A child lost is a parent’s greatest nightmare, especially in a place that seems built from your worst dreams. But this is Lorraine’s nightmare, looking for her son in The Park.

Genre(s): Exploration | Horror

Developer Funcom

Publisher: Funcom

Release Date: October 2015

Played Full Story

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Chilling atmosphere.

  • Wonderful exploration of psyche.

  • Surreal setting.

Bad:

  • Forced walking segments.

Review

The Park begins with Lorraine and son Callum at the entrance to Atlantic Island Park, on Solomon Island, with Lorraine talking to the park staff about her son’s missing Teddy bear. But as she speaks to them, to figure out the last time they saw the stuffed animal, Callum runs through the gates into Atlantic Island, with his mother trying to catch up. Only there’s a complication, on the way up the escalators the world changes around them, turning night and showing the park in its darkest shadows.

When I first read about The Park, I thought it would be your typical horror game of this last generation—a helpless character running from monsters and dealing with cheap jump-scares. But it was something completely different. It’s a dark chilling journey. It’s a search for a missing son in a nightmare that you don’t know if it’s the product of the island’s dark history or Lorraine’s state of mind.

The Park
“In my mind, I always return to Atlantic Island Park.” — Lorraine

The Island the game takes place on should be familiar to The Secret World players, and there are many references to Kingsmouth and other TSW New England locations and its history is dark and supernatural . But with Lorraine’s own personal story and how the journey explores her perhaps shattered psyche, it’s difficult to know if this surreal setting is due to the supernatural elements of Solomon Island and Atlantic Island Park or something she’s just making up.

Gameplay in The Park will be familiar to those who’ve played exploration-based games. You walk and run around the environment collecting clues and learning more about the world and characters, with some occasional moments of insight by Lorraine, expressing her regrets and guilt about the way she raised Callum, as well as some of her darker opinions on her child and parenting in general. You can get on rides in The Park, for a few more of these moments to flesh out the characters. To keep you moving in the right direction you can click the right mouse button, which makes Lorraine call out to her son and highlights important items around you. The only downside to the game is that while it gives you the ability to run, it does force you into slow walking segments too often. It needs to do it to keep the pacing for its scares and the atmosphere it builds, but it doesn’t feel natural and in fact it’s not necessary, as you’ll feel what it wants you to feel no matter how fast or slow the character moves.

The Park
Creepy wheel…abandoned like everything else.

The Park does have its jumpscare moments but it’s the chilling atmosphere that keeps you primed for them to be effective. I did see a few of them coming, but the others scared the hell out of me. And unlike other titles, the frights don’t evaporate the moment the jump-scare hits, but instead you go right back to being in the grips of the amazing atmosphere The Park creates.

It’s a perfect combination of storytelling, visuals and sound. While the graphics might seem dated to some, especially in the face of some of this year’s releases, what they lack in character modelling they more than make up in environmental design and Atlantic Island Park is a truly hellish place to be in, derelict and haunted. The rusty Ferris wheel, the broken down bumper cars and the stagnated water in the Tunnel of Tales all give you a sense of abandonment, that something was lost here. Innocence, joy and laughter don’t exist in this place, replaced instead with something darker and hungrier. The creaking of metal, the chinking of chains and the creaking of wood combined with Lorraine’s desperate cries add to this sense of loss, of pain. Finally, the newspaper articles, the files on Lorraine’s postpartum depression and subsequent struggles and the journals from the park’s creator and staff all fuel this surreal nightmare, making you question what is real and what isn’t.

Conclusion

The Park is a short journey, but it’s a powerful one, being just long enough to be effective throughout the experience. It’s one of the most chilling games I’ve played, and I’ve yet to decide if it’s all real, or just in my head.

TMA SCORE:

5/5 – Hell Yes!

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