The horror genre has almost died off in the AAA games market, with staples such as Resident Evil now having more in common with third person shooter rather than the franchise’s orgins, so smaller indie titles have moved to fill the gap in the market. Games such as SOMA and Layers of Fear go for the full haunted house experience while others, such as Firewatch and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, generate a more gentle but threatening sense of unease.
The Park sits somewhere between these ends of the scale, as there is little interaction in the game world apart from pulling the odd lever and reading scattered notes, but these are mixed in with jump scares and fantastical events.
These types of games rely very heavily on the narrative, your ability to empathise with the character, and on having a game world you can immerse yourself in. Sadly The Park falls at the first hurdle as there’s not a peep out of your character, Lorraine, as it drops you straight in to the weirdness of mind reading theme park assitants and day turning to night. She doesn’t seem remotely surprised to see that the sun set in half a second, or even vaguely bothered where her child has run off to. We’re just thrust straight into the game without a second of story to help set the scene and engage with the character.
As Lorraine, you now get to explore the park in a totally linear fashion, moving from ride to ride, experiencing a scare or two, and listening to her inner thoughts. She very quickly goes from ranting and raving, to desperate, to murderous, to forgiving. Her tone changes at the drop of a hat for no apparent reason, and for 90% of the game she’s not even remotely interested in where her child is as she’s too busy talking about herself.
There are five theme park attractions to ride on, all of which include attempted scares, but none of which are particularly spooky or threatening. While the rides are quite fun, only the rollercoaster manages to deliver something memorable. The image alternates between the fun coaster track to being strapped to a hospital bed, hurtling down a corridor at high speed, and crashing through doors covered in slogans and blood.
The final fun park experience is the haunted house, with the end game sequence repeating the same few rooms and corridors of Lorraine’s house which gradually degrade and become more horrific each time you enter them. Unfortunately PT did this much better two years ago, and did it for free.
About half way through the game, it becomes clear that Lorraine is suffering from some sort of mental health issue. She’s not coping as a mother and is on medication, but while this is an explanation for the eratic mood swings and a lot of the unusual things you’ve seen, I simply wasn’t engaged with the character.
It all goes back to those first few jarring and unbelievable moments. A prologue in which nothing unusual is happening to Lorraine and you see her looking after her child would have acted as a contrast to the point at which things start to go off the rails. Instead, we’re dropped into the weirdness from the very first moment.
There is also the issue of length, as my play through lasted a whole fifty nine minutes – feel free to check YouTube for complete walkthroughs that last an hour if you don’t believe me – and that included collecting all but one of the trophies. The game seems to have been ported from the PC version running on lower visual settings, with trees that flicker into existence and a draw distance for grass and rocks is barely a few feet in front of you. There’s also hardly any animation work, as the screen simply fades to black when you board a ride and fades back in with you in the seat.
Having recently reviewed Layers of Fear, a game which also dealt with the themes of mental illness and horror, I was expecting a lot more from The Park. Walking around a fun fair for an hour with a shouty, sweary woman who is only interested in herself is about as much fun as it sounds. I suggest you save your money for a ticket to a real fun fair and hope you get stuck on a rollercoaster for an hour. That would be much more thrilling than The Park.
Version tested: PlayStation 4