# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Score: B (80%)
Although it’s set in The Secret World universe, no previous experience with that MMO is needed to get a jolt or two from The Park, Funcom’s short psychological horror adventure that’s both a nice looking and eventually haunting game experience. It’s not without flaws that make parts a lot less immersive than they should have been and as an experiment in storytelling it relies on too much inner dialogue from the main character that makes her sound more like a writer working on a short story in her head more than a worried parent. That said, if you’re in the right mood on the right dark night, the game will eventually get its creepy points across and right under your skin.
When her child, Callum, goes missing during a trip to a shuttered amusement park with his single mother, Lorraine, she heads into the gloomy, deserted venue in order to track him down. That’s the simplistic way of telling the story without spoiling much because the game experience is actually fairly short, clocking in at about two hours if you take your time and do as much as possible. As Lorraine makes her way around the park calling out her son’s name, she ends up making the rounds of the few rides and attractions while talking to herself (internally and externally), finding newspaper clippings and other notes that detail the park’s not so safe past history.
The scares here range from the overall atmosphere of park, the well-worn but still working rides and the general feeling of helplessness as Callum’s voice gets further and further away from Lorraine as she goes after him. The game works its spell well in those moments where you may feel as jumpy as Lorraine does as she tries to pinpoint exactly where Callum is, but somehow gets sidetracked into taking one of the rides. Actually, the rides are part of the story and going on each advances the plot as Lorraine’s inner voice and other elements spell things out in assorted pieces. The writing is fine for the most part, but the story almost seems more like an allegory and less like a story about a mother desperately searching for her kid.
Intentional or not, there are nods to both the original Silent Hill on the PlayStation (the parent looking for a lost child in a strangely familiar but unknown location) and the now dead P.T. demo (traveling about in circles in the park’s haunted house attraction). Naturally, anyone who’s not played either game won’t know or care about the connections and they become moot thanks to the parts of the game that work well. As this is supposed to be a short experience, it’s pretty impossible to become lost and Lorraine’s interaction with the game world is minimal at best. Yes, it would have been excellent to have more objects to mess around with in the environment and sure, the game isn’t going to make you run screaming out of the room (or post stupid “reaction” videos to what happens). But there’s a sinking feeling that sets in early on and fits the non-interactive end sequence nicely.
That said, there’s an odd point in the game where Lorraine has a mood swing into a weird place, but this may be part of the game’s design. Her mental state doesn’t seem to be in a great place when the game begins, so perhaps that moment in question as well as some of the transition scenes where she just appears in the rides after choosing to go on them could be seen as an erratic mental condition. By the end of the game you’ll either be mild to moderately creeped out or somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more to experience. As noted, the writing tends to rely less on giving Lorraine a personality and more on giving her things to say that nudge the plot along. Yes, she’s a digital character, but given she’s also desperately searching for her child, there should be more emotion in play that help put players more in her shoes.
That said, as an experimental game, The Park works quite well and certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome. It’s not reinventing the wheel at all, but it does more than enough to grab your hand and take you for an unsettling ride that will linger in your head for a bit.