Do you remember the first time you went to an amusement park? Were you young? Did you go with your parents? Did you eat ice cream and go on rides and have the greatest day of your whole life?
The Park, a horror game originally released last year for the PC, but is a new addition to the small PS4 horror library, perverts that experience for you and warps that feeling of wonder and merriment into something paranoid and nightmarish. This game kind of felt like playing a Goosebumps story, only a hell of a lot heavier than R.L. Stine ever dared with its theme of child abandonment, and the protagonist being a mother potentially suffering from drug abuse and postpartum depression.
Although not exactly an original concept or story, The Park manages to take this cliché and turn it into something worth spending an evening with. If you’re a fan of Funcom’s The Secret World MMO, this story is based off of the area Solomon Island in the game, and fleshes out its lore a little bit more, and even offers some nifty items for your TSW character, which didn’t affect me given I played it on console, but it still might be good for someone else.
Essentially, the story involves you, playing as a single mother named Lorraine, chasing her son Callum around an amusement park after dark. He always remains just out of your reach, perhaps symbolising the helplessness parents feel in tragic circumstances when they lose their children, either through death or abduction. The setting of Atlantic Island Park, steeped in tragic history, is at your disposal, and rather than, y’know, actually looking for your son, that you can press a button to repeatedly call out for in a less obnoxious way than Heavy Rain managed, you can take your sweet time and enjoy the rides that the park has to offer.
The rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, Atlantic Island Park is your oyster! These aren’t exactly great distractions from any tension you might be feeling, though, as most of these rides have a mind of their own and fuck with you repeatedly, and you’re perpetually being stalked by a sinister grinning man in a top hat and a psycho in a chipmunk suit with red eyes wielding an ice pick.
These figures are omnipresent, and don’t necessarily pursue you in the same way villains from games like Outlast and Amnesia did. They appear at plot-relevant points, and as you have no way of defending yourself, these encounters are rather unnerving. We learn a lot about the deranged chipmunk but there’s next to no explanation for the grinning guy – unless he’s meant to be a representation of inner turmoil and unease about the park in Lorraine, but again it’s never really clear so it’s hard to draw a conclusion on the part he plays.
A theory I had was that he might be some kind of depiction of Nathaniel Winter, the peculiar business man who had a special vision when the park initially opened and upon suffering numerous hauntings and freak accidents in the park, went insane and secluded himself in the House of Horrors. What became of him after this is unknown (unless I missed that particular note).
Given the psychological nature of the game and the grim history of the park, after your first few whacky encounters with some of the rides on offer, it’s clear the game takes place in Lorraine’s disturbed psyche, as demonstrated through flashbacks of a psychiatric ward, electroshock therapy and pill bottles lying around randomly throughout. Also because I don’t think the swan on the “tunnel of love” ride is meant to turn around and look at you judgementally at the end, but then again I might just be going to the wrong theme parks.
Looking past the obvious tropes and clichés, as a horror game The Park was average. It had a few cheap, random jump scares (especially in the House of Horror… who would’ve guessed?) and the atmosphere, while creepy and immersive, wasn’t exceptional and despite my moments of unease, no moment of the game stood out to me in a terrifying ‘oh shit this will stay with me tonight when I try go to bed’ kind of way.
The game has no puzzles, and is not difficult at all. In fact, if you speed run it and don’t hop on any of the rides or take your time to examine objects and read newspaper clippings and files, you can easily clear it in under an hour. If you’re an achievement hunter and you pay attention to your surroundings and don’t just rush through, you can reach 100% in the first play through, so there’s no incentive to go through the game more than once.
Despite some obvious flaws with The Park, it was still incredibly enjoyable. I’m the kind of player that likes exploring everything and reading notes and documents so this aspect of unfolding the story for me didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would bother some players. I’m also extremely prone to jump scares, so I can’t say I was wholly unaffected by these cheap events, but I don’t count “pop out and scream” moments as genuinely being terrified so it’s still hard to recommend The Park on a “scare your pants off” basis.
I have no complaints about the graphics, which are powered by the Unreal Engine, or the voice actress for Lorraine, who delivered a spectacular performance with the dialogue she was given and made the character believable and sympathetic even as she was admitting her faults as a parent via internal monologue throughout the game.