When The Park released around Halloween of 2015, I really wanted to play it. But for some reason, I just… didn’t. Now it’s 2020, and months after the release of The Park for Nintendo Switch. It’s hardly the season for horror experiences, but that wasn’t going to stop me. So I sat down, fired up my Switch, and spent a couple hours with Funcom’s The Park, a game that takes place within the wider Secret World universe—much like Moons of Madness, which I recently reviewed—and tells a story of madness, desperation, and post-partum depression as a mother searches for her lost child in a creepy, abandoned amusement park.
The Park is a first person story-driven adventure game, but the best way to describe The Park is “walking simulator.” Unlike Moons of Madness, there is no real gameplay to speak of. You can interact with objects, even ride some of the rides, but you won’t be doing much more than following a path from point A to point B as you follow the narrative. That’s fine with me, though. As long as The Park has some great suspense, genuine scares, immersive environments and good voice acting I’ll enjoy it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have much of any of those things, either.
You play as Lorraine as she searches for her lost son Callum, who ran off into the seemingly (and strangely) abandoned Atlantic Island Park. As you search, you can find pieces of lore sitting around—often newspaper clippings, or notes that you can read to get more background on the park—and sometimes on Lorraine and her predicament.
As far as creepy amusement parks go, Atlantic Island Park ends up being pretty tame. While there are some smatterings of good atmosphere, most of The Park is pretty bland. It doesn’t help that the port to the Nintendo Switch seems to have made the already dated graphics suffer even more. And while it is decently playable in handheld mode, it isn’t very well optimized for it—text sizes seem a little small, and everything is just a tad too dark, even after messing with the gamma settings.
The story of The Park isn’t bad, but it isn’t good. There’s nothing there that hasn’t been explored and done a dozen times before—and often much better. The story and lore is passable, but while it explores some pretty disturbing themes, it never really ends up very scary.
For an experience that is completely narratively driven, and based on horror, it does little to cultivate horror. I can see where The Park attempts to discombobulate, and build suspense—but the result was lackluster in almost every instance. And while The Park indulges itself in a couple of jump scares, those didn’t even get much of a reaction out of me. I’m not particularly resilient against being frightened; The Park is just not very scary. Nothing, at any point, conveys the sense of danger.
The Park is technically a game, but there are hardly any gameplay mechanics beyond walk, run, and interact. Even what little you can interact with tends to be done in an extremely clunky way. Picking up some items to turn and examine them (the two or three that you can) turns out to be mostly pointless. Reading newspaper clippings even manages to feel clunky.
The most fun I had with The Park is when I actually got to ride the rides—which, honestly, isn’t that exciting. But anything to break up the monotony of walking and reading was welcome. There was an attempt made to make these rides scarier, but beyond the first “tunnel of stories” each were about as exciting as a video game amusement ride could be—but even then, on the lower end of the excitement scale.
My biggest complaint was the lack of sanity effects, something the game goes out of its way to set expectations for. There’s a disclaimer towards the beginning of the game warning players of the sanity effects in the game. “You’re not going crazy,” it reassures us, “it’s just the game.” That really hyped me up for some Eternal Darkness style fuckery—controllers unplugged, heads falling off, that sort of thing. I was sorely disappointed then when most of the ‘sanity’ effects were screen blurring and some unsettling noises. There are sections of the game that have you walking through repeating hallways, too—something I despise and really almost made me lose my sanity over. But thankfully, those sections are short—but so is the whole game.
Clocking in at under two hours, The Park is just so short, it’s hard to recommend it at any asking price. It’s an older game, but even at its release The Park was a short novelty of the Secret World universe that only diehard fans would get appreciation out of. If you’re looking to play a horror game, you could do worse—but you could do better,too.
The Park is available now on Nintendo Switch, and also Windows.
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