Welcome to The Park: A psychological horror that will both entertain and disturb.
On first appearance, The Park, published by Funcom, seems simple enough. You are Lorraine, a mother who loses her child, Callum, at an amusement park. There are no monsters to kill, or things to fight. It’s just you, your voice, exploration and interaction with objects in the world, and a lot of walking and running.
Normally, I’m not fond of story-driven games. When I sit down to play a game, it’s either to bash things in-game or to solve some sort of puzzle. However, Funcom promised that The Park would be more like a movie to explore and playable in two hours. It succeeds in both the movie feel, and being able to play through the entire game in two hours. It took me 2.1 hours, to be exact.
Losing your child may sound like every parent’s worst nightmare, but like all psychological horrors, it’s never as simple as that one premise. The Park is very nuanced, building the tension as you search for your missing child.
In traditional game reviews, you’d expect to read about mechanics and graphics. Funcom does succeed with the graphics. The mechanics—like your voice becoming more panicked each time you call out for Callum—are there to completely drive the story and create ambience.
Everything is so very subtle and nuanced.
There is so much ambience in this game. Before you start playing the game, there is a message telling you to turn off your lights and play with your headphones on, plus some other warnings. I didn’t turn off the lights, and it was a good thing I didn’t. I’ll get to that in a bit. I did wish I had my earphones on. There are very subtle audio clues that were almost missed because I played the game through my laptop speakers.
Now to the whole “I’m glad I didn’t turn off the lights” thing.
The Park also promises to scare you. I am not easily scared. Especially when it comes to horror. Most of it is way too fantastical for me. There is also the following warning on the game’s purchase page:
This experience deals with subject matter that might prove emotionally distressing to some. Player discretion is advised.
When I first read that, I thought, “Yeah, right. It takes quite a bit for a game to emotionally distress me. It’s just a game. Bring it on, Funcom!”
By the time I got halfway through the final act, I was fully distressed. It is for this reason that I would prefer that Funcom re-classify The Park as a psychological thriller. It plays with your brain.
I’m glad it took me that long to get distressed. Playing an entire game with anxiety is neither fun nor healthy. In brilliant fashion, Funcom slowly builds the action, causing the player to experience many emotions. These emotions include things most parents would say in these situations, such as: “Okay, kid. That’s enough. We’re not playing this game anymore;” to getting right angry with your child, complete with under-your-breath profanity; to very valid feelings of being overwhelmed with all the responsibility that comes with being a parent.
Funcom also did a brilliant job with the action. Nothing happens for the longest time, at least for this player. No sooner did I think, “Something needs to happen soon because I’m getting bored and frustrated,” than stuff started to happen, people. Stuff. Started. To happen! I really appreciated that it happened at exactly the right moment for me.
The Park is definitely not for young children and very easily earns its adult rating. I would allow my 16-year-old to play it, but not a child much younger than that. There are also uses of the f-word. As a parent, I definitely recommend you play through the game before allowing your child to do so. It’s also not suitable for adults who are easily spooked or have certain trauma*. If it managed to get my heart racing, cause me to jump, and even upset and disturb me, there is a good chance it will do the same, or worse, to you.
There is a large replay value to this game. I definitely plan to replay the game, with the lights off and earbuds in, once I recover from my first playthrough.
There is also a bonus for The Secret World players: Extra items that can be used in The Secret World.
Nuanced. Thrilling. Relatable. Quick and simple gameplay: The Park beat my expectations and fulfilled its promise to cause some distress. It is the perfect game to play during the Hallowe’en season, and to replay in the future. It was money well-spent.
The Park is on sale now, with a 23 percent discount, via Steam, Greenman, and Gamersgate.
*Trigger Warning (written in background color as to not outright spoil the game; highlight the text below):
Aside from being a psychological thriller, The Park deals with postpartum depression causing psychosis, in some very real ways but also peppered with horror. If you deal with any mental health issue, or have experienced postpartum depression, extra discretion is advised as it may both cause you to be angry and resurface a lot of traumatic feelings.