Originally released on Steam last Halloween, The Park has made its way to consoles, and it’s bringing some serious psychological baggage with it. Detractors may derisively label it a “walking simulator” in the same way as story-driven first-person titles like Gone Home, Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but I’m grabbing my admission ticket and heading inside.
There’s little to concern yourself with here. You walk around, interact with objects and call out for your son to gauge which direction you should continue your search. Movement speed is pretty slow, but thankfully you can toggle into a sprint that creates a more reasonable pace. Outside of needing to turn down the look sensitivity there’s nothing holding you back.
A creepy, semi-dilapidated amusement park serves as the game’s setting, and it’s well constructed with some genuinely unsettling imagery. It would’ve been nice if the park covered a little more acreage as it all seems fairly impacted, but what’s there is solid. The gangly looking boogeyman you encounter strikes a chilling chord as well.
Much of the game is either ambient sound or internal narration from Lorraine (that’s you). The voice actor did a good job with her delivery becoming more frantic the longer she goes without finding her son and the more crazy shit she encounters on the search.
Your son, Callum, has left his teddy bear in Atlantic Island Park, and when you go to speak to someone about it he inexplicably jumps out of the car, enters the park and decides the best course of action is to run away from you. That’s pretty much parenthood in a nutshell: watching your kids do crazy stuff and trying to save them from themselves. But I digress…
As you chase Callum up the escalator something strange happens, and the normal looking park turns into something much more sinister. While you’re free to explore as you see fit to some degree, The Park is actually a largely linear experience where you’ll need to ride something to reach an area or find a flashlight to enter a building.
There are objects scattered about that flesh out the gory details about happened in the past, but the font of some of them is agonizingly small. While anything that appears as a typed report is generally readable, the “handwritten” notes and letters are almost not worth the effort — it doesn’t help that Lorraine kind of sways as you’re trying to read.
Since the game is all about experiencing the story I won’t offer specifics. It has some interesting moments as you get closer to finding Callum, and there are a handful of jump scares along the way (definitely follow the advice and play in the dark with headphones for maximum effect). It’s not particularly mind bending, but it’s good enough to propel you to the end.
Speaking of which, The Park‘s run time is destined to be a sore subject with many gamers. At $12.99, its cost is on par with going to the movies, but you should finish in around 90 minutes or less if you move through it more aggressively. Plus, exploration didn’t feel as rewarding in comparison to a game like Gone Home where the more stuff you find the more the story truly fills in.
While I largely enjoyed my brief stay at The Park, I cannot simply ignore that its price point is on par with games that offer a lot more content. If you like psychological thrillers and don’t mind paying a premium, pick it up. If price is an issue, wait for a flash sale to experience it.