The Park
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7
6.7

Theme Parks!  They’re designed to scare you – only in a light, fun, tongue-in-cheek and sometimes adrenalin-through-consent kind of way.  The Park, on the other hand, takes a slightly different route.  And by different, I mean, your sanity is the target of a series of escalating psychological assaults, that culminates in one of the most disturbing video game moments ever. 

As the game itself tells you at the start – it is a narrative experience, dealing with some pretty mature content and is best played in the dark, wearing headphones.  It also warns you that your time spent in The Park may be a little disturbing, but this “should not be any cause for alarm or psychiatry”.  I’d agree with both sentiments. 

Now, let’s get one thing clear: this is not a “game” by the traditional definition of the word game, so it may not be for everyone.  It is however, a shining example of an art game, or an interactive experience that’s heavily reliant on good storytelling – something we’re seeing more of as the lines blur between various entertainment mediums. 

If your preference is for running for your life from something behind you and hiding in the nearest darkest alcove in a heart-thumping panic – this probably isn’t what you’re looking for.  But that’s fine, there are plenty of great games that do that already; Outlast, Alien: Isolation… real life every now and then.  However, if you want menacing chills and twisted thrills, The Park is the perfect game for Halloween. It's a deeply unsettling horror tale in spite of its short two-hour runtime.  It’s also in the genre of psychological horror, something I’ve seen done too poorly too many times in other games.

It’s difficult to write a review about this game without spoiling a lot of its carefully placed plot points, subtleties and really quite clever subtext that come from both our protagonist’s narration, objects and… “people” in the environment.  It begins with a voiceover from the Mother, Lorraine –

“In my heart and mind, I always return to Atlantic Island Park”. 

Lorraine is in the parking lot staring blankly at the entrance to The Park.  Her son Callum, in the back seat of the car seems to have misplaced his teddy bear.  Any guesses where?  Yeah, it seems a little predictable at first.  You know this story, right?   Not quite.  Your sense of comfort and familiarity don’t last long, especially since the guy at the Visitor’s Information Booth already seems to know your name, and that you’ve lost something.  And the intense descent into madness that unfolds gradually, then suddenly – are provoked when an impatient Callum runs into The Park to find the teddy himself.  Well what are you doing?  Go after him! 

The brilliantly twisted psychological horror unravels as you search around Atlantic Island, riding its rides (make sure you say hi to Chad!) and continuing your frantic chase through its neon-lit, dizzying attractions.  It is through this that we learn more and more about our characters – the main thing being that everything we assumed at the beginning was wrong.   Built-in to the game mechanics is a right-click function to shout Callum’s name and highlight interactive objects in the world.  I was both surprised and impressed that even this was used to enhance the plot.  There is great attention to detail, and the more attention you pay – the more rewarding an experience this is.  All of this is beautifully rendered in Unreal Engine 4, making the immersion factor all the more intense.  And it’s a horror game, so there are of course plenty of jump scares too.  And no, I’m not going to tell you where.

Ultimately, The Park hammers home the point that few things can be more frightening or more disturbing than the fragility of the human mind; our fears, worries, anxieties, our sadness.  And it capitalises these common human frailties to magnificent effect. 

So if you’re looking for a short, narrative-driven psychological horror game, I would definitely recommend this.  Its run-time is a criticism, topping out at maybe two hours at most.  Personally I felt that was enough to tell its story, but I can understand others who have said this is too short for the price – and maybe it is.  In that case, if this sounds interesting, pick it up in a sale.  Overall, this is a different kind of experience – and as I said a great example of “games as art”.  I would even go as far as to suggest that given its short runtime, it’s a very good introduction to that idea for newcomers.  Really, it’s all about ticking certain boxes.  Scary?  Yes.  Immersive?  Yep.  Leaves you feeling hollow and a little alone all of a sudden?  Oh yes.

As for the technicalities - graphics options aren't hugely customisable.  There are presets of low, medium, high and ultra.  And its AA offers "off", "2x", "4x" and "6x", but does not mention what kind of AA it's using.  To its credit though, it does run at 60fps and runs very well - and I'm saying this having played it the day it came out (before any patches that may come along).  

There isn’t much replayability, given the type of game it is.  But promise me that AFTER you’ve played it once, start a new game, and remember what Lorraine said: 

“In my heart and mind, I always return to Atlantic Island Park”.