen, bedroom, and then, upon opening another door, she is back where she started, only this time there are some slight changes. An object may be out of place, an item missing from the refrigerator—this repeats again and again, each time with additional changes that become more and more chilling. To many gamers The Park may trigger déjà vu, bringing about memories of PT, the demo based on the much anticipated, yet ultimately canceled, Silent Hills from renowned director Guillermo del Toro and developer Hideo Kojima. At times it feels like a tribute to the Silent Hill revival that never was, which is by no means a bad thing.
The ending felt somewhat sudden, causing the story’s exploration of mental illness to suffer an abrupt stop. I thoroughly enjoyed adventuring through the memorable fair grounds and larking on The Park’s many rides proved a fun little game mechanic, giving me a sense of freedom despite the relatively constricted path one must follow. The story kept me guessing, I found myself asking, “Could the ending be this or could it be that?” Despite my enjoyment, I find it hard to justify buying a game that lacks current gen graphics and only lasts a few hours at best. Still, if you want to experience a curious and rather disturbing tale that explores the human mind and a twisted version of Six Flags, then download The Park at your own risk.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed), PC; Publisher & Developer: Funcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: May 3, 2016 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $12.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code for The Park given to the reviewer by the developer.