Published on May 3rd, 2016 | by Scot Mackay0
Review: The Park
The Park has been kicking about on PC since last Halloween and garnered a unique place in gamers hearts in both a surreal and disturbing ways. It’s renowned enough to have generated more than 10 million views on various Let’s Play videos on YouTube and it all came about as an experiment.
One day after presumably after watching every horror movie ever created, Funcom decided to let an environment artist, a gameplay designer and a creative director have free reign with the Unreal 4 engine and see what they come up with. It wasn’t long before things began to take shape and more talented individuals joined the creative process and soon after, The Park was born.
Now these creepy guys at Funcom describe The Park as a “narrative focused psychological horror experience that asks difficult questions about what it means to be a parent in dark circumstances” and they’re not bloody wrong. Working with what I am calling the ‘developmental trifecta’ of a small budget, a short deadline and a strong focus. The Park is a testament to what is possible when the smallest amounts of resources invested are overruled by creativity and ingenuity.
So, what the Hell is it all about?
Well from the beginning, it seems to be a simple story about a mother searching for her son who has managed to sneak into an amusement park just as its closing. Lorraine (our poor mother) suffers every parent’s nightmare of losing track of her child and embarks on the frantic search for her son, Callum.
Now this is where things get weird.
On entering the park, things seem normal. By pressing the ‘B’ button, you can shout out randomized dialogue which calls for Callum. Doing this also causes a visible audio distortion on the screen which highlights items of interest which can really help add to the lore of the game.
You continue up an escalator when you become aware of whispering voices, an echo of a sinister laugh and….. zap …..the lights go out. You reach the top of the stairs and all of a sudden a peaceful amusement park takes on a very different appearance. It’s almost as if the amusement park ages before your eyes, the sun sets casting longer shadows from the witches face on the House of Horrors, the Tunnel of Tales takes a creepy twist whilst telling you the story of Hansel and Gretel and by far my favorite, the Octotron which becomes the place of strange occurrence. Oh by the way, you may want to keep an eye out for Chad the Chipmunk, the amusements parks furry mascot.
Now don’t forget, we still have to find little Callum and we venture from each part of the park slowly building the family backstory piece by piece and it’s with the story that things take another dark turn. Slowly the calls from mommy Lorraine change from being those of a concerned and frightened mother to that of someone who holds a deep resentment of her child and at one point blames her life’s woes on Callum.
Could it be that the visions in the Park are manifestations of a broken mind, borne by a mother who has tirelessly worked to raise a child alone after the death of her fella? Or could it be the culmination of a life of self-medication and psychological torture at the hands of her father?
Maybe it’s one or the other. Maybe a bit of both or it could be something entirely different.
By taking a journey on each of the parks rides, new elements of the story are fleshed out and suitable new ways of freaking out the player occur. Here is a hint: When on the rides, have a little look at the control booth.
From the initial beginnings, I believed this game to be a one dimensional adventure/horror title but I was so wrong. By the end, I had experienced some genuinely jump-scare moments yet, the Park does not depend on them. I had worked my way through a carefully woven tale and witnessed a rapid descent into despair and madness without observing the normal horror clichés that have grown stale in other titles and I did all this, in the space of 2 hours.
This is not a Jimmy Chung portion size of gaming slapped on your plate. This is an appetizer designed to bring its phenomenal flavors to the fore and leave you wanting more.
A beautifully crafted experience albeit a short one. Value for money is the only downside to this title. Coming in at what we think will be £8.99 (US price variance) it might be little high for the amount of actual game time that is on offer. Becoming available for the first time on PS4 and Xbox One on the 3rd of May and continuing its presence on Windows PC, I would keep an eye out for this title in a package or sale to make it truly worthwhile.
Summary: A twisted tale set in a Scooby-doo amusement park with a rich narrative and gentle pace.