Gamer dad who loves the classics, indies, racers and the occasional shooter. Have been in the industry for well over a decade and am as enthusiastic as ever! #4theplayers
The Park is a single-player horror experience developed by Funcom, set against the backdrop of an amusement park where a dark and sinister secret is just waiting to be uncovered. And launches on consoles today!
With the leaps and bounds made in the graphical capabilities of video games in recent years, there is one genre that has steadily risen in popularity, the best of which results in games that are deeply affecting, immersive experiences. I am talking about the rather mundanely named ‘walking simulators.’ While hearing that title may evoke ideas of punishingly tedious gameplay, there have been several terrific titles that all fall under the walking simulator category. Games like Gone Home and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter have received much praise for their focus on story and exploration of painstakingly detailed worlds. The new effort by Funcom, The Park, also fits into this category.
The Park originally released for PC last Halloween and was well received by critics and players. Last year Funcom made a decision to experiment with development in Unreal 4, and three developers were assigned to evaluate with and learn the new technology and measure its relative impact upon their professions; an environment artist, a gameplay designer and a creative director. The result of this process is The Park; a narrative focused psychological horror experience that asks difficult questions about what it means to be a parent in dark circumstances. The game has finally come to consoles and will be a great experience for fans of the genre on Xbox One and Playstation 4. There is no added content or upgraded visuals in the console versions and there shouldn’t be any. The game still offers the same creepy and exciting experience it offered in it’s original PC launch.
You play as Lorraine, a young widowed mother who has brought her son, Callum, to Atlantic Island Park, the New England attraction that she always used to visit when she was just a child. The park is closed when the game begins, but Callum has lost his teddy bear and while you have a conversation with the guy in the ticket office, Callum runs back into the park to find his toy. You, of course, must now follow him and that’s when the weird stuff starts to go down.
You can call out to Callum, and use his distant responses to help keep you moving in the right direction, but this Park has a few more surprises for the player. The first thing you come to is one of those swan boat rides based on Hansel and Gretel. The story chosen isn’t an accident – this is a game unafraid of bashing you over the head with its themes – but the way it’s portrayed is emblematic of The Park’s creepy storytelling. And that’s really as far as I can go describing the events of the game without starting to reveal some important plot details. It is then up to the player to piece together the background of Atlantic Island, through scattered notes and letters, as they journey deeper and deeper through its nightmarish locations and learn more about its shady origins.
The player has a handful of ramshackle and battered attractions to experience in P.O.V. fashion, set up in such an order so that each one progresses the story and slowly cranks up the tension. These range from a fairy tale dark ride, as if they weren’t creepy enough to begin with, a roller coaster, and most forbidding of all, a haunted house. This may all be starting to sound like a morbid version of Theme Park World. But the team at Funcom have crafted such a vehemently unsettling atmosphere that I was genuinely on the edge of my seat several times I had to experience one of the rusty old rides. The obscured vision that some of the fast moving rides create is used to orchestrate a few truly unsettling moments. However, the game doesn’t just aim to scare you with bumps in the night; it also strives to get under your skin with emotionally distressing themes. The game explores heavy ideas of maternal depression and the soul consuming black hole of grief.
The game was made using the new Unreal Engine 4 and looks appropriately menacing, with the environment festering in dark shadows and colorless gloom. The only complaint A had are with the look of the character models. While not awful, the faces of the characters can look very robotic, making them look as though they belong in the park as animatronics. It isn’t a big deal, as the first-person view and small number of characters mean you only ever see the facial animations in the game’s book ending cut scenes.
I should mention that The Park is actually set in one of Funcom’s existing universes; the Atlantic Island amusement park is a key location in their MMORPG, The Secret World. If you already are a player of Secret World, purchasing the game on PC will get you a couple of extra items to put in your account, including the costume of your new favorite murderous park mascot. Be assured that the knowledge of this connection is not required to get the most out of The Park. In fact, I would argue that it’s probably best going into the game knowing as little as possible, and previous experience of the sinister park may even run the risk of spoiling the element of surprise that is so vital to the game’s success.
The Park releases today for Xbox One and Playstation 4 and will cost you $12.99/€12,99 ( PS+ and MS Gold Members $11.69/€11,69).